The typical way university websites are redesigned is to go look at what other universities have done and build something like that. There has been buzz about looking at corporate sites as part of the design process, but little of that has actually been done. In today’s world, though, we probably should take a page from the corporate playbook.
The trend online in business is to have everything online. Look at car insurance, for example. The website for any insurance company does not just describe the products and give you a number to call a local agent. It instead offers you the opportunity to create an account and sign up right away.
The corporate world is also much better at identifying and agreeing on the customer (i.e. the target audience.) They define measurable goals and set benchmarks for what successful completion of the goal is. The site has a defined purpose. The example insurance company website, for example, might have a goal of increasing policy purchases by 7% over the next six months. How many of us have that precise of a goal? How many of us instead have a goal of just providing information to whoever is interested in looking at it?
Whoever the target audience is, the goal should be to engage with them. Active engagement leads to conversions. Drive customers to your products, whatever they may be. For a university this might be a completed application, registration for a campus visit, or even the completion of a “send me more information” form.
Take a look at some of the for-profit educational institutions. Because of their profit motive they have been among the leaders in applying these principles. Compare their navigational elements to yours and see where they are putting their focus (not that this is something we should strive toward, but it is important to consider.)
There has been a focus shift in the role of websites. They originally centered on the organizational structure, then moved to focus on the user, and they are now becoming about the engagement process and driving conversions. Many of us are in isolated IT or communications groups. In order to effectively migrate our sites to this new paradigm, we must reach out to those who are setting our mission goals and find out what our priorities should be.
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