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The Power of a Well-Crafted Higher Ed Website

AdobeStock June 5 2024

Students go to an institution’s website for any information they need, so it’s critical that the website be easy to navigate, aligned with the overall brand and provide accurate information quickly.

Many, if not all, students will navigate their educational journey digitally—specifically using an institution’s website. Crafting a website that gives current and prospective learners what they’re looking for is key to driving institutional success. In this interview, Rick Bentz discusses the importance of investing in a high-quality website, what students need from their institution’s website and the impact it has for learners and the institution.   

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

Rick Bentz (RB): We’re a very catalog-centric school in how we want to deliver content to our learners. Our website has a three-prong mission. First and foremost is to be a great marketing website: having our programs and information properly displayed in a very organized fashion and a site that gets to the point quickly because people don’t have the attention spans they used to. It has to be a very clearcut path for a prospective learner coming in and seeing us for the first time. We don’t have a campus, so we must deliver things to people upfront for learners. 

Since we’re so catalog-centered, our website had to be in sync with the catalog and easy to update. We’re able to make smooth updates all in one spot rather than updating it in various spots across the website, which is critical because our learners actively use the site. The other side of it is branding. We wanted to show our brand in a nice layout and get away from our previous, disorganized website. 

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

RB: Learners expect to see all the course requirements for programming pathways. They must access it quickly through the catalog and student services section. We’re able to leverage Modern Campus CMS to allow students to find what they’re looking for. Categorically, they can easily find it just by clicking the catalog, but they can also find it in relative sections. It’s broken down into tiered structures, so they’re able to access that information.  

It’s important to have any key dates and deadlines upfront for learners along with the institution’s calendar, so they have it when they need it. Conveying what your school is all about is also key to your website. So, getting everything out there and making it accessible to learners is what they’ll be expecting. 

Evo: What are some challenges to delivering a high-quality website that you’ve either experienced in the past or that you commonly see among other institutions or higher ed leaders? 

RB: For Nightingale, the problem was keeping the website in sync with the catalog. Before, we would do an addendum almost every month. Now, our president has it down to it needing to be a massive change for an addendum to come out. Being a lean organization is always a challenge, since we don’t have a group of staff dedicated solely to updating the website. We rely on other departments to give us content to feed to the website. Luckily, we’re able to organize everything better now and have made the catalog the central hub of truth.  

Evo: What’s required to create a high-quality website that meets learner expectations and needs? 

RB: First, it’s important to understand that a good website will take time to create. We spent a lot of time on design with the design firm Modern Campus recommended, who provided that UX designer brain to give the site the look and feel it needed. Then, once the programmers got working, they took that design and put it into the CMS platform. Assets and video structure were built, so my team could go in and build a page in less than an hour.  

There’s a learning curve, but if you’re trained in something like WordPress it’s easy to pick up. It’s actually a little more logical in most places, so that wasn’t a big hassle. But what I learned is that you should spend more time on the design—the look and feel of the menu structure and how it navigates. Spend all your time in that area, then throw it over to programmers to let them do their thing.  

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

RB: For the institution, the website really conveys our brand and mission better. Our old site had the core structure, mission and values tucked away in an about section in which everything got dumped. So, we were able to pull those things out for the new website and organize them in an accessible way.  

It’s important to leverage the website for your brand, model and image because our model is very different from a traditional nursing school. So, having that at the forefront is important for prospective learners. Brand is a big deal, especially when you’re providing pathways for learners to find the right program for them. And they need to be able to find those pathways quickly on your website. 

When we launched the site, our website volume of leads jumped a good 25 to 30%. And it’s been at that new plateau ever since. It hasn’t dipped. The SEO is getting better and better. We have the catalog involved in the SEO, so we’re getting more keywords ranked. The ability to get to what you need quicker and logically has helped with the lead flow.