Higher Education Marketing

9 Triggers for a Higher Ed Website Redesign

Date posted: November 5, 2012

The decision to move ahead with a redesign of your higher ed website is a big one. In terms of the time, money and human resource demands within a college or university web/marketing department, it’s one of the single, most important marketing decisions that you make. Whether you plan to have your team do all the work internally or to go to RFP and outsource the whole project, the demands of a redesign may very well dominate your time and energy, from the day you decide to proceed until the day it’s finally re-launched.

So how do schools decide to take that fateful leap forward and redesign their website?

Clearly each school has its own unique circumstances and answer to this question. Budget, human resources, larger marketing and communications issues, etc., will all play some part. But what we have noted, from working with many clients, is that there is a set of fairly common triggers that will often push a redesign to proceed. So if you’re currently considering a redesign but aren’t completely sure if the time is right to proceed, here’s our list of nine common reasons that trigger a website redesign that you can compare against your circumstances. Hope it helps!

 

1. Your key performance metrics are down

If we are being business minded about this, (and you really should be being business minded!), then your KPIs, (Key Performance Indicators), are the most important drivers of your website and your business decisions for it. If you’ve set up analytics to track goals for these KPIs then you will know when traffic, engagement, conversions and any other key metrics are slipping. So dig in deep into your analytics and closely examine your KPIs and customer’s behavior to inform your decision making.

 

2. Your site looks old, (and out of touch)  Higher education website design is subject to design trends, just like any other element of our popular culture. These trends, (say for example, interactive video tours), may not seem that critical to you but remember, prospective students will drop you like a hot potato if they feel they can’t relate to your website. You don’t have to have all the latest and greatest elements but the site can’t look dated and out of touch. Nothing will kill your prospects faster than this. If this is the case redesign, starting today.

 

3. Your biggest competitor just launched a great new site  Trying to keep up with the Joneses is never a great strategy for managing your business but in today’s competitive marketplace for students you do need to be well tuned into what your main competitors are doing. If you carefully audit your competitor’s sites on a regular basis, you can keep up to them, through gradual improvements and updated and new content. If you don’t take this preventative approach, odds are that you will end up in serious website trouble, once every three or four years. If your competitor’s new site is light years ahead of yours, you don’t really have much choice – redesign!

 

4. Your competitors are seriously outranking you  Your rankings on search engines for branded, (including your institutions name) and non-branded keywords are ultimately what drive organic traffic to your website. Your keyword rankings are determined by on-page (i.e. on your website) and off-page (i.e. inbound link and authority) factors that the search engines use to match your site’s content to an individuals “search intent”. Your “new content strategy” for your site is also a very important contributor to your rankings. If you have been limping along for years without keeping up with current SEO standards and don’t have a content strategy, it may be best to talk to an expert and get started. You may or may not need a redesign, but you definitely need some help.

 

5. Your update to-do list is as long as your arm  Regardless of how proactive you have been, trying to keep up with design, content and competitive trends, there comes a certain point when “ the update approach” simply becomes unmanageable and it is time to redesign from scratch. In fact, we have seen examples where it becomes more expensive trying to keep an out of date architecture/design/content up-to-date than it is to redevelop the site. Be sensitive to this tipping point by keeping track of your development time and budget versus changes implemented. A Content Management System (CMS) that will push out a responsive web design may be in your future.

 

6. Technically, your website is out of date  Web technology and associated new functionality is a rapidly moving target. Obviously, many new technologies can be added into an existing site but at some point you need to recognize when jury rigging new elements, for example, an automated attendant, news modules or the latest plugins into an existing design becomes a problem. System speed and dependability are related performance factors that need to be maintained over time. Server speed is one of those things that may drop over time because of piecemeal updates and add-on apps. This drop can have a dramatic effect on bounce rates of new visitors and dramatically reduce the quality of the visitor experience of those who stick around to explore.

 

7. Your business has changed In recent years, the business of higher education has (and will likely continue), to change at breakneck pace, as factors ranging from technology-based learning, changing funding formulas, legislative restrictions, to free MOOCs , etc., all impact on your institution’s business strategy, messaging and academic offerings to students. New types of business models, programs, courses and new kinds of relationships with students, other institutions and business will inevitably force websites to evolve. Adapt or fall behind are your only options.

 

8. Your branding has changed  As the business of post-secondary education changes, and as institutions reinvent themselves, so too must their branding change. As higher ed institutions embrace the new world of digital learning in a global marketplace, higher education marketing managers must reposition their institutions to capture new opportunities in the changing landscape of the broader knowledge-based digital economy. Rebranding can be phased into a website, if absolutely necessary, but this is generally self-defeating as the old brand lingers in your collateral and website, competing with and confusing the new brand for some time. If there was ever a good reason to update your site, rebranding is it.

 

9. The HIPPO, or the HIghest Paid Person in the Office, said so  As often as the logic of analysis, planning and Darwinian market forces prompt a redesign, so too, will seemingly independent decisions coming from the corner office. Use this decision as an opportunity to showcase your higher ed market expertise and digital marketing skills to produce a more effective and more competitive site. (Also be sure to catch up on the latest Dilbert cartoons to help you keep it all in the proper perspective.)

 

We would love to hear about the decision making process that you went through to prompt your last higher ed website redesign. What was the tipping point on the decision? Was the decision carefully planned, budgeted for and implemented in a well coordinated fashion or did one or more of the factors we describe above force your hand to move rapidly? Are there any other factors that you would add to our list? We look forward to hearing your feedback.


Scott Duncan has worked in post-secondary educational marketing for over 25 years developing and marketing curriculum materials, marketing educational software, consulting to post-secondary institutions and most recently focusing on developing traditional and e-marketing solutions for student recruitment. He has extensive experience in student recruiting for continuing education and non-credit programs.