How an Enrollment-driven Website Can Serve Higher Ed Recruitment
By: Laura Sheehan
What if 75% of college-bound students in the U.S. told you that one piece of your marketing and enrollment strategy mattered more than anything else? What if 80% of high school seniors told you they judged your institution by this one component? Chances are you would make that one component a priority.
That critical piece is your institution’s website. Research consistently proves that college and university websites are the most influential resource in students’ college search. Furthermore, 60% of high school seniors equate the quality of a website to the quality of education provided by the institution.
Think about that: If a student comes to your website and can’t find what they are looking for, they may very well dismiss your institution as a whole. Extreme? Not really.
Compare it to how you might shop for a car. You do some online research, find an option, then follow the link to the website. But what if the link takes you to the homepage rather than the actual car? How much time do you spend looking on a site that feels confusing and hard to navigate? There comes a point when you move on to another dealership. For the current generation of traditional-aged college students, that point is 8 seconds.
But what if your website served students efficiently, not just connecting them to the information they are seeking, but also
- Sharing your institution’s selling points and outcomes of success and
- Inspiring them to take action, thereby moving them into your admissions funnel?
This type of organic lead generation is what enrollment-driven websites do: they attract high-yield prospects, engage them via conversion opportunities, and then move them over to your admissions team.
This 3-part series will give insight into the recruitment capacity of a website, as well as the perspective needed to evaluate your institution’s current site. It will analyze key components of an enrollment-driven website, share research on the student perspective, and present tips on transitioning a site from its current status to one that attracts and converts prospective students. To start:
What is an Enrollment-driven Website?
It is one that works primarily for enrollment (and was built with that particular intention) as it:
- Targets and attracts “right-fit” students (those whose interests and goals match institutional strengths)
- Converts right-fit students by drawing them into the admissions funnel
- Tells a college’s success story
- Markets the institutional value
At its core, an enrollment-driven website has two basic functions: service and sales.
- It serves the user by making the most sought-after information readily available (via clear strategy, architecture, and navigation).
- It sells the value of an institution through lean, active, and compelling content (written specifically for the user) combined with strong visuals (photos, graphics, and short videos).
As a result, an enrollment-driven website inspires the user to engage with the site — to complete an application, ask a question, sign up for an Open House. These actions represent the website’s ultimate goal: moving a prospect into the admissions funnel; transitioning an inquiry into an applicant.
Key components of an enrollment-driven website (strategy, architecture/navigation, content, design, programming, content management, oversight) will be dissected and discussed later in Part II of the series.
What Today’s Students Expect
If you look at the college search process from a student’s perspective, it becomes easy to see why the form and function of a website matter. If you look at the evolution of websites in higher education, it is also easy to see why yours may be turning prospects away rather than drawing them in.
Our two primary audiences are Millennials (adult learners) and members of Gen Z (traditional aged undergraduates). Both are web savvy and conduct many of life’s functions on the digital landscape: they shop, read, connect, socialize, and share their ideology online.
Members of Gen Z (born after 1995) are the first true digital natives: their online and offline worlds are synchronized. As such, they expect a highly functional website — one that delivers information within 8 seconds.
These prospective students visit a college website early in their search process and usually for a specific task: to see a list of majors, find information on cost/financial aid, or to take the next step in the admissions process. If they do not find what they’re looking for, they leave. What’s worse, they leave thinking, “How good a college can it be with a website like that?”
Again, think about their perspective: They expect ease of function because it is the standard of service in the digital world.
The State of Higher Education Websites
Sadly, higher education seems to have fallen behind in this regard. Most college and university websites are hold overs from their early days when they were created to represent the entire institution. As a result, these sites function more as an archival depository than an enrollment driver (as was the standard 10 years ago).
In general, these sites share the following traits:
- Large in size, often thousands of pages. As a result: Lots of old information, broken links, general clutter
- Too much text, written in paragraph format; the content is not written for the audience or with the intent of selling the institution’s strengths. As a result: Information is not easily accessed by prospective students, so they leave the site
- Navigation disordered and/or duplicated; the user often does not know where they are in the site. As a result: Users leave the site quickly because they cannot find the content they want (or expect)
- Academic program pages read like the course catalog. As a result: Missed opportunity to sell the value of a program through outcomes of success (prospective students seek specific information on program/major pages)
- Includes internal information on the external site (lacks an intranet). As a result: Creates lots of unneeded content making for a messy, overwhelming site; does not adhere to the users’ needs
- Lack strong Calls to Action (CTAs) and engagement opportunities. As a result: Lost opportunity to convert prospective students (who are interested enough to be on the site) into applicants
- Primary focus is on design rather than strategy. As a result: The lack of strategy gets carried into each subsequent re-design, meaning the site often transfers its outdated content and messy navigation into each reiteration
In short, these sites fail to put the user first by not making the information they want easily available.
Next: Part II takes a deeper look at the components of an enrollment-driven website.