Website Strategy

Higher Education Website Design Trends 2015

by Grant Sabatier on October 28, 2014 , No comments

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the annual High Ed Web Association Conference in Portland, Oregon. The sold out conference was attended by a mixture of website developers, IT staff, marketers, and vendors all working with higher education institutions. Through some great sessions, discussions with dozens of the web developers, and our experience working with top colleges and universities, the Eduvantis Digital team has identified three of the top higher education website trends for 2015. All of these trends have one primary theme in common – they are focused on creating the best user experience possible for visitors. 2015 will be the year of “user experience”.

Higher Education Website Design Trends 2015

1. Responsive design instead of mobile. Visitors are no longer looking at websites on their standard smartphones – they have tablets, “phablets,” and every device in between. I recently watched my cousin searching for college information from his Xbox. According to Mary Meeker’s 2014 Internet Trends report, over 25% of all website traffic globally now happens on a mobile/non-desktop device and this is projected to reach over 50% in the upcoming two years. I recently spent time navigating through higher education websites on Google Glass and it was a disaster. Google Glass will not likely be the device of choice for your website users, but my experience highlights an important point – that a university website needs to adapt to the user, no matter what device they are using. Using purposeful responsive design can ensure that users are having the best experience with your website and your brand.

Best in class example: The Oberlin College website doesn’t compromise design and is easy to navigate on any device.

Oberlin College

Oberlin College Homepage

2. Visitors don’t want to read your website, they want to “experience” it. Digital user experience continues to have a strong impact on brand perception. Consumers are also in control of the experience they want to have on your website – they can click on whatever they want and decide to leave on a whim. This means it is critical for institutions to design dedicated visitor funnels – so you can funnel visitors where you want them to go and make the easy choice be the action you want them to take. In addition to funnels, make dynamic content the focal point of your website. Turn your website into a sensory experience. All of the data points to the same trend – people want to watch your videos, view your photos, and will scan read some of your website – but mostly only the headlines. So many websites are text heavy and while text content is an important element of any search engine optimization strategy, it should be integrated to support dynamic engaging content. Instead of “telling” a higher education website should focus on “showing.”

Best in class example: The Duke University undergraduate admission’s homepage does an exceptional job showcasing the Duke experience using large photos, videos, and engaging graphics.

Duke University

Duke University

3. Beautiful websites don’t generate leads – easy to use websites do. A common theme we observed at the conference were websites that looked great, but were difficult to use – it was hard to search for information, find what we were looking for, and even fill out an inquiry form. Higher education websites have evolved significantly from a visual perspective, but many of them are still dense and difficult to use. As consumers have less and less time to visit your website, it is critical to make it as easy as possible to share key program information. How do you know if your website is easy to use? Test to see what works and then keep testing. There is always a way to make your website easier to use and create a better experience for your users. There are now an unprecedented number of tools available beyond Google Analytics to better understand how users are navigating your website. Focus on what visitors click on and more importantly why they leave. Then fix your website and make it easier to use.

Best in class examples: Arizona State University and its business school the Carey School of Business are easy to use websites focused on lead generation.

Arizona State University

Arizona State University

There are many other exciting trends in higher education website design, including program comparison tools, advanced forms to optimize conversions, A/B testing of home pages and landing pages to increase engagement and user actions, as well as advanced social integration. At Eduvantis Digital we advise many top higher education institutions on their website strategy and re-design projects in order to support an increase in brand awareness, engagement, and enrollments.

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Grant SabatierHigher Education Website Design Trends 2015

The Top 5 Business School Websites

by Grant Sabatier on October 10, 2014 , No comments

Institutions are challenged to balance the needs of the various stakeholder groups (prospective students, current students, alumni, business community) and prioritize content based on institutional goals. But the main goal of most institutions is to recruit students.

So here is our pick, among many great examples, of 5 standout recruitment-focused websites. We used the following criteria to determine our picks: intuitive navigation, accessible/clear content, and prominent calls to action.

1. The University of Chicago Booth School of Business

http://www.chicagobooth.edu/

Chicago Booth

Chicago Booth Programs Homepage

The University of Chicago Booth School of business website has a clean design with excellent navigation. The programs overview section highlights their four campuses and does a standout job of summarizing Booth’s program offerings.  This is a great example of providing meaningful content that address prospects that may be in the early stage of evaluating programs.

Once the user selects a program, Chicago Booth provides meaningful content tailored around each program format. For example, the Full-Time MBA program page includes quick program and class snapshots that highlight the location, length of program, how many classes per quarter, and other essential pieces of program information. The content is presented graphically and through dynamic media (photos and videos) making it easy to digest. The Booth website is a great example of the right balance of content (most business school websites have way too much text and are too dense). We also like the vibrant red calls to action and the invitation to “Engage” with the institution.

Chicago Booth Full Time MBA

Chicago Booth Full Time MBA

2. Boston University School of Management

http://management.bu.edu/

Boston University MBA

The Boston University School of Management website is a great example of an institution focusing on targeting prospective students and highlighting key interest areas front and center on their homepage. Website visitors expect key program information to be clear and accessible. Boston University has gone a step further and represented key information graphically and made it accessible via icons on the homepage. At Eduvantis we have seen very few institutions highlight prospective student information as prominently as Boston University, which ultimately signals to the prospect that the institution values the prospect.

Once a visitor navigates to the graduate section of the website, the various Boston University business programs are showcased graphically encouraging prospects to learn more without a page cluttered with text. From a user experience perspective the easier an institution can make it to navigate their website the more effective it will be at both creating a positive brand impression and encouraging inquiries. At Eduvantis we recommend eliminating everything but the essential content to encourage easy browsing and information gathering.

B

3. Arizona State W.P. Carey School of Business

http://wpcarey.asu.edu/

The Arizona State W.P. Carey website is a standout example of intuitive navigation and a website with the perfect balance of text and images. On all of the pages Carey have prioritized the most important content and cut everything else – leaving only the essential information. On most business school websites the content is overwhelming – text is too dense and difficult to read and visitors are unclear where to click next. This is not the case with the Carey website – the focused content makes for a positive user experience – because information is easy to digest and visitors are encouraged to contact Carey to learn more.

asu

As you can see, Carey has 3 primary calls to action at the core of the website: request info, apply now, and visit campus. These three calls to action are perfectly placed above the fold to encourage immediate engagement. On all additional pages calls to action are also bright yellow and prominently featured – signaling to the prospect what the institutions wants them to do. Once the user clicks any of the call to action buttons, they are placed into a funnel that leads them to a simple inquiry form based on their selections – making is easy for prospects to inquire, sign up for an event, or apply. It is a simply seamless experience.

ASU.MBA

4. Rotman School of Management at The University of Toronto

http://www.rotman.utoronto.ca/

The Rotman School of Management has a unique, but very effective website strategy. Visitors to the homepage are greeted with a simple call to action inviting them to engage with the website through defined points of entry – ultimately allowing Rotman to funnel visitors through defined user paths with the goal of encouraging visitors to inquire. Calls to action are prominently and strategically placed throughout the website making it easy to engage with the institution.

UniversityTorontoMBA

 

Rotman has taken a unique approach on their program pages as well which we really like. Even though there is a lot of content it is organized incredibly well through a tab based structure with simple titles – such as “Getting In” and “The Program.” The sidebar margin is also organized incredibly well encouraging prospect so “Explore, Connect, and Apply” in a wide variety of ways.

 

RotmanPartTimeMBA

5. University of California Berkeley: Haas School of Business

http://haas.berkeley.edu/

BerkeleyHaasMBA

Finally the Haas website has the best in class example of a program page – the navigation is simple (it is very easy to access program pages) and each program page has a simple inquiry form located in the right column of the site making it very easy for prospects to inquire. The content on the website is also appropriately calibrated to the needs of a prospect – content can be easily consumed in 30 seconds or less and prospects are encouraged to inquire to learn more.

haas

 

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Grant SabatierThe Top 5 Business School Websites

The Exceptional Digital User Experience

by admin on October 1, 2014 , No comments

The average website visitor takes 2.6 seconds to scan your content before deciding what to click – if anything.  So how do you get prospects to pay attention, let alone fill out an inquiry form?

Answer:  Create an exceptional digital experience.  Here’s the good news, that doesn’t have to mean a really complex, over the top, super-graphic, website.  It actually involves three simple principles we live by at Eduvantis when building online experiences for business schools.

1. Simplicity

2014 is the year of “less is more.” Prospects are burnt out on content.  It is important to remember people visiting your website are people – not just “clickers.”  Put yourself in their shoes – if you had 1 minute (which you don’t, generally) to tell a prospect about your program what would you say?  Write it down, record a video, and put that content up front on your website and program pages.

People don’t have the time to search through dozens of pages on your website. They expect to find the information they want quickly, so present the essentials. Then encourage prospects to contact you for more information.  If you give them too much information – too much content, too many links to click – they will make up their mind and have no reason to contact you for more information.  Sale lost.

Here’s an example of a business school that understands “less is more”:  ASU’s Carey School of Business – http://wpcarey.asu.edu/

2. Distinctive is the Goal

If your website is clunky, poorly designed, or difficult to navigate, that reflects poorly on your brand.  If you want to be viewed as a world-class institution you must present yourself as such.  Institutions don’t compete on price alone – they compete at the brand, product, and experience levels. Dig deep and bring out the most unique elements of your culture – showcase and celebrate it. Prospects will remember their experience with your brand when deciding whether to inquire or submit an application. They may not prefer your product, but make sure they at least remember it as different.

Here’s a great example of a business school embracing and showcasing their distinctive culture in a creative way and showcasing it across their website and digital ecosystem. UCLA’s Anderson School of Management runs a student contest every year where students compete by creating UCLA Anderson commercials. The commercial challenge showcases the distinctive culture of UCLA Anderson from the eyes of the people who know it best – the current students. It’s also a lot of fun and built around social sharing which further engages both the Anderson community and prospective student prospects.

 

3. Value Creation

The most effective websites focus on more than selling – they focus on creating natural engagement.  To do this you must add value. Business schools have been slow to learn this lesson.  Looking outside of higher education there are great examples of companies who have built creative strategies to engage prospects and create natural engagement through value creation.  A good example is Geek Squad, who even though they provide technology support, they also offer free technology “how to” videos on their website and YouTube page.  Geek Squad’s goal of course is to create a positive experience so when a potential client needs more complicated support they contact Geek Squad.

Business schools should think the same way. Most prospects who visit your website are early in their search and you have an opportunity to support them in their search beyond simply selling your program. This is an opportunity to create natural engagement, which should ultimately make it easier to recruit prospects since you have already given them something of value.

Think program comparison tool (ex. differences between MBA and Executive MBA), MBA ROI calculator, a “Value of an MBA” video, or a webinar on “How to Apply to MBA Programs.”  All of these will create value for prospects and support them in their search.  One of our clients at Eduvantis recently created a “How to Apply to MBA Programs” webinar and received over 300 sign-ups from prospects who otherwise wouldn’t have considered their program. In the webinar they shared best practice tips that prospects could use to apply to any program.

Here is a simple example from UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School: an “MBA Questionnaire” that requires prospects to submit their information before downloading, but provides a good foundation for decision making: http://info.kenan-flagler.unc.edu/Portals/205630/docs/right-time-for-an-mba-questionnaire.pdf

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adminThe Exceptional Digital User Experience