Is Your Website a Destination—Or a Disappointment?

Kathryn Edwards

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As director of business development for Stamats, I spend a lot of time navigating websites and considering their efficacy from both a marketing and end-user perspective. Across industries, I’m often surprised by odd navigational choices, inconsistent calls-to-action, and content that provides little informational value.

Is your website a destination or a disappointment?

Of special interest to me—both professionally and as a parent—are college and university websites. Facing increasing competition and a rapidly evolving marketplace, schools must ask themselves, “Is my website a digital destination, or a disappointment?”

Since all digital roads—social media, organic and paid search, digital display and retargeting ads, and email campaigns—lead to your site, it must be up to the challenge. Engaging and useful content, a clear brand voice, information that’s easy to find, and tasks that are simple to complete are must-haves for today’s discerning audiences.

Particularly for prospective and first-year students (typically, digital natives) college and university websites are essential tools of connection. Prospective students rely on your site to discover who you are, weigh the academic and social experiences you offer, and gauge outcomes.

For first-year students, your site is a tool of engagement. It helps them expand their social circles, explore extracurricular activities, and take full advantage of academic opportunities and career-building resources.

Take some time to explore your school’s site with the user experience in mind. From the perspectives of a potential student and current freshman, ask yourself these four questions:

1. What’s the overall experience?

Is the site an effective digital marketing tool? Is it well-organized with intuitive navigation and clear CTAs? Does it include virtual tours, success stories, and other key information to help prospective students get a feel for the school and its culture?

2. Can I easily find the information I need?

Is key information organized and presented clearly? How quickly can you find specifics on academic programs, tuition and fees, financial aid, housing options, and internship opportunities?

3. Are tasks simple to complete?

Examine the process for scheduling a campus tour, requesting more information, applying, and registering for a class. If a form is involved, does it contain unnecessary fields? What obstacles could be removed to make the process easier and faster?

4. Does the site support the brand?

Often, brand updates and site updates aren’t carefully coordinated, resulting in a disjointed brand experience. Does the website express your school’s current brand platform? Are key brand messages reinforced across the site? Is it well-integrated with social media channels?

Prioritizing the User Experience

A discipline all its own, user experience (UX) refers to the process of designing and creating digital products that provide meaningful and relevant experiences to users.

Now more than ever before, colleges and universities of all sizes are realizing the importance of UX and putting resources behind it. Besides supporting every institutional initiative from recruitment to capital campaigns, UX also:

  • Ensures site is ADA compliant, increasing accessibility and minimizing legal exposure
  • Helps institutions better understand, prioritize, and engage audiences
  • Defines user journeys and facilitates desired actions
  • Encourages users to interact with and share content
  • Maintains consistency across the site and provides a framework for site updates

Regular usability testing is a crucial component of UX. The testing process involves giving real-world users specific website tasks to complete. As users work through each task, technicians collect information by observing body language, tracking eye movement, and soliciting feedback in real-time.

Monitoring how real people interact with your site is an effective way to determine whether visitors are:

  • Navigating your websites without getting lost or frustrated
  • Following established user journeys
  • Completing priority actions successfully
  • Encountering bugs or functionality issues (crucial during site updates or redesigns)
  • Leaving your site with a positive or negative impression

If hiring a dedicated UX professional is out of your school’s reach right now, consider tapping into the talent pool available on campus. By creating an UX internship for computer science, IT, or graphic design majors, you can improve your institutional website and help motivated students develop valuable skills.

Stamats’ website services can also help. We offer scalable UX design, assessment/testing, and consultation services. Contact Sara Henton at sara.henton@stamats.com to learn more.

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