With the Higher Education Web Strategy Trends 2024 survey, Bravery wanted to explore the evolving landscape of digital strategies within academic institutions. Our questions were qualitative. Our participants were from various higher education institutions, agencies, and associations.
By capturing the perspectives of professionals in the field, we wanted to provide a snapshot of the prevailing trends and strategic directions that will influence the digital presence of higher education institutions in the coming year.
What are your top trends to watch in higher education web strategy?
Five themes really stood out as the most important trends for you.
- AI Features
- Content Strategy
Bravery’s take: The top four - personalization, AI, Chat, and GA4 - all demonstrate a curiosity for how changes to our web tools ecosystem will lead to more efficient or effective strategies. The last one - content strategy - feels like a theme we just haven’t mastered yet. Our sites are complex, we manage many stakeholders with different goals and agendas, and our audiences are more diverse than ever. Plus, we must combat many confusing messages about higher education and the value of our degrees.
What are your top concerns in higher education web strategy?
You told us that the top concerns keeping you up at night are:
- Leadership Support
- Reduction in staff and/or resources
- Issues concerning decentralization and centralization
- Web Strategy
Bravery’s take: The higher education environment has gotten less predictable, and it feels scary. Our enrollments are stagnating, our costs are rising, and our audiences are reactive towards raising tuition. Now more than ever, we need to secure the understanding and advocacy of our leaders, But, in times of crisis, stakeholders wield their political capital and authority in more direct ways. Many marketing units will face increased scrutiny and waning attention and support.
What topics feel like old news or cold takes to you now in higher education web strategy?
You said that there are some things you are just so over.
- Immature strategies for video, messaging, and accessibility. You don’t mind talking about video, key messages, or accessibility. But, you’re losing your patience for the SAME conversations repeatedly.
- Continuing arguments over homepage elements such as carousels and b-roll. You want useful things on your homepage that keep your site light and fast.
- Collecting data for the sake of collecting data. Upper-level leadership loves hearing web survey results. But, your leaders haven’t been willing to act on them or truly embrace a more student-focused approach.
- TikTok - As marketers, you are increasingly skeptical and, in some cases, fatigued with TikTok as a marketing platform. It gets more attention than it deserves given questions about its effectiveness and the challenges it presents in content strategy and audience engagement.
- Artificial Intelligence. It’s a lot of panic and excitement without a lot of standardized practices, ethics, or use cases yet.
Bravery’s take: We hear you! And we emphatically agree.
What research will you use to inform your web strategy?
- In-house research - 85%
- Externally led research - 64%
- Informal information gathering - 57%
- I don’t know - 21%
- I haven’t planned for research yet - 7%
Bravery’s take: We’re excited to see so many of you planning for various research projects throughout the year, including in-house, informal, and externally contracted research. For those of you in the “I don’t know” and “haven’t planned for research yet” categories, we’re always happy to chat with you. We can talk through the research questions you have, the methods that get at those answers, what you can do easily on your own, and what you might need software or support for.
And, for those of you in the “externally led research” category, keep Bravery in mind. We love running small-scale studies and providing custom insights reports or web strategy guides.
How do you plan to enhance the overall user experience on your institution’s website in the upcoming year?
You told us that you plan to:
- Simplify your workflows to more easily update your sites
- Master GA4
- Reorganizing your content
- Conduct more user research and use your results to make more data-informed decisions.
- Engage in more professional development to keep honing your skills.
- Get down with Search Engine Marketing.
- Update your designs or even launch a new site.
- Refactor your patterns to create more consistency across your websites.
- Give those program pages a facelift.
If you could pick a theme for your 2024 web strategy, what would it be?
You gave us so many different themes! Here are some of our favorites:
- Better, Faster, More Profitable
- Do Less Better
- Make it Usable
- Accessibility First
- Innovate and Standardize
- Branding Well, Branding On All Things
- Rejecting the Status Quo of Content
- From Defense to Offense
- Your themes for 2024 reflect various priorities, ranging from efficiency to usability, accessibility, and branding.
- You emphasized a return to fundamentals and prioritization of essential tasks over trying to accommodate every stakeholder request.
- You all expressed a desire to elevate and maintain consistency while embracing new and creative approaches.
- You also want a more proactive and results-oriented approach to web strategy in 2024.
What web strategy goals are most important to your institution?
Your most common goals are to:
- Improve your conversion rate
- Increase user experience satisfaction
- Pursue personalization strategies
Other goals included:
- Improving wayfinding
- Improving Ease of Use and Accessibility
- Adapting web content, design, and user experience to align with a revised brand strategy.
- Prioritizing strategies to increase the number of applications submitted through the website.
- Maintaining enrollment numbers
- Attracting Funding for Research Programs
- Increasing Requests for Information
These goals - improving conversion rates, increasing user experience satisfaction, and pursuing personalization strategies - signal a strong emphasis on driving tangible results, enhancing user engagement, and delivering tailored experiences. You may want to consider conducting in-depth usability audits, implementing A/B testing for conversion rate optimization, and digging into GA4 trainings to refine and personalize your user journeys.
Regarding improving wayfinding, enhancing ease of use and accessibility, and prioritizing strategies for increased application submissions, you’ll want to focus on user-centered design principles. This may involve redesigning navigation structures for clarity, implementing more advanced accessibility testing, and streamlining your application process.
Overall, it looks like a combination of strategic planning, user-centric design, and data-driven optimizations will be featured in your organizational horoscopes this January.
What metrics will you track to measure your effectiveness?
- Various metrics through GA4
- UX Satisfaction, measured through focus groups and surveys
- Admissions Numbers
- Sentiment Monitoring
- Number of Requests for Information
Bravery’s take: Metrics are always a little tricky. We need validation that our chosen metrics are good measures of the effects we are looking for. We also need to understand the magnitude of the effects, the relationships between different strategies, and our own market share goals. Bravery can help establish market size and share, realistic targets, and metrics to use. The good thing is that based on these results, it looks like many of you are using a combination of qualitative and quantitative measures.
Overall, how would you describe your feelings about your higher education web strategy for 2024?
Pessimistic - 6%
Neutral - 58%
Optimistic - 36%
Bravery’s take: The high neutral percentage might indicate a few things. It might just mean a mix of positive and negative factors for the coming year. I’m guessing that while there are many shifts happening in our industry right now, the outlook for these shifts, and the strategies we should take in response, are still a little unclear. The future feels too fuzzy to react with pessimism or optimism.
For those of you with a pros and cons list coming up neutral, I see you.
But, for those who don’t know how to feel yet, you may have heard of Saffo’s Law:
Never mistake a clear view for a short distance.
Well, Jacob Nielsen of Nielsen Norman Group fame offers his corollary to Saffo’s Law: “Don’t assume a blurry view means a long distance.” I offer this, not as a prompt for you to get your opinions in order; you’re fine feeling neutral. But, I also encourage you to not passively wait for the future to happen to you. You have an opportunity to shape the year through proactive strategies and discovery. Make sure you’re taking advantage of it.
Notes: Our questions were generally qualitative and our responses were under a threshold for statistical inferences. Do you have feedback or reactions? We’d love to hear from you! Reach out to Joel or Kristin any time.