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Enhancing Student Engagement and Retention Through a High-Quality Website

Websites are often the first line of communication for a higher ed institution, so it’s critical that they are easy to navigate, visually appealing and mobile-friendly.

Prospective and current students live in a digital era and will expect their educational experience to be digital, which means higher ed institutions must prioritize their digital platforms to not only meet student needs but drive student engagement and retention. In this interview, Meloney Linder discusses the importance of having a high-quality website, what students expect of an institution’s website and how to meet those expectations.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): Why is it important for higher ed leaders to focus on delivering a high-quality website to drive student engagement and retention?

Meloney Linder (ML): It’s a really important piece for all higher ed institutions right now because your website is the main area from where people get their information. And more and more, our prospective and current students want a level of ease. We’ve all become accustomed to the Amazon or Netflix experience, where it intuitively gets to know what you like and what you’re looking for. You’re able to find things really quickly, and websites can even suggest things for you. That’s the expectation students have today. So, when we think about the objective of connecting with the end user and building a site with a high level of usability, student usability experience is critical. Your audience must be able to find what they’re looking for as quickly as possible.

Evo: What do students expect when it comes to an institution’s website?

ML: First and foremost, a website has to be mobile-friendly. Most of our student traffic comes from mobile use. It’s a student’s computer in their pocket. So, you have to look at the most important information they’re going to be looking for and how fast they can access it.

Another expectation is students want to remain anonymous until they’re ready to engage with you. So again, creating that high level of usability, connecting them to the information they need, is important to build that relationship. Then when they feel comfortable and confident, they will engage, and it’s at that point that you’re able to have a greater level of personalization with them.

Oftentimes, we’re so caught up in our day-to-day and looking at everything through a computer screen and not on our phones, so we forget how something appears when it’s on your phone. The other important thing with a high-quality website is being really clear on who is the primary audience. In higher ed, many users that use our website for information, and sometimes we can forget who the primary audience is. You have to come up with different ways to find other information while keeping that first impression in mind.

Evo: What are some challenges to delivering a high-quality website?

ML: Keeping the end user in mind when you’re building it from day one can certainly be a challenge. Nowadays, people really want to skim—they don’t want to read dissertations. So, you need to be very clear about what is the most important information that your audience is going to need from that website. Information has to be displayed in a way that they can find it quickly, read it easily and take action.

Usability is critical also in terms of your content. It has to be appealing visually, but it can’t take away from your main point. Your audience can be distracted easily, so getting to the reason they’re there and providing the next steps quickly will be key in engaging viewers.

Evo: What does it take to meet students’ expectations and needs through your site?

ML: To create a good website, you have to sit down with your stakeholders. If you’re designing the website, it’s critical to ask questions to determine the most important information that this audience needs. The second thing I always recommend is doing some usability testing with those audiences. They’ll give you great feedback along about what’s working, what’s not working, what’s appealing and what’s not appealing before you get too far along in the process. The other thing is you have to make sure that everything, like the information you collect, is secure. You must meet compliance regulations as well. There are a lot of components that you have to keep in mind in addition to the content.

Evo: What impact does a high-quality site have, not only on the learners but also the institution?

ML: If people have a good experience on your website, it leaves a good first impression and speaks to your institution. They will perceive your institution as being high-quality and innovative. It’s your brand, right? If your website is hard to navigate, and it’s difficult to get the information needed, well then imagine how hard it might be to navigate getting into the institution or anything a part of the institution. It truly reflects your organization.

Evo: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

ML: A well-designed website will enhance prospective and current students’ engagement with your institution. So, the sooner you can get them connecting and talking to you through your website, the sooner you can get them to apply to come visit and all of those wonderful things. For our current students, if navigating the website makes their student experience easier, then it becomes another retention tool.