When it comes to communicating with your core audiences, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of your website. From prospective students to current students and alums, your website becomes the hub of everything you want to say on an institutional and departmental level.

The average college website receives more than 1 million views every year. That makes perfect sense, considering it’s the #1 tool for prospective students looking to find out more about your school.

But of course, a new higher ed website is only the beginning. Even the most beautiful online presence needs to be optimized as a communication tool to reach your audience and drive marketing results. That’s why in this guide, we’ll share the four keys to making your new higher ed website successful after the initial launch.

1. Run Through a Post-Launch Checklist for Your New Higher Ed Website

Whether you’re re-launching your site or simply engaging in a comprehensive refresh, a few crucial elements must be in place before you can expect it to succeed. Consider these four elements a checklist of requirements for your new higher ed website:

  1. Review and test your website’s functionality. At the most basic level, your website has to function properly. That means no broken links, pages that load quickly, and all images showing up properly. This simple website QA checklist can help you hit all the basics.
  2. Ensure your website’s compliance with accessibility standards. Accessibility in higher education is no laughing matter. At the most basic level, your new higher ed website has to meet WCAG accessibility standards. Make it part of your post-launch checklist before building a more in-depth strategy for accessibility, as we’ll cover below.
  3. Review all content for accuracy and relevance. A 2023 website that still mentions 2017 events or stats is more likely to hurt than help you. After launch, make sure that all content your audience sees is actually relevant to solving their needs and accurate to align with your other communications.
  4. Optimize your website and key pages for search engines. SEO is a complex topic, but it includes making sure that your website structure and content are as optimized for search engines like Google as possible. This checklist can help you get started.

Knowing this checklist before building your new website can guide the entire design and development process. That way, you launch with an online presence that covers the basics before getting into more nuanced topics, like user experience.

2. Create a Strategy to Improve User Experience (UX)

Excellent user experience is a core requirement for any new website, and colleges and universities are no exception. If your audience doesn’t love your site, they’ll simply jump off and check out other colleges instead. But research shows that 84% of consumers become more likely to commit to a brand if their website experience is positive.

As students first learn about you, their experience on your new higher ed website will inform their perceptions about your entire institution. If the site is intuitive and everything they need is easily available, they’ll have more positive feelings about experiencing your college. Conversely, if things are frustrating, filled with jargon, or difficult to find, they’ll assume that their in-person experience will match the digital UX.

Fortunately, these core tenets can help you improve your user experience with all audiences:

  • Implement a responsive design that makes your website equally beautiful and easy to navigate regardless of screen size.
  • Ensure your website content is mobile-friendly, as well. Avoid large blocks of text in favor of short sentences, bullet lists, and immersive visuals.
  • Simplify your navigation to make everything as easy to find as possible. In an ideal world, all the content your audience looks for on your new higher ed website should be no more than three clicks away.
  • Incorporate multimedia content that engages and immerses your audience. A well-placed image, graphic, or video can go a long way toward keeping your audience interested.

Finally, avoid making assumptions when it comes to UX. Frequent usability testing can help you understand:

  • How your audience interacts with your website
  • The types of content they look for
  • How easily they can find it

Testing regularly also allows you to see UX trends. Then you can track whether your improvement efforts are working over time.

3. Prioritize Digital Accessibility for Students with Disabilities

Student benefiting from more accessibility features on a new higher ed website

Prioritizing digital accessibility means making your website as easily accessible for all students and other audiences, even those faced with disabilities. For higher education institutions, whose core mission is education, accessibility becomes especially important.

Research by the United Nations estimates that around 15% of the global population lives with at least one type of disability. If your new higher ed website cannot successfully cater to that 15%, you risk losing out on a significant percentage of students or donors in the process.

And that’s before we even get to the legal implications. The United States alone sees thousands of accessibility-related lawsuits every year. Organizations have a duty to make their property equally accessible to every potential member of their audience. This includes digital properties like the website.

Quick Checklist for Digital Accessibility

Getting to that point can be complicated. But it’s far from impossible. Following these tips for ensuring digital accessibility is a great start:

  1. Use accessible design practices. For example, sufficient contrast between foreground and background, clear and consistent navigation options, and correct text spacing can go a long way toward making your higher ed website easier to consume.
  2. Provide alt tags for images and videos. The alt text describes the image, providing context for anyone with a disability related to their vision.
  3. Use descriptive link text. Links like ‘read more’ or ‘click here’ provide too little context for audiences using screen readers. Instead, the link text should describe exactly what happens after clicking on the link.
  4. Ensure keyboard navigation. Not all of your users will be able to use a mouse or touchscreen for navigation. For those who can’t, providing keyboard navigation options can be crucial for moving through your site.
  5. Provide transcripts and closed captions for videos. Similar to alt text for images, this step ensures that users who are blind or nearly blind still understand what is happening in the video. Then they can experience your website similarly to those without a disability.

It also helps to familiarize yourself with the full and most recent Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). This resource outlines all of the ways in which your online presence can accommodate anyone with a disability.

Finally, it helps to learn from the examples of higher ed websites that have mastered this concept. The University of Manchester and De Anza College are just some of the colleges that have earned industry accolades for designing their websites with audiences with disabilities in mind.

4. Update and Optimize Your Website’s Event Calendar

Colleges and universities thrive based on their campus life. From open houses for prospective students to guest speakers and student organization events, these events have become the spiritual heart of campuses. The more you can show off that heart to your audience, the better.

That, in turn, makes your website’s event calendar a central communications tool. At its best, it reflects everything that’s going on around campus, from small student gatherings to major campus-wide events. An empty or non-dynamic calendar, on the other hand, can send the wrong message to prospective and current students alike.

A few steps can help you update your event calendar to ensure you fall on the good end of that spectrum:

  1. Choose a reliable calendar management system. It should integrate across your digital platforms while still being branded within your institution and website—and easy enough to use across campus.
  2. Ensure consistency by making sure that your calendar and website branding are consistent with each other. Then they will appear as a unified experience for your audience.
  3. Make your calendar easily accessible on your website. This can include anything from integration into the homepage design to more customized feeds of specific student events on sub-sections like your admissions pages.
  4. Promote your calendar and its events to your core audiences. Calendar events should be easy to share on social media, any student portal you use, and other digital properties (like your interactive map or a weekly university newsletter).

Don’t underestimate the power of an effective calendar for your new higher ed website. Examples like the University of North Dakota and the University of Louisville show just how impactful a well-built calendar can be for your entire campus community.

Ready to Optimize Your New Higher Ed Website After Launch?

The launch of a new website for your institution is only the beginning. Now comes the time for optimizing your content and structure for search engines, accessibility, and more. It’s also the perfect opportunity to put UX strategies and supplemental tools like an events calendar in place.

Taking these steps is vital in ensuring a continually engaged audience that wants to learn more about your university and enjoys their time interacting with you, whether that’s at on-campus events or online. Prioritize your website maintenance, digital accessibility, and ongoing improvement now, and your long-term ROI will be significant.

When implemented the right way, calendar management solutions and interactive maps can become a part of that long-term strategy. Ready to learn more? Contact us to get started today.