“A college’s website is its most important marketing tool.”
In 2016, who would dispute that statement? It’s accepted as fact among university marketers, web developers, and admission officers across the world.
And why not? It makes intuitive sense: Websites are always available to prospective students (or anyone else) in a couple of swipes across a smartphone screen, instantly gratifying their desire to learn whether a college they’ve just heard about is a potential match for them. And, the importance of websites to prospective students, especially teens, has been confirmed through focus groups and survey research.
College and university websites serve many constituents, including current students, faculty, and alumni. But most institutions consider prospective students seeking admission to be the most important audience. With continued competition for a shrinking applicant pool and pressure to achieve ever-higher enrollment targets, coupled with a continued rise in digital and social media influence on students, college marketers’ “low-hanging fruit” should be the channel they control — their “.edu website.”
Understanding what students like, dislike, and need can be challenging for marketers, because their target audience is media-saturated, accustomed to immediate gratification, and constantly changing its preferences for digital content consumption. This year’s research explores just how important college websites are to college-bound teens, complementing last year’s study, “Mythbusting Admissions,” which explored teen perspectives on college admission tactics.
Michael Stoner, president of mStoner, cautions higher education marketers to stay focused on making their institutions’ websites easy for students to use rather than constantly adding new features.
“It’s easy to try to incorporate the latest shiny object into your website,” says Stoner. “However, research shows teens are not as impressed with flashy tools when they are browsing your website as they are concerned with easily finding the important information that can help them navigate the overwhelming application process.”
Gil Rogers, director of enrollment marketing at Chegg, notes that a clear distinction exists between the college website, which remains an important channel for prospective students throughout the process, and other channels, such as college help sites and social media.
“Students visit an .edu website to find the information they need, like admissions deadlines, majors, and cost,” Rogers notes. “Students use social media and college ranking and review sites to find the information they want, like campus culture and fit.”
Mythbusting Websites explores:
The Mythbusting Websites research, conducted May 19 to June 8, 2016, asked college marketers about their perceptions of how teens use and value aspects of their websites, while concurrently asking teens about their use of college websites and preferences. More than 590 college professionals and 2,300 high school seniors provided feedback to this survey.