Business Brief

College and University Websites: What Works

In today’s connected world, the first impression potential students, employees of or potential vendors or partners for your institution will receive will most likely be your website. It has become instinctive to first seek out almost anything that interests us — from a new car to a vacation destination, a new job or a new dentist, a different bank or a training class… or a college or university — online. We form our initial opinions based on what we see when we land on a home page, from the imagery used to the headlines, colors, video, menu options and more.

Just like no political candidate will appeal to all voters, no website can be all things to all visitors. Research into website use indicates that an average visit lasts less than 30 seconds. Therefore it is important to immediately offer visitors what they’re looking for. But how is that accomplished?

In an article on the top 10 design recommendations for university websites, the Nielsen Norman Group (www.nngroup.com) offers advice on — and examples of — what works, based on user research conducted in the U.S., the UK, Canada and Taiwan. Their guidelines include clearly identifying your institution on every page, making your “About Us” page count, following the user journey by checking the main task for each of your audiences, being aware of the perils of “making your website cool,” and acknowledging that users will also search for information about your institution on other websites.

In a blog post on design trends for college and university websites, Envato Market (market.envato.com), a global community of designers, developers, photographers, illustrators and producers, observes that effective websites offer features that include distinct page composition, clear typographic structure, high content density and individualistic layouts.

And what do the people who are using the websites like? The 2016 Webby Awards (www.webbyawards.com) People’s Voice Award, awarded by the voting public, goes to Johns Hopkins University (www.jhu.edu). Visit it and see for yourself.

Your institution’s website is your virtual front door for all visitors. It is a message board, a photo album, a marketing tool, a brag book, an instruction manual… it is all things to all comers, and as such must be up-to-date, attractive, informational and effective. With the Internet at your fingertips you have access to current information on what’s working for websites, so don’t design yours in a vacuum. Seek out advice, sort through the recommendations and put your best digital face forward.

This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.

Share this Page


Has interest in sustainability initiatives—from alternative energy and water conservation to “green” landscaping, recycling, fossil-fuel divestment, local sourcing, and more—waned on your campus?


Subscribe to CP&M E-News

College Planning & Management's free email newsletter keeping you up-to-date and informed.

I agree to this sites Privacy Policy.