What Makes a Good University Website?

The answer to “What makes a good university website?” may seem simple: one that grabs a prospective student’s attention and convinces them to enroll in your degree program. But making a successful website in higher education isn’t quite so easy to enact. If it were, many colleges and universities wouldn’t be struggling to achieve their enrollment goals.

Your website is most likely the first point of contact and “public face” of your program for students. As the cornerstone of your enrollment marketing efforts, the website must be engaging, informative, and user-friendly. Higher-ed marketers who take a student-first approach and apply best practices so students can access and navigate their website with ease will get the results they’re looking for.

Steps to Create an Effective University Program Website

Websites are complex, with many moving parts that must all work together to create a great user experience, generate leads, and ultimately guide students to the “click to enroll” button. Of the many things to consider when building a website, key goals include projecting a strong brand, optimizing your SEO strategy, and providing engaging, relevant content. And don’t forget speed. Slow page load times are a sure “no go” with today’s digitally native students.

Fortunately, these challenges and more can be overcome by taking a thoughtful and systematic approach to website building. The team at Archer Education has deep experience optimizing higher-ed websites to achieve enrollment results. Here are steps to making a website that we recommend you follow.

Build a Project Plan

When contemplating how to launch a website, planning is the fundamental first step for university leaders and marketers. In your planning meetings, you’ll want to be sure to outline processes for:

  • Solidifying key stakeholder goals
  • Creating a strong brand presence
  • Establishing UX and UI methodologies
  • Setting content guidelines
  • Determining an SEO strategy

Creating dedicated teams with expertise in each of these areas, and later bringing them all together to share their work and collaborate on a website plan, is a winning strategy for building a successful site. 

Let’s take a closer look at each focus area.

Align on Key Stakeholder Goals

Before jumping into the project, program site developers should identify and gather key stakeholders to meet and align on goals for the degree program and its website. Typical stakeholders are people who know the student journey best and include students, university staff and faculty, enrollment marketers, and anyone else who is regularly involved with your program. Don’t overlook program alumni who can attest to the value of your program and share their positive experiences. 

Together, the stakeholders can decide what role the website will play in prospective students’ enrollment journey and, most importantly, ensure that program site developers create a product that prospective students will relate to and want to explore further.

Create a Strong Brand

The importance of website branding can’t be understated. In today’s digital world, the first stop on the student journey is likely to be your program site. And as the saying goes: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Therefore, your website must project your school’s strong and distinctive brand, with impactful and relevant creative elements. 

The best way for colleges and universities to connect with prospective students on a psychological and emotional level is by telling them a story. The team tasked with creating your program’s brand story should conduct robust discovery processes — such as interviewing students and alumni for insight and holding team brainstorming sessions — to uncover what makes your program distinct from the many similar programs competing for students. 

Once your website branding has been established, it’s important to have the brand well articulated in supporting documents so that it can be shared with teams working on the website build and displayed consistently on the site. If your institution or degree program doesn’t already have a brand book or style guide, you may want to bring on a branding consultant to help bring your brand story to life. Establishing a sitemap and wireframe mockups of the proposed pages will also help teams flesh out the creative storytelling plan.

Know the Difference Between UX and UI

User interface (UI) designers (or web designers) and user experience (UX) developers (or web developers) are important members of any website development project. But the two roles are often confused. Web developers build a website’s core structure using coding languages, while web designers are more visually creative and user-focused. It’s helpful to think of them as the construction workers and architects for building websites — both necessary but bringing different skill sets to site creation, according to WebsiteBuilderExpert.

Importantly, UI and UX professionals each have a vital role in helping higher-ed institutions meet the Title II obligation mandating reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities, which includes accessibility to digital platforms like websites. 

Here are eight parts of websites that web developers need to consider for making sites accessible:

  1. Images
  2. Audio and video
  3. Colors/contrast
  4. Text
  5. Links
  6. Navigation and site structure
  7. Forms
  8. Page time limits and flashing

Keep Your Content Focused 

Beyond prioritizing functionality, it’s important for program websites to feature plenty of fresh and engaging content that’s relevant to the degree program a prospective student is considering. Focusing on student-centric content — whether articles, blog posts, videos, livestreams, or other media, all optimized for mobile devices — increases the odds of converting website visitors into leads and, ultimately, enrollees.

Topics popular with potential students include:

  • Tuition and fees
  • Financing options 
  • Application and enrollment processes
  • Degree outcomes 
  • Time commitment

Beyond the just-the-facts items listed above, content that excites and inspires potential students or piques their curiosity about a particular field of study or profession is a critical asset for any degree program website. High-quality, student-centered content can really help your program stand out in the crowd.

Establish an SEO Strategy

Because many a student journey begins with an organic search, SEO is arguably the most essential — and trickiest to get right — ingredient in the recipe for boosting your enrollment cycle. A robust SEO strategy drives traffic to your program website and, in turn, leads to more conversions. Without a robust SEO strategy, your online degree program would be invisible to many prospective students.

Learning how to create an SEO strategy that drives results can be a challenge. The SEO team members here at Archer are experts at every step on the path toward optimizing a university’s website, including technical on-page optimization, off-page link building, and, most importantly, content creation and promotion. Here’s what our team has to say about the most relevant higher education SEO strategies and tactics of 2022 that higher-ed marketers should be thinking about. 

  • Determine Your Student Journey: Use student journey maps to guide the focus and intent of your website content.
  • Satisfy Student Search Intent: Make keyword research and content creation that match the student’s search intent a primary focus.
  • Elevate Your Content Strategy: Go beyond traditional articles and infographics to create content that’s fun to interact with and easy to use while still providing the quality and quantity of information found in more traditional content.
  • Maximize Your Presence in Google Search Engine Results Pages: While on-page SEO is still crucial for ranking on the SERPs, off-page citations will push hints and signals to Google that validate your brand.
  • Understand Your Competition: Higher ed is one of the most competitive segments of search engine rankings. Online degree programs compete against others with fatter marketing budgets, as well as with affiliate sites like highereducation.com and onlinemba.com. Developing a nuanced understanding of the higher-ed market can yield tremendous results around student enrollments and thought leadership.

Need Help Optimizing Your Website? Let Our Team Help 

In today’s crowded higher-ed market, websites are not only the public face of colleges and universities but the starting point on many prospective students’ journeys. As the cornerstone of your enrollment marketing efforts, there’s no room for error when building a successful website. 

At Archer Education, we have experts who can help with everything from branding and content creation to SEO and CRO. Contact us to learn more about how optimizing your website can help you achieve your online degree program’s enrollment goals.