Published on 2016/02/03

Future-Proofing Your University Website

The EvoLLLution | Future-Proofing Your University Website
A university’s website is increasingly the first point of contact between themselves and prospective students; it’s critical that their first impression is a strong one.

As universities develop their strategic plans for the future, one of its top priorities should be re-envisioning their digital and web presence.

The homepage is the world’s view to your purpose, and is paramount to improving student recruitment, alumni engagement and adding prestige to degrees.

Who’s Leading?

It’s not the technologies that will be the driving force of change in higher education, but rather the people leading the university.

Without creative vision and bold leadership, emerging technologies become powerless.

A university website is not an IT development tool, but rather a story telling platform that empowers creative professionals to create a virtual experience. Creative teams must drive the content and digital strategies, while the IT teams support the technology.

Leaders will be pressured to collaborate, and architect creative hybrid teams that embrace risks, disruption, digital, design, and the ability to quickly adapt.


Before you build, understand how your key audiences are accessing information in a digitally connected world. According to a 2012 paper by Ruffalo Noel Levitz:

  • 97 percent of prospective students view university websites on a mobile device
  • 79 percent of prospective students will drop a university from their desired list if they have trouble navigating websites
  • 70 percent of teenagers report social media is influential when researching universities
  • 10-20 seconds is the average amount of time a user determines to stay or leave on a site
  • 3 hours is the average amount of time spent on mobile devices–60 percent of that is spent on social media

The data tells us that your future .edu site must achieve the following:

Mobile-Friendliness: the design of your website must be responsive and be accessible on a variety of mobile devices

Great First Impressions: Your homepage should evoke an emotion. You have less than 10 seconds to capture your visitor’s attention

Compelling Content: to captivate your audience, use authentic images, and integrate video

Links with Social Media: integrate your digital content strategy with social media. The two should be an extension of each other.


The culture of story telling at universities must transform from transactional to relational and aspirational.

Marketing teams should focus on producing digital content that will create a destination-like experience. A content strategy must be integrated with a university’s overall branding and marketing plan.

Focus on less content, but more meaningful and higher-quality digital experiences.

Education is a Destination

For a majority of prospective students, their first experience with a university is no longer a physical one.

It’s digital.

Create homepages with content that will bring your campus to life, making it feel like a travel destination, connecting visitors with human experiences and the culture of the university.

Content management systems are not development tools. They are digital experience platforms that empower teams to create unique destinations.

The future is not something we simply step into. It’s something we envision, shape and create.

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Readers Comments

Cathy Wilkins 2016/02/03 at 9:24 am

It seems ridiculous to think that 20 seconds on a website can make or break a university’s chance of making a lead or turning a lead into an application, but the website really has become a sort of symbol for how well connected and how modern a school’s approach to education really is. If they can’t be bothered to put together a simple, effective and user-friendly web portal, it should how little they actually know about their target demographics.

Raymond Rose 2016/02/03 at 12:55 pm

If you’re really serious about future-proofing the website, then a critical feature is to make it accessible under current and soon to be updated (next year) Section 508 standards. All university (and K-12) organizational websites are required to be accessible under Section 508 and when articles fail to even mention that they are doing a significant dis-service to their readers.

Lauren Harvey 2016/02/03 at 2:50 pm

It’s true, but it’s not just an aesthetic thing. Form might follow right on the heels of function, but function still has to come first.

Andy Hoang 2016/02/16 at 6:27 pm

@Cathy Wilkens – As our digital culture continues to push immediacy and capabilities to produce rich content, it is our creative responsibility to produce captivating stories and virtual experiences that inspire prospective and current students, staff, faculty and alumni. If not, than we have failed our craft and the tools that are available to us.

@Raymond Rose – As a public university, we are mandated to comply with the Accessibility Technology Initiative (Sec. 508), which became an executive order in 2006. It was not mentioned in the article, because the unfunded mandate has been around for more than a decade. This is nothing new. However, it is important to make note that as creators and communicators, it is paramount that our digital content provides adequate accessibility options – this isn’t the future, this is the norm and the expected.

@Lauren Harvey – Agreed, however, It should never be one or the other, both form and function must co-exist.

Thanks for reading and sharing your insights.

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