Boosting Student Engagement with your website in 2021.
I don’t need to tell you how powerful a website can be, not just to house content, but to proactively drive user engagement and admissions. The key here is to make these engagements meaningful and helpful, as is the case with all messaging.
Mapping out your different audience types (with reference to personas) and structuring content around them sounds like it should be straight forward, but to do this properly, you need to look at the users’ journeys on your site and consider what needs to be updated or optimised.
1. Information architecture.
Things to look at are how easy it is for a site user to get to the content they’re looking for. Are there too many calls to action competing for attention (remember a call to action can just be as simple as a link)? How well aligned is a landing page with the marketing channel and message that brought them there? Is there a straightforward flow from the landing page to complimentary content? Is the site optimised for search engines to discover (there’s more about this in this post). Are there broken links? Is your bounce rate high? Are average session times low? Where are referrals coming from? Are they direct or external? What content should be gated (e.g. sat behind a data capture form) and what should be freely available?
Tools like Hotjar help web developers understand user behaviour providing both valuable insights for UX (User Experience) design and showing how a site can be optimised for marketing purposes.
I’ve seen lots of education provider sites (and I won’t name and shame here) where there is just too much going on. On one site I looked at whilst compiling this post I was confronted with 60 different potential calls to action just on the front page. The site wasn’t terribly structured but with so much going on on page one, it’s a wonder anyone manages to find what they’re looking for.
2. Use of Micro-interactions.
Micro interactions are the latest (and possibly biggest) UX trend of the moment. They are all the more important if a student is looking at your site on a mobile device, They are every task like engagement of users with their devices, smooth enough to pass unnoticed in their usual activities. There are three main areas that micro-interactions help:
- Communicating statuses or feedback
- Revealing results from particular actions
- Helping manipulation
Micro interactions help the users understand the process they’re about to participate in, and approach the interface easily, as complicated as its logic may be. They can be formal or playful and fun. The main aim is to ensure that the user experience is as good as possible, therefore reducing the likelihood of ending a site session early. Look at the Alan Turing Institute’s website and notice the way that you glide around the site, making it easy and even enjoyable to find the information you’re looking for.
3. Research and testing.
Careful research should be undertaken. This should include your student personas, competitor analysis, User Acceptance Testing (feedback from real users), site feedback forms (if you use them) and internal stakeholder viewpoints.
There will no doubt be clashes of interest which is why it’s important to bring in the experts – third party perspective and knowledge of what works and what doesn’t is a sound investment.
Taking one of our Education sites as an example, Jesus College,Cambridge has many different audiences – prospective students, current students, alumni, conference customers, choir fans, academics and staff.
Through careful planning, research and testing pre-launch we created a site that resulted in 91% drop in bounce rate, 30% increase in sessions, 27% increase in session durations and a whopping 219% increase in page views when compared to the previous year.
4. Onsite community.
As far as engagement is concerned, it’s particularly important to build an open, authentic and welcoming community. Prospective students want to hear from real people who have real experiences of real courses.
Both of these feature user generated content from real life students and invite user engagement. The Gonville offering has more of a “live chat” feel and includes rich content (short videos) that encourage the viewer to interact.
The Leeds Beckett “blog squad” is a similar community of bloggers that write about their actual experiences, and how the university helps them in aspects of their study and non-study life. The latest blog that I read on the site covers reflections on first year nerves, the support the blogger received from lecturers, the library system and individual support. It’s a great example of how a simple blog can be used to show the true solutions to common challenges from an authentic source.
Highly successful onsite communities should embrace what’s happening on the site, in the real world, and on other platforms (like social media – more about that later in the series).
5. Think Inbound.
Inbound marketing is a philosophy that has been around for a while. But it’s not just a philosophy – it’s a mindset. Websites are the centre of the hub in an inbound strategy – they are where users follow your marketing messages to and the most likely place that they convert from being a prospective student through to becoming alumni. Therefore view every part of your website in its potential to help (or hinder) in this journey.
A good inbound marketing strategy will be aligned with a strong content marketing strategy. As shown in the examples above, content can be produced and repurposed by a wide range of stakeholders – including prospective students themselves. User generated content has the most powerful peer appeal and a great website engagement initiative should look for ways to maximise this potential at every turn. As mentioned earlier in the series, a decent CRM will enable you to leverage this content (or it’s consumption) for more targeted recruitment or retention campaigns.
6. Have a post launch strategy.
If you’re relaunching your website, making significant changes to its structure or content, or creating a micro-site to house your campaign, it’s important to have a post launch strategy in mind from the very beginning. There is a helpful mnemonic that we as an agency follow when rolling out a new digital strategy – M.E.M.E.M. This is:
Integrating tools like Google Analytics, Hotjar, HubSpot, SEM Rush, Google Optimise etc.
Making small changes to the way your site is structured are designed after launch that take account of the feedback you have received from your measurement framework.
Thinking about your site in the broader context of the campaign or initiative you are rolling out. This could be search advertising (with Google Adwords for example), SEO with your content, your content marketing strategy (including email marketing) and so on.
Look for ways to continuously develop content areas on the site. This could include an editorial calendar to produce and release new content, having a roadmap for releasing new features that will be useful to your student population and other publics and so on.
This is probably the least glamorous part of post launch strategy but vitally important if you don’t want to go through a complete overhaul in two years or less. This includes regular updates, keeping a log of the dates the site is updated and any issues coming soon (you can automate this), ensuring back ups are being taken and the restore process is valid and working, creating a calendar for health checks and regularly testing from broken links, web standards compliance, accessibility compliance, page speed and SEO optimisation.
This can all feel like an arduous task and one that I would advocate getting a digital strategy partner to help with.
Using your website to market to prospective and existing students and teachers is an essential part of any digital marketing campaign.
With the wide range of wants and needs of ever evolving audiences, it’s all too easy to get confused and bogged down with what to say and how to say it.
Authenticity and relevance, backed up by genuine people stories and physical evidence will be a determining factor in creating and engaging an active and enduring community. With budgets being restricted and cut, it’s imperative that your launch and post launch strategies allow for dynamic site and messaging development backed up by actionable insights from your technology stack.
Look out for next week’s installment where we’ll look at how to boost student engagement through email in greater depth.