College and University Websites: What Works
- By Shannon O'Connor
- May 1st, 2016
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,
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.