What’s Wrong With Your College Website and How Can You Fix It?

building a perfect website

You only get one chance to make a good first impression. That time-tested bromide is truer than ever, but now it’s gone digital. Your college website is the first impression to the world. Are you doing all you can to make a good one?

Ninety percent of today’s students use the internet to research their college choice1 and most of them use search engines to locate college websites rather than entering the school’s URL directly.2 In fact, more than 80 percent of all edu queries begin with non-branded terms.1 Most prospective students start with a search, not a school.  And you can’t make any impression at all if those searching students, parents, and potential donors can’t even find you.

If you’re in the middle of a web redesign, make sure you follow these 6 rules to create a winning college website:

  • Know your audience. It’s Marketing 101. You can’t pitch to your audience if you don’t truly know who it is. On the other hand, your institution likely has a variety of student personas with whom you’ll regularly engage. What do they have in common and how can you create a website that segments with purpose? Remember also that your website can’t be all things to all people. Consider its most important function (again, this is basic marketing –the most important target of your website is your future student) and don’t let secondary purposes interfere with your main objective.


  • Build good architecture. With rule number 1 in mind, build a site that is easy to navigate, with plenty of relevant information that those future students (and their parents) actually care about. Start with the homepage, but don’t stop there. On the other hand, don’t make potential future students click five times to find info that should be front-and-center. The entire site needs to be crisp, clear, user friendly, and fun—or whatever adjective most accurately shows off what your school most represents. You don’t just want students; you want the right students.


  • Design visually. Use compelling images of actual students on campus. Get some drone footage and create awesome videos that put future students on the ground, in the classroom, and at sporting events and schoolwide activities. What makes your school unique? Capture it in pictures and you’ll capture the attention of the right people at the right time.


  • Optimize for search engines. You cannot build a successful college website without search engine optimization. And it’s not just about choosing the right SEO keywords. Google considers more than 200 factors to determine where your site will rank. Content is a top ranking factor, but so is how your page looks on mobile, and how quickly images load. An SEO audit of what you did wrong on your old site will help ensure you do it right on your new site.


  • Include calls-to-action. Great SEO will help future students find your site, but what do you want them to do once they get there? Schedule a tour? Apply online? Or just request more information to get their questions answered? Whatever next step you want them to take, create a clear call-to-action that nudges them along in their decision-making journey.


  • Update—continually. You know what Google really loves? Continually updated and relevant information. By the way, so do the users who come to your site. Your website will likely need a redo every two years, but it should be tweaked regularly. Users don’t want inaccurate information—they don’t deserve it. You need dedicated staff to constantly scour the site to make sure it’s worthy of your institution, its students, alumni, and future students. Is it?

If you want to see if your website measures up, contact ESM Digital today. We can perform an SEO audit and let you know if the right people are finding your site and your school.

~Linda Emma

1 http://ssl.gstatic.com/think/docs/education-trends-through-the-eyes-of-your-customer-research-studies.pdf

2 htps://www.ruffalonl.com/documents/gated/Papers_and_Research/2015/2015_E-Expectations_Report.pdf