Effective University Web Design Structure

Pete Schauer

Marketing Director

When it comes to higher education marketing, your website is one of the biggest investments you will make. To see the most from this investment, it’s crucial that your website is useful and informative to your different target personas, which include prospective students, alumni, parents, donors and more.

Though your website should look attractive, it’s most important that it appeals to your audiences. To achieve this, you need a strategic approach that centers on the elements of your web design's structure.

Various elements should be included in your design, but we feel that the ones listed below are most vital to your website’s success.

Responsive Design

It’s likely that some of your audience is still accessing your website from desktops or laptops, especially when doing heavy-duty research. This group is growing smaller, though, and more students are entering institution websites through their smartphones and tablets. This is why you need a responsive website.

Responsive websites aren’t new, but some colleges and universities have been slow to invest in them. If you haven’t yet, now is the time. A responsive design adjusts itself based on the screen size that the user is on. All of the site elements - images, text and more - are adjusted accordingly. No zooming, long load times or missing pictures to sabotage a user’s experience.

There’s another reason to invest in a responsive website. This type of design ranks higher in the search results because it is user friendly. Additionally, your SEO will improve because you won’t be dealing with duplicate content and high bounce rates.

Student and Alumni Personas

Buyer personas have come in handy for businesses for a long time. In order to create marketing materials that are useful and personal to buyers, businesses develop a buyer persona.

The same approach works for higher institutions. Think about the ideal candidates that your school wants to connect with and develop a persona for each one (students, alumni, donors). List out their needs, wants, engagement preferences and motivations for donating.

By taking the time to create your personas, you can develop targeted, relevant content that your audience wants to interact with.

White Space

Higher institutions have a lot to share. You’re not just selling a simple product; you’re selling an education. An experience. A lifelong investment. To ensure that visitors get all the information they need, you might feel compelled to cram all the details onto your homepage.

Unfortunately, if you add too much content to your website, you run the risk of putting visitors on information overload. Many people won’t return if they are left with a poor experience. To avoid doing this, you need to focus on creating a simplified experience that gives prospects a small taste of what you have to offer.

With the appropriate amount of white space, prospects can relax and enjoy a more comfortable experience. At this point, all you want to do is show prospective students why your school is worth getting to know, so you can leave out most details. Place padding in between images and increase the line height in between paragraphs.

Thoughtful Organization

White space and a consistent color palette will help give your site a more professional look and feel, but it still needs to be well organized. Organization helps prospects find their way around your site. With proper placement, you can tell your brand’s story and leave users with a seamless experience rather than a disjointed one. Having a thoughtful site also instills trust.

To improve the construction of your site, here are some tips to follow.

  • Clean, neat section titles

  • Low-profile navigation bar

  • Consistent page layout

  • Page headings that stand out

  • Cohesive design and visual elements

  • Steady color palette

  • Dependable voice

Clear Navigation

Part of being organized is having clear navigation. What this means is that users can find their way around your website as simply as possible.

Start by setting apart the navigation menus so that visitors can find where they need to go. You can use these links to take users to larger departments and then guide them deeper into your content. This way, you’re not overloading visitors with content that is not useful to them.

Nested navigation is effective at keeping content organized, and breadcrumb navigation can help prospects retrace their steps. As you determine how easy your site is to navigate, view it from the perspective of your visitors and see if it offers a consistent journey.

Video and Storytelling

Video is an excellent way to share your institution's story. Storytelling engages visitors and humanizes your brand. There are many ways to tell a story, and video can help you pull it off without looking like you’re trying too hard.

Use video to film events at your school or interview current students. A video tour of your dorm rooms, cafeteria and lecture halls can give prospective students a good idea of what a day in the life is like. Keep your videos short but high in quality so that they can be easily shared. If you are creating a video for educational purposes, you can make it longer.

Smart Content

“Adaptive” or “smart” content changes based on the behaviors and interests of the user. It’s a great way to personalize your visitors’ experiences based on who they are.

If you haven’t tried smart content yet, this HubSpot article will show you the ropes. It’s something that all higher institutions should be using because it makes each user’s journey more personal. When you’re asking people to spend tens of thousands of dollars on an education, the content needs to be personal, after all! Plus, content that is meaningful keeps people on your site longer and generates more interest.

Landing Pages and Calls to Action

Landing pages deliver highly targeted content to a specific audience, which is helpful since you are reaching out to various personas. No matter who you are targeting, keep the design clean and minimal.

Your landing page should include one call to action that takes visitors where you want them to go, such as to download an ebook or sign up for a tour. Use A/B testing to see which formats, CTAs, images, etc. work best for your audiences. Remember to make your CTAs original yet creative so that prospects feel compelled to follow through with the action.

Social Media Integration

Your higher institution should have an active presence on social media. If you don’t, make 2017 the year that you partner with a digital marketing agency that specializes in higher education marketing.

If you are active on social media networks like Facebook and Instagram, your work isn’t complete yet. What you need to do now is incorporate social media into your blog posts and other web pages.

Start by adding “share” buttons onto your content so that readers can easily share the posts with their friends and followers on social media. This is one of the most common ways that content goes viral. Another thing you can do is include a widget on your latest social media posts. This way, users can engage with you there, too. Finally, keep followers updated about new content on your website through your social media channels.

To have a successful website for your college or university, you must have the right mix of elements. A large part of this is bringing your web design up to par with your other inbound marketing efforts. By following the tips above, you can greatly improve your website, boost engagement and increase donations and enrollment.

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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