According to an overview of the KDG report, college websites turn away prospective students by:
1. Reading like the New York Times.
Styling complex information in short, digestible chunks is actually an issue for all of today’s websites, but at least they may have some older readers—not so for colleges and universities.
According to the KDG report, prospective students are not only used to reading short bits of information thanks to social media, but many incoming freshman read at a 7th grade level.
“This means your college website must be at the 7th grade level, especially the sections used to attract prospects and to guide them through the application process. No, we’re not kidding,” writes Rick Martin for KDG’s blog. KDG recommends using short paragraphs and simple words to convey just the necessary information students are looking for.
2. Requiring Form Fills.
Mirroring the “don’t be tedious” aspect of mistake number one, KDG says prospective students are often fatigued by long forms that they must complete in order to get the information they need and will quickly leave the website.
Martin suggests considering alternatives for collecting information, such as establishing and maintaining a live chat portal. “Not only will a live chat feature save students time, it can also save your admissions office time answering questions from prospects and applicants. Well-designed Q&A pages can keep the chat system from being overtaxed,” he explains.
3. Not Understanding What’s Important.
This is a mistake notable higher education designers cite often, including college website wizards Andy Hoang, associate vice president of Marketing and Communication at website award-winning California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) and Reed Sheard, vice president for College Advancement and CIO of Westmont College.
According to KDG’s report, college websites often weigh down their home page and “force students to straddle several pages to get information on a single aspect of the college.”
“Don’t let every department have their say,” explained Hoang. “Otherwise, you’d get a front page cluttered like a community board with random tidbits from every department on what they feel is important. Choose what goes on the front page very carefully and focus on your priorities; which, for us, are community and alumni engagement.”
According to Josh Pennino, national sales manager for Acquia, Inc. (the cloud server hosting CSULB and KWALL’s website) it’s important to build the website—especially the front page—on solution-focused content and a user-based platform.
“Be sure to look at the whole site, too, not just the front door or first level,” said Sheard. “A lot of times institutions make the front page dynamic, but then when a user clicks to go deeper, the secondary content pages look like relics from the early 2000s. A user can leave a secondary page just as fast as they can the front page.”
However, Hoang said that there’s a delicate balance between static and antiquated, and being too interactive. “Don’t get so caught up in the design that there’s a disconnect between what your institution is and marketing gimmicks. You also don’t want super technical, information-filled pages.”
“A poorly organized site loses visitors and applicants, and you can ill afford to lose either,” emphasizes Martin. “Your biology department may be on the verge of curing cancer, but if your website wastes students’ time, you will fail to attract the bright minds that you need to keep your college strong.
(Next page: College website mistakes 4-5)