Some higher education website features aren't optional for marketers anymore. Without the right functionalities, we put college content strategies, higher ed inbound, CMS flexibility—all of this—to chance.
When are looking to promote a higher education website in 2016, marketers need a website that not only informs but impresses and ultimately converts potential students. More than 4,000 public and private colleges and universities exist in the United States today, vying for their target audience: a limited number of potential undergraduate, graduate students, and their backers.
These students and their parents use digital means to find their perfect fit, both in the initial discovery phase and when deciding between the few finalists on their shortlist. To make sure your digital presence matches their needs, here are 12 website features higher education marketers need to survive and thrive in the digital age.
1) Easy Visual Content Modules
Above all, and most obviously, the higher education website should be both visual and dynamic. We're visual learners, and content that engages us using visual means is more likely to convince us of its message. Successful higher education websites take advantage of that truth, showcasing a mix of photos, videos, and dynamic (scrolling) content from their homepage through to sub pages deep in the navigation.
2) Responsive Design Options
Across industries, websites are converting to responsive design structures in order to appeal to an increasingly mobile audience. That need is particularly pronounced in higher education: 8 out of 10 high school students own a smartphone, and will research your school accordingly.
Building the higher educationwebsite to account for this is crucial. Responsive design means that the site automatically adjusts to mobile users, reformatting images and page layouts according to your visitors' screen sizes. It eliminates the need for horizontal scrolling on a mobile device, significantly increasing user experience as a result.
3) Multi-Language Support
International students are becoming an increasingly important audience in higher education. Almost 10% of all college students in the US, or 975,000 students, now come from foreign countries. China and India in particular are growth markets with great potential for enrollment growth.
To attract them, of course, you need to talk to them in their language. A website that can accommodate multiple languages is crucial, both on the editing backend and front-facing for your students.
4) Search Engine Optimization Tools
Regardless of their home country, your students will search for your higher edication website via a search engine. As a result, you need higher education website features that can help get you ranked highly on Google, Bing, and other ways to search the web. Finding a Content Management System that helps you publish SEO-focused content is a crucial step to success and online exposure.
5) Focused Content Publishing
Potential students are not that interested in institution-internal news. They want to learn about how your institution can help them get the degree they want, and enjoy the process. Building this student-focused content within your website is crucial.
For example, consider integrating a blog, maintained by a successful students, that talks about campus life and regular activities. Alternatively, embed videos on your site in which students discuss current topics, tips for freshmen, and their life at your institution.
6) Personalization Capabilities
When your potential students visit your higher education website, they expect content tailored to them. A website built with personalization tools allows you to offer just that, showing content specifically geared toward a visitor's location or self-identified personal information.
This type of web personalization is becoming important to succeed in marketing online. A plethora of statistics suggest that it's becoming a priority for web users across industries. The more your can tailor your website to individual visitors, the more likely you will be to impress them and stay in their memory.
7) Trackable Inquiries
Visitors who are interested in your college or university need a 'next step' to show their interest and receive more information. Calls to action and integrated sign-up pages help you capture their information and send the necessary follow-ups.
Ideally, those sign-up pages should be trackable. Tracking your inquiries allows you to determine exactly where they came from. That, in turn, helps to evaluate which of your individual marketing efforts most successfully generated inquiries.
8) An Integrated Application System
For potential students, the application process to your institution should be seamless. That necessitates an application system which you can integrate into your CMS, or at least design to be consistent with your university brand. As is the case with inquiries, tracking your applications allows you to better determine and segment your successful efforts.
9) Donation E-Commerce Integration
Though they can be applied to other personas as well, most of the above points are optimized for potential students. But every higher education website marketer knows: alumni and parents matter just as much, particularly when it comes to institutional advancement.
To appeal to your alumni and donors, consider integrating an e-commerce system that allows your visitors to easily make donations. If possible, that system should be integrated with your alumni database to become more easily trackable.
10) Ease of Editing
Within your institution, you will likely have a number of potential editors on your website. These may range from student bloggers to members of your marketing department and even individual faculty members. Building a website that allows users without digital marketing experience to edit individual pages is key to consistently creating quality content.
11) Security & Hierarchal Structures
Given the plethora of potential users mentioned above, a sound security structure is crucial to successfully maintain your website. Your internal users should only have access to the portions of your site relevant to them. Ideally, your CMS should also include an editing workflow through which your web or communications team can add quality control to any published content.
12) An Open Source Backend
Finally, your higher education website features can all be collected include an Open Source content management system. The benefits, from frequent updates to low cost and high degree of customizability, make open source a particularly good fit for colleges and universities.
The University of Maryland, Harvard's Science School, and Stanford University are just some of the many higher ed institutions in the United States who use an open source solution such as Drupal. To learn more about building a website that fits all of the above specifications, Contact us.
Nathan Roach, Director of Marketing
Germany-based consumer of old world wine and the written word. Offline you can find him spending time with his wife and daughter at festivities in the Rhineland.