College websites: designing for enrollment

Move prospects from the home page to the application page by combining user experience research and a solid marketing strategy.

Illustration of people designing a desktop and mobile website.

College websites face two main challenges – complexity and a misguided strategy.

1. Complexity

College websites very often have many different audiences and user types, all with their own diverse needs. Because of this, they are incredibly complex, containing massive amounts of information. All too often, this also means they’re extremely hard to navigate. If your college’s website is difficult to navigate, you’re losing potential recruits.

2. Misguided strategy

In our education marketing work, we frequently encounter college websites that have been designed using an “inside out” approach, meaning they’re organized based on how the institution works and how internal stakeholders think about it, instead of being designed for the outsider who is just trying to find out how much a school costs and what the day-to-day student life is like.

Improperly addressing these challenges can be the difference between a recruit clicking through to the application page or leaving, frustrated, to find another college with a website that makes it easy.

Understanding the challenges users face on your website is key for strategic development. To understand their challenges, you need to understand who they are and what they care about. First, we define the target users. Then, we develop personas for each of those user types. These personas help guide the project team when determining site hierarchy, functionality, and form.

Then, the measuring begins. After putting a plan in place, we conduct user experience testing to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of our planned structure. This process involves asking questions like:

  • How well does the college website meet the user’s needs?
  • How easily are users able to complete tasks within the website?
  • Where does the website fall short?
  • How do potential recruits feel about the website experience?
  • How does the website experience affect recruit perception of the institution?
  • Once we understand what works for who and why, we make architecture and pathway adjustments before finalizing plans.

The result is a clearly defined structure that makes sense to the college’s target audiences, supports both institutional and individual goals, and provides a flexible, extensible foundation for expansion over time. It’s also the framework for design and content, which is the next step in the web development process.

To be successful, this structure needs to take an “outside in” approach by organizing the information to meet the users’ objectives and needs, rather than the needs of internal stakeholders. This is a key step to keeping prospects clicking through rather than ditching your site.

Using your website to increase enrollment numbers is all about discovering, understanding, and reacting to your users’ needs. Serve them information the way they want to receive it, and you’re sure to see an increase in applications.

Websites are always better when they’re created together.

Let’s talk about how we can partner to help you develop a college website built for enrollment. Just fill out this brief form so we can get in touch about bringing your college education brand to life.