What students really want (in a website)

According to Educational Marketing Group, Inc. (EMG), students want two things in an institutional website:

  1. a site that’s easy to navigate
  2. a site that expresses the unique personality, or brand, of the school

EMG determined this by conducting online focus groups, asking student participants to visit four college/university websites and answer a set of questions about each [e-mail EMG for the URLs of the tested sites]. The results were telling:

The website that communicated a distinctive brand personality created the strongest positive impact and “buzz” with participants. And to address the obvious objection, it even fared well with those who weren’t in the target segment and didn’t resonate with the personality. Everyone appreciated the fact that the college conveyed pride and openness about their distinctive worldview. 

This sends a clear message to colleges, universities and independent schools: Don’t be afraid to differentiate yourself and put your unique brand out there.

However, despite its successful brand, this site lost students due to poor navigation.

Another “winner” among the focus groups was a website that, though traditional and not as visually branded, is clean and easy to navigate with clear pathways to key information.

Sadly, the site that turned students off was the most high-concept of the bunch. This website displays information in unique, interactive and visually appealing ways (including student-shot videos and revolving photos), but students didn’t even make it past the homepage—which lacks both images and personality.

The bottom line: Institutions should strive for websites that are clearly branded, expressing the school’s distinct personality, and easy to navigate.

Spend some time on institutional sites and see what works for you. Be creative and try something different. Your website is your most important recruitment tool, so invest the time, effort and money into making it as effective and engaging as possible. Give the students what they want, and they’ll do the same in return.

industry / marketing / technology