Your university website may be useless

Joel G Goodman
/ 4 min read

It moves in cycles. Each year, a subset of the colleges and universities around the world decide this is the year their website will be redesigned. And each year, their shiny new website fails to deliver on its promise.

Despite tens–and often times hundreds–of thousands of dollars spent on a smattering of consultants and strategists, this primary vehicle for recruitment, fundraising, and brand awareness doesn’t quite return the results the institution planned for it to.

Traffic might be up, but applications aren’t. Bounce rates may have dropped, but conversions didn’t increase. People might be spending more time on each page, but they aren’t requesting more information.

And we’ve become accustomed to this.

You’ve done everything right. Content strategists combed through the old busted site and came up with a simpler site map for you. Your designers spent hours on wireframes that 18 stakeholders argued over for four weeks.

Eventually you got a real design. And it was probably amazing. But that same stakeholder committee ripped it apart until you were left with something like your previous website.

And that took another six weeks.

End-to-end this miserable project took up close to a year, maybe more, of your headspace. The university dumped all of its money into a project that just will not provide a good return on investment.

Now, the metrics that matter just aren’t performing.

So here’s a thought

Maybe your premiere recruitment piece shouldn’t be that all-important institutional website.

Think about it. Your website, even after a thorough spring cleaning last year, still has at least a few hundred pages. The homepage is still unfocused, catering to at least three different audiences. If you have any sort of graduate or post-graduate school your struggles multiply. Your ad campaigns are landing people on specific program pages that are disconnected from your wider online narrative.

Eventually, these issues culminate in one solution:

We must redesign our website!

Bringing old school back

Back before we had the web universities didn’t redesign their curriculum or design a new logo every time something didn’t work. That’s because marketers, in general, are pretty smart people and didn’t put all their eggs in one basket. Today the institutional website is the biggest of all baskets, where all eggs must be stored.

While this may be good for organization and ease of something, it may not be the best way to communicate a focused message. This is the very reason why pre-digital universities developed longstanding marketing pieces like viewbooks and prospectuses to augment existing materials like postcards and brochures. Sure, your website looks and navigates a lot better than that vintage printed college catalog, but it’s certainly just as inclusive.

Bravery started addressing this trend in 2015. Universities still create more traditional viewbooks (at least here in the states), but rather than translating the concept of a highly-visual, rich in media, focused marketing piece to the web, many are happy to just provide a downloadable PDF — or worse, a digital flipbook.

The viewbook is low-hanging fruit, too. Its sole purpose is to sell and it traditionally harnesses the charisma of a campus culture to great result. When I worked at Trinity International University near Chicago, the viewbook was the piece that pushed a prospect or their parents over the edge. That one booklet communicated the values of our undergraduate culture, showcased the best parts of TIU’s campus, and sought to put that prospective student in the center of the community, even if just for a few minutes.

I guarantee you have trouble doing that effectively with your institutional website.

The viewbook is crying out to be turned into a focused, web-based feature. Two years ago, Bravery had the great pleasure of working with Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles to turn their PDF viewbook into a digital piece. That first year was a stepping stone to re-envisioning their traditional viewbook as a digital-first narrative experience, with a companion print piece.

Oh, and it worked.

Focused and effective

A viewbook is just one example of the sorts of focused, media-driven concepts that can be used to actually hit the metrics you need. Think of your institutional website as the reference guide. If your content strategy was done right, you already have a narrative thread running through that content. Start your story with a digital viewbook — -or an outcomes piece, or a specific campaign-related landing page–and transition it onto your more detail-packed program page. The plot should keep just fine.

You benefit from being able to tell a more dynamic and impressive story up-front and you’ll save a load of money over redesigning the institutional website.

Bonus: if you work with Bravery we’ll help you get results in a few months instead of half a year.

What to do if this is you

Redesigned in the last year or two? The next time someone brings up wanting to think about a refresh or redesign maybe steer them toward a more focused and strategic option. In fact, shoot me an email. I’d love to have a conversation about what opportunities could pay off big for your institution.

Maybe this is your year for a full overhaul of your website. If so, think about what sorts of complementary web pieces you can put together to help drive specific traffic to your new site. Even better, talk to Bravery about how we can help you craft immersive digital experiences for your audiences.

In any case, if your website has become useless, remember that there are ways to get value out of it without dropping a few hundred grand on a full redesign.

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