College and university websites are the central hub for students, staff, prospective students, and their families. Since there are so many different stakeholders involved, these sites can get complex and slow – and the outdated systems many schools are working with don't make managing them any easier.
This guide will review different website optimization strategies you can implement to improve your site, boost engagement, drive traffic, and more. Let’s dive in!
Why Do You Need to Optimize your Higher Education Website?
Before we get into the various ways to optimize your higher education website, it is essential to review why the website optimization and redesign process is important.
Studies have found that almost 15% of people who visit a university’s website intend to learn more about the school. Additionally, many visitors are relatives of the prospective student or individual that is interested in attending. Your website can make or break that first impression and serve as a deciding factor in whether the student chooses to attend the college.
As such, your website needs to be fast and showcase your brand identity. You want your viewers to get answers to the questions they need right away and get an idea of what your institution is all about.
If your website is not converting prospective students, driving traffic to your enrollment counsellors, or boosting engagement, then it is likely time for a redesign. Implementing the following website optimization strategies can help you improve your higher education website.
Focus on SEO
One of the most valuable strategies to improve your website performance is to focus on SEO. Search engine optimization, or SEO, refers to the process of increasing your rankings on Google results pages. You should also understand how web design and accessibility can improve your SEO.
Think about it this way – if someone searches for information about your programs, they won’t make it to your website if it’s not on the first results page! Improving your SEO can help you ensure that all the collegebound students you are targeting can find your site.
To start, you need to understand what keywords are important to your students and your brand. How do you compare to competitors? What searches lead visitors to your page, and which ones don’t – but should?
If your performance on enrollment-related searches is lacking, you should take time to rework your content and ensure that it includes the right keywords. Enhancing website navigation, mobile compatibility, and page load times will also help you rank higher for those queries.
Create the Right Content
Creating the right content goes together with SEO optimization, and it is another strategy that can help you enhance your higher education website.
Remember that your college website is the most helpful source of information for prospective students - especially if they are looking to learn more about your institution and make an enrollment decision. Similarly, a well-designed website will help you make a positive first impression with their parents and other individuals that can impact that decision.
Consider whether your website addresses the questions that are most important to your students, such as financial aid, cost of attendance, programs offered, and similar topics. As you organize your content, keep prospective students and their priorities as the driving focus.
Optimize the Site for Mobile Browsing
Optimizing your landing pages for mobile browsing is crucial to the success of your site. Over 71% of current and prospective students use mobile devices to view higher education websites, so you will lose traffic and engagement if you cannot support that.
Likewise, Google prioritizes pages that are mobile-friendly on their search engine rankings. That means that investing in responsive design and compatibility will also help you achieve your SEO goals.
So, what can you do to ensure your website works seamlessly on mobile devices?
Start by following UX best practices and standards to make it easy for users to see your content and interact with it on their phones. Anyone that visits the site should be able to find the key topics and resources within 30 seconds – they shouldn’t have to spend longer than that scrolling through your page.
Users should also be able to use mobile features like pinching and zooming, so they can engage with the website and perform key actions. Keep the information to a minimum to avoid mobile layouts that are too cluttered or confusing. Instead, focus on the information that matters the most like how they can get in contact with you!
Invest in the Right Infrastructure
Another crucial aspect of a website optimization strategy is to invest in the right infrastructure. Many higher education institutions are constrained by old or outdated technology that may not meet the needs of a modern-day website.
Instead of working to adjust systems that are not meant to operate in a certain way or are difficult to tweak, make room in your budget to obtain the systems that can support optimal website performance.
Integration and Connectivity
For example, your systems should be able to talk to each other – whether it is your intranet, content management system, or enrollment site, data connections between them must be automated.
In other words, all systems that are used to collect, store, and analyze information about current and prospective students should be integrated. Doing so ensures that all data is accurate and updated and that all relevant stakeholders can access the information they need. There is a reason the world's top university websites are built with Drupal!
The right infrastructure should also support fast browsing and processing speeds. No one likes a slow website, and your students and staff are no exception. You can create the most aesthetically pleasing and informational website, but if it takes too long to load, no one will view it.
Your visitors are looking for quick answers when they visit your site, so minimize friction and load times. Failure to do so will lead to high bounce rates and abandoned searches. Try using the free PageSpeed Insights tool offered by Google to see where you stand and what can be improved! Or you can obtain a Drupal website performance audit from OPIN.
Innovative Web Optimization Tools
Your website optimization strategy should also involve investing in innovative tools. The goal is to help your users quickly find the information they need and get in contact with your staff.
One way to accomplish this is to create a chatbot for your higher education website. A chatbot allows your current and prospective students to ask questions and get in touch with the right team. Automated solutions can answer questions about tuition, scholarships, applications, and more around the clock!
Leverage Website Analytics
Reviewing your website analytics should be an ongoing process if you want to create an optimized higher education website. Even if you implement all the strategies we discussed, you need to measure what worked and what could use some additional improvements.
Begin by capturing data about your website visitors at the individual user level. Who is visiting your site? Can you identify any trends in engagement, bounce rates, or traffic? Once you collect this information, you can perform an analysis to determine what successful visits look like and what caused other users to churn.
Similarly, you can leverage website analytics to drive your objectives – like enrollment targets and engagement rates. For instance, look at which visitors are prospective students and review what that experience looked like. This will allow you to create detailed profiles that evolve to meet their needs and support them as they move from prospective students to an enrolled member.