Does Your Website Measure Up?

Pete Schauer

Marketing Director

The Top Higher Ed Websites and Why

The only way you can perform an objective assessment of your college or university’s website is if you know what your competitors’ sites look like. You need a benchmark to be able to determine if your site is good, great or significantly lacking. Unfortunately, many college websites are nothing special. They tend to be out of date (statistics from the year 2005 - really?), non-responsive and just plain boring.

This is hard to believe considering that a website is the virtual front door to the college campus, and perhaps the only interaction that some students will have with the school before their first day. Not only does the modern college website attract prospects but also staff, faculty, alumni, parents, donors and people in the community. If your school’s website is a sight to sore eyes, it’s time to step it up.

Thankfully, not all college websites have this problem. Some are actually on the cutting-edge of higher ed digital trends, implementing amazing technology that enables prospects to learn about the program, explore campus life and even meet some of the staff and faculty right from the convenience of their smartphone or tablet.

Let’s take a look at some of the top higher ed websites so that you have a high standard to compare your site to. If you find that your site is falling short, it’s time to get it up to speed so that you can play with the big guys.

University of Notre Dame

The University of Notre Dame’s website is an ideal representation of what responsive web design should be like. It looks exceptional on both a desktop computer and a mobile device, and it successfully caters to both audiences. Part of this success comes from the fact that a responsive design was built into the site early on. You’ll also find the site to be current and highly informative with pictures, content and clickable links.

University of Chicago

In 2013, the University of Chicago was awarded with two high-profile Webby Awards for having the best school/university website and the Webby People’s Voice Award. If other people are taking notice of their site, it must be good!

The biggest selling point to the U of C website is its fast navigation and uncluttered content. There is plenty to explore, and the site makes it easy and enjoyable with its clickable buttons and links, drop-down menus and color-coded labels.

University of Michigan

University of Michigan is another Webby award holder; they earned theirs for Best Site Redesign in 2014. And it’s understandable why. If you compare their past website to their current one, the experience makes a world of a difference. The site has a light, clean feel to it with easy navigation, a smart use of color and the use of cutting-edge digital ed trends.

For instance, the homepage uses circles to share key facts of information. It also describes what goes on on campus by using photos of students stamped with the time. This gives visitors the impression that the college is working 24/7 to educate students, enhance their experiences and make advancements in different fields.

Stonehill College

Stonehill College is a Roman Catholic liberal arts college that redesigned its website in 2013, and it’s one of our favorites. The interface is clean and uncluttered, but it has a way of giving visitors the information they need in a simple glance. The site is full of friendly faces; a great way to get acquainted with faculty and staff. There’s also a convenient map on the homepage for exploring the campus.

Rhode Island School of Design

The mission of RISD is to inspire a new generation of artists and designers. Their website doesn’t disappoint. It’s simple and minimal, which you’ll notice right off the bat. There isn’t even a scroll bar on the side as with other college websites. Everything you need to know is front and center with zero distraction. The website also does a nice job of incorporating clickable tabs at the top and alternating images for the background.

University of Maryland

We just love the jovial look and feel of the University of Maryland’s website. The entire background consists of images that are cheerful and fun. It also has a handy menu on the right hand side of the screen that follows with visitors so that prospective students can easily navigate the enrollment process. Using the tabs, students can review admissions requirements, learn about financial aid packages and connect with the school at an upcoming college fair or high school visit.

Champlain College

Champlain College’s website was redesigned in 2013 and has earned itself a reputation for having a clean, well-balanced website with strong visuals. The images are large and include a mix of faculty, staff and campus events to get prospects acquainted with campus life right from the start. Not only can you navigate the site through the top drop-down menus, but also there are side menus that link to their event calendar, social feeds and campus news.

Conclusion

The above websites are just a few of our top picks that we think you should take a look at. Perhaps you’ll find a design that speaks to you and could enhance your college’s digital image. You don’t have to have a big budget to create a beautiful website, either. Many small, private institutions are able to work on a limited budget. The key is partnering with a creative, strategic marketing team to create simple, uncluttered websites. Plus, with the additional traffic, leads and conversions coming to your site, you’ll quickly see that any additional costs associated with a new website design will be offset.

About the Author: Pete Schauer

Born and raised at the Jersey Shore, Pete Schauer is the Marketing Director at SEMGeeks. He holds a M.A. in Digital Communications from William Paterson University and has 8+ years in the digital space with companies such as Bleacher Report and Social Media Today in addition to SEMGeeks. His background includes creative and professional writing as well as strategic digital marketing communications and management.

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