Today, the university opens doors for more than 16,000 students across 41 campus centers, 63 online degree programs, a flagship residential campus in Parkville, MO, and a new campus in Gilbert, AZ.
Park University Director of Marketing Aimee Patton set a single, clear goal for this website redesign: “Generate inquiries from prospective students.” A simple enough challenge, until you consider that Park serves six separate prospective student audiences from more than 80 countries: undergraduates, graduates, military/veteran students, international students, transfer students, and working professionals. Throw in overlapping interests between these audiences, different degrees within the same field of study, dozens of campus locations on military bases, multiple course formats (online, in-person, and hybrid), and mission-critical content for faculty, staff, alumni, and current students and voilá: it’s a spaghetti bowl! Bon appétit!
Patton and the mStoner team met this challenge with their combined knowledge of best practices in creating rich user experiences. We created clean pathways for each type of visitor, an easy-to-use program finder, simple inquiry forms, a campus exploration tool, eminently clickable calls-to-action, and a number of other customized features designed for Park’s myriad prospective students. Here are a few of the strategies that helped mStoner and Park turn a spaghetti bowl into a streamlined, top-shelf user experience that’s winning awards and delivering results.
Park’s mission to make quality education accessible to all learners came right to the forefront in the content strategy and design concept. A pathfinder section appears high up on the homepage hierarchy, inviting students to self-identify from among the six prospective student types. “Nontraditional students can get left behind on websites in terms of representation,” said mStoner director of content strategy and services, Shannon Lanus. “For us, it was vital to give each student pathway equal weight and equal prominence. The pathfinder allows Park to say with text and photography that all of these audiences are important in their community. And that, in turn, supports the messaging we landed on. 1) Park goes out of its way for ALL students; and 2) diversity is a high priority at Park. They’re not being shy about it: they’re proud of it.”
The new Park site also had to make 41 campus locations immediately find-able and inviting to all visitors. mStoner’s navigation design tackled this a number of ways, beginning with the sticky top navigation bar where a link invites visitors to explore Park’s campuses.
The Explore Campuses link leads to a custom-built interactive map of the US that displays all of the campuses, as well as an alphabetical list of locations by state. Each icon and campus name clicks through to its own landing page on which visitors are greeted by unique welcome text and a dynamic, filter-able list of the programs offered at that campus. To make this work, Patton’s team put in a considerable amount of time optimizing each location for local SEO, customizing descriptions, and fact-checking the lists of frequently changing programs offered at each campus.
A top-level program finder tool also allows prospective students to sort by location, field of study, and program level. “We’re hearing that the Program Finder is a game changer. We didn’t have anything like that on the last site,” said Patton.
Park and the mStoner team prioritized the creation of polished, content-rich academic program pages to enhance the user experience and drive inquiries through the admissions funnel. Each program page features large photography, concise text, vibrant color, clear location info, and key facts on ROI and career paths. A prominent, impossible-to-miss inquiry form in the right margin warmly invites visitors to “get started” without asking for too much personal information.
The effect is such that each program page looks as dynamic and impactful as the homepage itself.
And the result is better than Patton could have hoped for. “The program pages are performing beautifully,” she said. “We were expecting a 10 to 20% bump in inquiries and we’re exceeding that.”
Park was also interested in moving to a more user-friendly content management system (CMS). After conducting a review of the possibilities, mStoner recommended WordPress for managing all of Park’s content needs. mStoner also built a customized WordPress interface to make it as easy as possible for content creators within Park to update and organize content.
“What an amazing difference WordPress has made,” Patton said. “Website changes are fast and easy. Our University community has trust that the information on our site is accurate and up-to-date, providing current and potential students with all the information that they need on Park University. WordPress is the perfect platform to help Park University shine in the digital space.”
Early on in the partnership, mStoner conducted in-depth focus groups to gain an understanding of what Park students really cared about. A surprising finding revealed that the Parkville, MO campus mattered to all students, even online learners in far-flung destinations who might never set foot on it. “We saw it was important to convey that Park is a real university and that all students are ‘part of Park,’ even if they are studying at a military base far away,” said Lanus. It matters to students that Park isn’t only an online school. They take pride in their connection, however remote, to a physical college campus. mStoner’s content strategy, therefore, emphasized creating a sense of place with full-width photos of the Parkville campus.
For Patton, the focus groups were one of the most fruitful parts of the mStoner engagement. “I was really impressed by the way mStoner managed our focus groups and facilitated conversations and asked great questions,” she said. “There is a skill set to this, and they facilitated a focus group like I’ve never seen ever before, even from large-scale brand agencies. The focus group findings resulted in the home page strategy and also gave me the evidence to back up our decisions when presenting to internal stakeholders.”
— Aimee Patton, Park University Director of Marketing
Did the new site meet Patton’s goal of increasing inquiries? Absolutely. In fact, the site is generating more inquiries than expected.
Additionally, internal stakeholders are satisfied with the new governance policies and the Park University marketing team is enjoying a new level of efficiency with an easy-to-use WordPress interface. “My team has appreciated that there is a process for website changes now and that they’re not running ragged all over the university,” Patton said. “They know where to go to check for changes in WordPress and we have a process in place for managing them. We’ve committed to a timeframe for when changes will be made and we’re honoring it and making the changes within that timetable. It has really improved the level of customer service to the University.”
Content and web strategy; information architecture; user testing; responsive redesign; six page design templates; art direction; content writing; message development; focus groups; CMS selection assistance; thematic CSS development; programming and site implementation; content migration; quality assurance testing
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