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Your university website may be useless

Joel G Goodman
/ 3 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.

On the agency side, what we often see is a lack of formalized organizational ownership when it comes to the website. You’ve probably heard this called governance in other circles, and really, it’s still a problem today in higher education. The fact of the matter is competing priorities always — and I mean every time — produce a website that doesn’t live up to its potential.

So what do you do about it?

Who is your primary audience?

Your first step is to define your primary audience, and no it’s not everyone, as much as you want it to be. Any website that tries to cater to everyone ends up catering to all of them poorly.

Next, complete a total audit of your website. If you can do that in-house, and you have the expertise on staff, great! That is amazing. It doesn’t happen very often in higher education. Use those people.

Otherwise, look at hiring a third party agency (might we recommend Bravery Media?) to really comb through your website and give you the insights that you need. A thorough audit is going to include UX recommendations for conversion rate optimization, maybe some design improvements, content updates, and definitely accessibility improvements.

You should also be getting insights on search engine optimization, what people are doing on your website, and finally, how to speed up page load times after you have all the insights from your audit.

The most important step is that leadership, whether that’s you or whether that’s your boss, needs to empower marketing staff to own the website as much as they want to.

Faculty should not be making decisions on how their programs are marketed.

The financial aid office should be fact-checking the content that you’re putting on the website, but not deciding how it’s organized and presented to your audiences.

And academic department microsites only lead to brand fragmentation if marketing has no ownership over them.

What this all comes down to is recognizing the core competencies in your institution. You’re the web professional; you are the expert when it comes to web marketing.

Faculty are experts in pedagogy. Financial aid offices are experts in getting that right fit financial aid package for a prospective student.

And your admissions staff are experts in guiding those prospects through the admissions process.

In higher ed, everyone wants to do everyone else’s job, and when that happens, all we end up doing is wasting time and money.

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, get in touch. 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 a strategy that provides big returns on your investment.

In any case, if your website has become useless, remember that the more data you have, the better choices you’ll end up making.

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