4 Steps to Dramatically Improve Your College’s Website Content

Date posted: July 19, 2012

The quality of your college’s website relies heavily on great content. Many schools have understood the importance of great content and thus have moved their web offices from IT to marketing. Quality content allows you to enhance the richness and usability of your website, and without it your efforts to bring attention to your campus and programs and to have visitors take action on your website will be of no avail. Here are 4 steps to ensure your site’s content is and remains compelling:

1. Audit

The purpose of the audit phase is to answer the following questions:

  • What content do we have on our site?
  • Is it useful to our prospects? Does it help us reach our objectives?
  • Where does it live?
  • Who is responsible for it?

In order to answer these questions, you will need to look at the quanitative and qualitative aspects of each page on your website. The quantitative part of the audit should include, for each page:

  • Page title
  • URL
  • Character count
  • Last updated
  • Content type (Html, form, PDF)
  • Calls to action
  • Picture/video content
  • Name of the person who is in charge of the page

  The qualitative audit requires that you dive more deeply and try to find answers to these questions: What does your content say? Is it relevant and useful? What was the original purpose of this page? Was this purpose met? Does your content meet your prospects’ possible expectations? Does it resonate with them? Identify gaps between your marketing goals when writing these pages and the end result. Is your content still accurate? Websites are revamped every few years. During that time, they are not often updated. Are all of the programs listed on your site still offered? Do they still have the same format? What has changed? What can you do to make sure the content is as accurate as possible? Is your content well written? Are sentences or paragraphs too long? Is it hard for one to understand a point? Is it catchy enough for your audience? Granted, because of how subjective preferences can be it can be difficult to gauge the caliber of your content. What you consider to be well written may be terrible in your colleague’s eyes. That said, it is important to develop a ‘voice’ for your website, one that reflects your college’s nature and philosophy. Once you establish an overall tone, it will become easy to judge whether or not a piece of content succeeds in representing your college the way you want it to. Is your content findable? By using Web analytics, you check how your keywords are faring on search engines. Are you using the best keywords for your school? Could there be others that you are not using? Focus on using the most relevant keywords. The audit phase can be long and tedious, but it is crucial to help you determine the natural following step to develop your content.

2. Analyze

Based on the results of the audit phase, you should be able to answer the following:

  • What is not working according to our objectives?
  • What should we delete or repurpose?
  • What content (if any) needs to be created?

You should also take a few moments to look at what your competitors are doing. Visit some of your competitors’ website to see the type of content that is crucial for prospectivestudents that may be missing from your college’s website. Without going into a full-fledged audit of their websites, make an effort to notice the feel of the website, the purpose, tone, and length of the content.

3. Strategize

The strategy phase is meant to create accountability  and clearly define what the website should be like and what goals it should meet and. Prioritize content creation or revisions What are the key themes, messages and topics your school wants to focus on? Based on the answer and the content analysis carried out earlier, determine what content needs to be developed first. At the beginning, your focus should be on homepages, landing sites and subsections’ main pages. Top-level marketing pages on which you want students to land should also be among your priorities. Decide on the best tone and structure to convey your messages. Determine how users will find your content Whether you are focusing on search engines or social media, recommendations need to include keywords, metadata, and take into account the overall communication strategy of your school. Will your students find this content through a newsletter? Social media? On their mobile phone? All this needs to be discussed as it will impact your content creation. Decide on a content management strategy How often will the content be published? Who will be responsible for each section? Management of content is often undermined. For example, it’s one thing to want to host a blog, but with that comes original topic ideas, research, and a regular posting schedule. Your pages need to be updated and relevant at all times, and this requires stringent management and maintenance of content.

4. Implement

  1. Create an editorial calendar including a breakdown of all steps.
  2. Gather and educate to avoid common content strategy mistakes : It is very rare for only one person to be responsible for all of content on a college’s website. Get everyone around the table to make sure everyone understands what is at stake.  Discuss the main goals that the college aims to reach, the biggest ideas your college wants to communicate, and the tone your college would like to have online. Be transparent about what you want to see online.
  3. Schedule editorial meetings for planning new features and coordinating efforts. These editorial meetings should be focused on dividing up work with your team.
  4. Start seeing content strategy everywhere: this is a work in process. You need to see what works and what does not. Quality assessments will be necessary to be successful in the long term.

Case study: see what North Carolina State is doing to improve its content.  To go further: Content Strategy from the Web by Kristina Halvorson. Some excerpts are available here. Susan Evans tackles the issue of content strategy and time constraints.