Why Students Are Leaving Your Institution's Website

Pete Schauer

Marketing Director

Are your feelings hurt because students keep leaving your website? Nothing is more frustrating than making the investment in a great website, effectively marketing it and not seeing the engagement you had hoped for.

If you use Google Analytics, or any analytics program for that matter, you can easily spot which pages prospects are leaving. Unfortunately, you won’t know why. And until you know why, you can’t make changes that will turn your “bouncy” pages into “non-bouncy” ones.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to encourage the length of time that students spend on your page. College students aren’t quiet when it comes to what they expect from college and university websites, and they often know exactly what it is that causes them to leave. Chances are, you are guilty of at least one of them.

As you review your web pages, look for these faults and make the necessary changes. Hopefully you will see your bounce rate decrease as a result. If you don’t, you probably have something else going on that falls outside these frequent issues.

Let's begin with some of the most common problems that might be driving college students off your website.

Your navigation Is Outdated.

Today’s college students have grown up navigating the internet. Therefore, having a website isn’t impressive in the least bit. College students expect that you will have an intuitive site with seamless navigation - period. Unfortunately, many students come across sites that are outdated, slow to load and far from intuitive.

Navigation is especially a problem on mobile devices. Many students rely on their smartphones and tablets for everything from research to interacting with schools, and they find that many sites are not optimized for mobile. Ideally, your website should be responsive, but if it’s not, consider a mobile dedicated site or even an app.

To get a better idea of the navigational aspects of your site, pretend you are a prospect interested in learning more about your program. What do you think of the navigation? Do you feel that you were taken on the appropriate journey?

A disjointed or messy journey may not only make people leave your site, but give them a negative impression of your college. After all, if you can’t organize your site, how are you going to deliver a quality education?

Your site is click happy.

If your journey makes sense, then it’s possible that you’re asking prospects to make too many clicks. Students have admitted that if they are asked to do too many things, they will leave a site.

Again, take an objective look at your website and see it through the eyes of a prospect. Do you think that you’re asking too much from them? Are you bringing them from one page to another and another? Look for ways to cut down on clicks and streamline the process.

You miss the mark on your content.

The day-to-day demands of running a college are surely enough to keep you busy. You don’t have time to keep checking back with your website and ensure that it’s up to date with the right information. However, it’s very possible that your website contains a mix of bad, missing or unnecessary content.

Start by identifying areas on the prospect journey that contain poor or misleading information. Your content should have a purpose, so take out anything that is not crucial to the journey. It’s easy for prospects to be on information overload, especially since they are probably looking at more than just your website. Stick to content that is clear, concise and to the point.

At the same time, you want the information to be positive and also not be missing key points. You might have to do some additional research and A/B testing to better understand what type of information your prospects are looking for. For instance, some may expect to see a list of teachers and examples of your syllabi.

You could win an award for biggest braggart.

No one likes a bragger. And that couldn't be more true than for the higher education sector. To students, bragging looks desperate. If you have a great school and a great program, you don’t need to toot your own horn. Don’t be afraid to share compelling statistics about your graduation rates, but do careful about being over the top.

For example, it’s really neat when you are the recipient of countless awards and honors, but prospects don’t need to know about each and every one. Using precious real estate to list off your recognitions might deter some students. Instead, try to pull out your most noteworthy accomplishments and use them in your content (i.e., Listed as a Top 10 College in Greek Times Magazine) or as trust seals on your site.

You look identical to the other guys.

What separates your college from others? Do you feel that your prospects are getting this impression from your website, or does it look pretty much the same as others?

One issue that I come across is that colleges are often hesitant to be too different. They don’t want to risk being misunderstood or coming across as not serious enough. And this is completely understandable considering that college is an enormous investment. Before a person is willing to spend that kind of money and build their career at your institution, they better believe in you.

The trouble with this way of thinking is that it limits you, and this is why so many college websites tend to be a bit dull. It’s not that the schools aren’t great or don’t have a lot of useful features to offer, but rather that they all take a page from the same book.

As long as you have a consistent voice, you can venture outside your comfort zone and find ways to make your site truly unique. When a prospect lands on your website, you want them to think, “Wow. I’ve never seen a site that looks like this before. What is this school again?”

Conclusion

Above are some of the most common reasons why prospects leave college websites, but they aren’t all of them. It’s possible that you could have other factors that are leading to high bounce rates such as slow load times, coding problems or cheap stock photos.

For now, start with the common issues listed above and see if you notice any obvious problems with your site. Put yourself in a prospect’s shoes so that you can get an objective viewpoint of what your site is really like. Hopefully you can identify the pages that could use improvements and make the necessary changes to lower your bounce rates.

 
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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