“I’m [insert higher education institution] and I’m a serve-a-holic.”
(Your cue: “Welcome, [higher education institution.]”)
“My website serves many masters to many audiences: current students, prospective students, alumni, donors, faculty and staff, parents, and more.”
The first step is (NOT) admitting. When it comes to enrolling more students, the first step is to wow prospects with a positive experience for visiting campus and applying for admission. This begins within your core—your institution’s website.
Here’s our 10-step process to improve your visit and apply webpage experiences.
1. Include visible calls-to-action. “Visit” and “apply” are two hot buttons that should be present in your website’s main header/footer/global navigation and persist across all pages. Take it one step further and make these buttons sticky so that they are visible and accessible no matter where the user is on the webpage—no scrolling or expanding content required!
2. Make the pages easily accessible. Implement simple vanity redirect URLs (ex: school.edu/visit, school.edu/apply) so they are easy to remember, provide direct access, and are scalable to implement across channels (think: print, text, digital and audio ads, billboards, etc.).
3. Implement breadcrumbs/interior page-level navigation. This will eliminate the friction of the prospective student having to find where to go on your website to take the actions you want them to take most—visit and apply.
4. Stick to one centralized source-of-truth webpage per visit and per apply. This will help with your content management and ensure congruence across marketing channels as well as help with tracking and the ability to measure the effectiveness of marketing efforts.
Right experience for the right prospect:
5. Present clear options tailored to the audience and type of action.
a. Visit page: Who may be viewing this webpage (prospective student, admitted student, parent, transfer)? What visit options are relevant (on-campus vs. virtual, group vs. individual, special event)?
b. Apply page: Which type of prospective student may be viewing this webpage (first-year, transfer, international, graduate)? What application options are relevant (Common App, Slate or other institutional application, Coalition App, GradCas App, honors application)?
6. Ensure dates and deadlines are prominent. Display date-related events and/or application deadlines in descending order to create a sense of urgency, gray out/strike out past dates and options to show exclusivity. Create FOMO (fear of missing out).
7. Provide context (but make it secondary). Lead with dates and the most important information first so that the prospect receives the information they came to the page to get. But, don’t overestimate what the prospect or site visitor knows. Add details about your visit events. Explain the application process. Link to resources. Provide directions to campus. Arm the prospect with the tools they need to take the actions you want them to take—visit and apply.
Optimize prospect engagement:
8. Make form completion easy. Ask only critical information on visit registration/apply forms. Pre-populate fields with known data when able. Keep the information clear, concise, and up-to-date.
9. Offer assistance or the opportunity to connect. Making help easily available will decrease frustration (and therefore abandonment) and promote a positive experience. List out contact information for Admissions. Include an open-text form for questions or comments. Present the opportunity for a virtual meeting or live chat with an admissions counselor.
10. Get creative and make the pages inviting. This doesn’t mean including a lot of content or copy, but rather meeting the prospects where they are in their visit/apply decision-making process. Create a welcoming environment that stands out and leaves a positive impression. Consider adding interactivity: a countdown timer, images, gifs, or videos that support the call-to-action.