Why a College or University’s Website Can Make or Break its Integrity and Credibility.

Chicago Web Design

A website is, simply put, the face of your educational institution. It is what potential students, faculty and staff seeking employment see before they even tour your campus. The impression received from the once beloved “curb appeal” has taken a major toll when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. No longer are anonymous visitors walking through your majestic, iron gates to gage your sense of culture. Instead, it has taken the digital route increasing your website traffic dramatically. 

First impressions are instantaneous but long lasting. First impressions with a poor website? Even longer– the user has already made a mental decision of “no” and clicked the back button to the search results. Research has shown that humans are hard-wired to make very quick judgements. Whether from a phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer, a website has 50 milliseconds to impress, capture, and hold the viewer’s attention. If utilized properly, your website is your most effective, invaluable marketing tool.

Does your website deliver an unforgettable experience worthy of showcasing your institution’s name?

With the consistent rise in virtual visitors, the way your school is encountered online must be competitive. What is considered a stellar website is nothing less than visually attractive and it speaks clearly and expertly to all its digital visitors. Your website must run seamlessly across all platforms and is easy to navigate and interact with. Not only must they stay up to date with your institution’s news and offerings, but they must constantly evolve to stay current with technological advances used by Amazon, eBay, Zillow, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. The online encounter with your school plays a vital role in the decisions that the visitor will make with their life.

Prospective students in today’s world are unforgiving if your website fails them in key areas. 

Do you know if your website is properly fulfilling your institution’s needs as well as the visitor’s simultaneously? If you’re not sure, you’re not alone. Your online presence needs an in-depth analysis. Whether your website has been developed by campus staff or you outsourced its creation and maintenance professionally, regular and thorough evaluations prove to be a critical part of staying relevant online. Your website’s design, brand identity (i.e. logo, color scheme), content, accessibility and ease of use are all important factors that have to be reviewed. While you don’t need a complete redesign from scratch every single year, keeping content authentic, fresh and the tech running the site current is highly key. If anyone runs across a broken link to a page they want to visit, an outdated calendar of events, images of academic staff that no longer work at the school, purchased stock images, descriptions of discontinued programs, or any other kind of incorrect content, say goodbye to getting a 4.0 on your website analysis. You have failed to win the trust and investment from that now ex-potential student. Plan ahead with an outside agency or a freelancing professional that will regularly review or update your website. 

What is the competition doing right?

Look at what other colleges and universities (local, nationally and internationally) are doing. Explore the ins-and-outs of the way the structure their content. Pro tip: analyze their social media and the engagement they receive. How are they doing it? 

Many websites and award programs will showcase the educational industry’s best websites. They evaluate and critique the site in multiple areas. When complete, they publish and highlight them as a significant example of what a college/university site experience should be like.

Digital marketing solution provider, WebFX, named the “9 Best College Websites to Emulate.” They admire Notre Dame’s site for their consistent brand identity and trim and clean design that draws users in to learn more about the university.

Bates College is noted for choosing a modern “hamburger menu” rather than a set of tabs lining across the top of the home page. They’re also praised for offering a virtual on-demand campus tour (can you say impressive?). Biola University was applauded for it’s professional graphic design and flow of content. WebFX stated that Goshen College has “one of the best-looking college websites out there” and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) has a very clear and functional navigation menu. 

FreshySites, a WordPress website design company, shares its “10 best college and university websites of 2021”. The University of Texas at Austin showcases its retention and ranking statistics and its own videography. Regent College receives an A for a versatile, mobile-friendly structure and a color palette that stands out. Cornell UniversityBrown University, and The Ohio State University are also included in FreshySites’ 10 best of 2021.

15 of the Best College Websites (And Why They’re So Great) published by MorWeb.org, a CMS software and web design agency, offers its point of view on multiple noteworthy sites. Bates College and the Rhode Island School of Design made this list as well, along with Wheaton College that has a blog dedicated to students and real testimonials from both current students and alumni. The University of Chicago made the list for its crystal clear navigation and an image slideshow beautifully displaying campus life. Virginia Commonwealth University was a top pick for colorful, strategic calls to action (CTAs) and exceptional graphics. The Catholic, Franciscan college Alverno College made #1 for color coordination, organization and for prominently displaying awards that they earned.

The top award-winning college/university websites were compiled by the Web Marketing Association. In its 2020 Internet Advertising Competition Award for Outstanding Achievement in Internet Advertising Boise State University received Best University Website. Boise State also won this award in 2013.

Bryant University, the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and Slippery Rock University received awards in the 2019 Collegiate Advertising Awards. One year later in 2020, Slippery Rock University earned six Education Digital Marketing Awards, which are sponsored by Higher Education Marketing Report.

No matter a small, local college or a world-renowned university, your website should be a personal welcome to all virtual visitors including prospective students, their parents and employees.

Your website is your most effective marketing tool. It is a summary of who you are and what you have to offer to students, alumni, donors and the rest of the entire world. Have a proactive plan to ensure that its design, content, and backend tech is ready to take on 2021 web traffic. 

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