The road to conversion for an educational institution is a long one. There are countless factors that will influence whether someone takes an action on the site -- and, depending on which user type we're talking about, there are likely countless different actions you might want them to take. For the most part this post will focus on what is usually the most important user group an education website needs to satisfy -- prospective students and parents. Of course, an educational institution's website serves many purposes and users (alumni, current students, and faculty, for example) but those users are already part of your institution and thus are not necessarily considered in the same way when discussing how to influence conversions. Let's take a look at some key website elements that can help influence and encourage conversions:
1. Compelling Headline
Consider how many choices students have when trying to narrow their options for college or graduate school. Early on in the process of researching options they will be looking at dozens of schools and they may know very little about each school other than the fact that it was recommended to them by an acquaintance or school counselor, or that its location is convenient or appealing in some way. That's why having a compelling, straightforward headline (and supporting subline!) is so important. If a prospect lands on your site what is the one thing you want them to remember about you when they leave? There are many things that make your institution unique and appealing, so it can be difficult to focus on a single aspect of who you are, but it's better to make a bold statement than to dilute your message with a glut of information. New School's Open Campus defines itself clearly as offering continuing education for progressive people.
2. Quality Imagery
High quality imagery goes hand-in-hand with a compelling headline. Your homepage and key landing pages should feature photography that gives users an immediate and positive reaction -- "Wow, I can see myself there!" Paired with strong messaging, high quality visuals will leave a lasting impression on prospective students, helping to convince them of the merits of your institution. Northeastern University's admissions landing page features a rotation of full-bleed short video clips that give users a taste of campus life.
3. Defined User Pathways
As discussed earlier, education websites must serve the needs of many user groups. For that reason, it's absolutely critical to have clearly defined user pathways to allow users to navigate the site based on their needs. Providing clear pathways to relevant content ensures that users don't land on your site and abandon it because they can't find the information they're looking for. University of British Columbia provides clear paths for users to identify themselves based on their relationship to the university (prospective student, undergraduate, graduate, etc.)
4. Ease of Navigation
Education websites are usually crammed with tons of information, which makes sense given that the different needs of each user group must be met and an enormous number of course offerings, majors, and programs must be represented. However, such a vast amount of content poses organizational challenges when it comes to representing it on a website. Websites with a lot of content need to be even more focused on presenting intuitive ways to navigate the site towards content that is relevant and useful to each user. New School's Open Campus offers simple, visually-appealing pathways to explore course offerings.
5. The right CTAs
Obviously, calls-to-action (CTAs) are an incredibly important factor in the conversion process, but it's not about forcing users to take the step you want them to take (apply now!), it's about guiding them through the process in a way that makes sense for them. The more comfortable your users are, the more likely they will be to complete a conversion. It's important to consider how much information users need before they're ready to take a more serious step such as giving up their contact information or beginning the application process. So be sure to include other options for those who are not yet ready to make a full commitment. John Jay College of Criminal Justice offers options for prospective students at different phases of the research process -- those just beginning the process are encouraged to explore program options, plan a visit, and finally, to begin the process of applying.
6. Social Proof
Showcasing social proof on your website is a great way to instill trust in users and get them to connect with your institution on a more personal level. Nothing is as powerful as word-of-mouth marketing, and social shares, comments, and mentions are the digital equivalent of a conversation shared between friends. Integrating social media with your website can help show prospects that your institution fosters a thriving, engaged, and successful community. Pomona College has a social hub which features content from their social channels, offering a more meaningful glimpse at what the college is all about.
7. Mobile Optimized
We've said it before and we'll say it again...and again...and again. There is no longer any excuse for not having a mobile-optimized website. We know that people access the web from their phones and we know that Google takes mobile-optimization into account as a ranking factor. Not having a mobile-optimized web presence is a major drawback and a website that performs poorly on mobile is a surefire conversion killer. A majority of prospective students at this point are digital natives who've lived most or all of their lives with access to smartphones, and they expect websites to function just as well on mobile as they do on desktop -- it's wise to make sure their expectations are met. French coding school, 42, offers a clean, vertical, mobile-optimized browsing experience.
Designing and optimizing an education website is a big job. There are a lot of moving parts, hundreds of pages of content, and many, many stakeholders to satisfy. But there are also a number of opportunities to streamline and maximize conversions. Hopefully the 7 areas of focus discussed here have given you inspiration to get started.