Website award-winning colleges and universities give clear, practical advice on what it takes to have great online representation

website-college-greatCampus websites are crucial for providing resources, recruiting prospective students and updating the community on news and current events. But what if users are unable to navigate through certain pages? What if they can’t view it from their phones or tablets?

When students are directed to an outdated university website — even if the institution has an “amazing reputation” — this will produce a negative impact, said Mimi Young, co-founder of the design agency Behavior Design.

To attract and maintain visitors, universities may want to consider an overhaul or redesign of their website. Here are seven tips on how to improve your campus website, gleaned from informative commentary from key players behind some of the greatest (award-winning) higher education websites.

IT/Backend

1. Invest in an easy-to-use content management system (CMS)

Stacey Shintani, the University of Chicago’s manager for strategic web communications, said a campus website is like the front door to the university, and often times it is a school’s website that provides visitors with their first interaction and impression of an institution.

“We worked hard to see what users needed and wanted and balanced it with goals of the University leadership” – Stacey Shintani

“We worked hard to see what users needed and wanted and balanced it with goals of the University leadership” – Stacey Shintani

And Shintani should know: The University of Chicago’s website won a Webby Award for People’s Choice in 2013. Though the website represents the front door, Shintani mostly deals with the backend; and when the University decided to redesign its website in 2012, one “huge change” they made was adopting a content management system—something they hadn’t had before.

CMS, said Shintani, allows users to publish and edit content on the web without requiring significant web programming knowledge. “For the most part, people can maintain their own content, which is awesome.”

When Bates College redesigned their website in 2011, they chose WordPress as their CMS after an “exhaustive” search, said Ethan Wright-Magoon, who was digital creative director at the time of the redesign.

“We need to make sure they’re getting the Bates experience online as if they were here on campus.” – Ethan Wright-Magoon

“We need to make sure they’re getting the Bates experience online as if they were here on campus.” – Ethan Wright-Magoon

WordPress “is very open-source and easy to use,” Wright-Magoon said, adding that he still uses the software every day.

(Next page: More tips and advice)


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