prospective students

3 Tests for a Website that Make Prospective Students Want to Matriculate

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on Today’s Campus.

What makes a website stand out as superior? There are some key qualities we all subconsciously look for when we scout a new site, but they are too often forgotten when it comes time to build or revise our own.

Visit your site. Yes, now. Take a few minutes to evaluate it with the following 3 questions and engage the actionable advice into your plans to make some measurable improvements.

Is your site easy and intuitive to navigate?

This sounds incredibly basic, and to some extent it is. Yet, time and again I visit businesses’ websites to get one specific piece of information, and it’s nowhere to be found – yes, I’m talking about the open hours. The fact is, if a competitor has their hours posted right at the top of their home page, I’m heading there instead. Don’t think it’s incredibly different when it comes to student applicants.

If prospective students or their parents are looking for your registrar’s office contact info, only a small percentage will find the page they need if it’s buried 20-clicks into your site somewhere. No one wants it that badly.

The first step is to know exactly what your visitors want to accomplish when they visit your site. You can learn this in a variety of ways, but the best ways measure what your visitors are actually doing – versus what they tell you they’re doing. Taking analytics on high-traffic funnels (i.e. home page > Prospective Students > Apply Now > Register) will give you much more accurate information than a survey sent to new applicants on the route they took through your site, or even one on what they found useful.

Once you know how your visitors are using your site, you’ll be able to balance your expectations and desires to with their needs. If you want a larger applicant pool, why not put a big red “Apply” button right on your homepage? By making the things that are most important to your visitors easily accessible you’re telling them that you know their needs and respect their time. Speaking of time…

Is your site clearly and concisely worded?

Examine everything from your news feed to the call-to-action buttons, so visitors don’t waste time reading fluff or clicking around trying to find the right page. When I want to create an account on a site, hitting “Login” to access both the login and registration pages just doesn’t make sense. Even if it directs to the same page, have both a “Login” and “Register” button on the home page. Don’t expect your audience to know you’ve combined similar pages like that just because it makes sense to you.

The content-heavy areas of your site should receive most of your attention in planning. You don’t need to flood visitors with every last detail about you or your school. Don’t be afraid to leave information off your site if it falls in the category “mildly interesting” or below. Better to put only the most excellent parts and nothing mediocre.

Think of it being all based on percentages – if you have less content but it’s 100% impressive, people will literally think “wow.” If you put filler just to make your site appear full, but it’s only 50% impressive, people will think something to the effect of “meh.” Being succinct ensures you don’t overwhelm them and gives someone the opportunity to inquire for more info – which is exactly what you want. Your goal is to lower any and all barriers to the tasks you want your visitors to complete. While you’re making it short, also make it sweet.

Is your site content provoking and relevant?

If not, no one will care enough to read it. Like I said – impress me 100%. Things that impress me provoke me to action, and this is true for your audience.

List your school’s accomplishments, or if it’s your about page, list yours! Pay close attention to not only what you’re saying, but how you’re saying it. Use punchy, meaningful verbs like increased, leveraged, engineered, and more. Saying your institution has a beautiful campus is hokey. Highlighting that Travel and Leisure designated it as one of the top 30 most beautiful college campuses in America is something that will stick in a prospect’s mind and may very well sway a few students in your favor.

Most importantly, never forget to talk to your audience’s fears and build their hope. This will motivate them to action and start channeling them into a growing loyalty to you and your institution. This is as simple as acknowledging potential problems and telling how you will avert them before they’re even encountered.

When you’re surfing the web, keep an eye out for excellent sites that are intuitive to navigate, simple to understand, and populated with relevant content. Get inspired and use that inspiration on your site.

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Picture LicenseAttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by chris.corwin

Lida is the cofounder and COO of two edtech startups, Ginkgotree and PaperDesk. Her personal writing targets marketing and branding strategy, while her writing on Ginkgotree’s blog focuses on melding best business practices with modern teaching and learning. As a marketing consultant, she helps startups develop their voice and image. She enjoys life in Ann Arbor, MI with her best friend, husband and cofounder. You can follow her on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.