7 tips for a great campus website


5. Know your audience

When creating website content, remember to balance your internal and external audiences. The internal audience consists of current students, staff and faculty members while external audience includes prospective students, alumni and families of students.

“A lot of information of interest to prospective students is also relevant to current students,” Minor said. “Understanding who our audience was helped us a lot.”

It is [also] important to have different entry points for different users, Young said.

For example, on the top of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art homepage—which Behavior Design built—there is a banner with different sections, such as “student” or “alumni,” that every visitor can identify and click to get to the information they would be most interested in. For Cooper Union’s redesign, Behavior Design won an award in 2013 from the Web Marketing Assocation for Outstanding Achievement in Development.

“A website is a living, breathing thing. It’s going to change.” – Mimi Young
“A website is a living, breathing thing. It’s going to change.” – Mimi Young

For current students, important features to include on your website are the academic calendar, schedule and registration links, and bookstore and library information, say experts.

For information outside of academics, a college website should have a “robust student life area that reflects the culture, Minor said.

And don’t forget the importance of faculty pages, said Jeff Piazza, another co-founder of Behavior Designer. Discuss professors’ passions and provide a portfolio of their work or research.

6. Partner with a design firm

Many institutions partner with an external vendor like Behavior Design, not only to change their website design but to help with strategy, user experience and CMS implementation.

Davidson worked with the interactive marketing agency BarkleyREI that has many higher education institution clients.

Outside vendors “have value because they are educated on the latest standards and best practices,” Minor said, adding that for smaller colleges, they are especially helpful.

External firms provide “an objective eye, Young said. They help schools identify what makes them unique. “It’s hard to do that when you work within the institution,” she said.

7. Your website should tell your school’s story 

While your website should be a place that allows people to find what they are searching for, it should also tell the story of the university along the way, Shintani said.

For example, and institution can use photography to the school’s story. Many campus website homepages don a huge, captivating landscape image. Letting visitors feel like they are sitting in that classroom or attending that football game is often quite effective, the experts emphasized.

Bates became one of the first campus websites to feature a landscape image, Wright-Magoon said, adding that at first, the school “got flack” for it. But now, it seems to be the norm.

For Cooper Union’s redesign, Behavior Design used large-scale imagery as a backdrop to represent what it feels like to be on campus, Piazza said.

“Every college has the same things, like athletics, but they don’t have our stories,” Wright-Magoon added. “We needed to highlight these awesome stories that the communications team was writing about.”

Think of multimedia like videos and virtual tours as ways to compliment written content, Minor said. “When we write news, we always try to have photos or videos in it.”

Videos are not a must, [since] it all has to do with the practicality of the institution, Young said. Are you willing to take the photos and create the videos? Do you have the time and resources?

Social media can also help tell your school’s story and it is a good way to encourage engagement, Shintani said.

Davidson created a visual and interactive “social media hub” that highlights different stories about the college through Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and more in a ‘Pinterest-esque way.’

The most important thing a campus website can do is tell a story “in a way that shows the whole journey,” Young said.

Molly Schulson is an editorial intern at eCampus News.