Your Dam Website: 5 Reasons Students Aren’t Converting on Your College Site

Carnegie Higher Ed Nov 03, 2017 Carnegie Higher Ed Persona The Visionary Frontrunner

A website is an institution’s greatest marketing asset. Yet most colleges and universities admittedly have websites that lack in areas essential to converting prospects at various stages in the funnel. From a lack of visibility in organic searches to content and layouts that hinder user experience, some websites can be the opposite of an asset: they can be a barrier for users to do the exact thing you want them to do, or worse—what they want to do. Here are five ways your site could be serving more as a dam than a free flow of accessible information optimized for conversions.

1. SEO isn’t a priority

Investing in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is just as important as fostering brand awareness. There are dozens of things that affect your website’s ability to appear organically at a competitive ranking. Keyword-rich content, meta tags, ADA compliance, site load times, and more make up the criteria by which search engines rank your website. If you’re not sure your site is up to snuff for bots, or you’re looking to increase your SEO rank, start by running a crawl to see what errors are negatively affecting your ranking. Keep in mind that SEO is a revolving door. Whenever you create a new page or program, keep SEO at the forefront of your mind.

2. Your content is weak

One of the factors in SEO ranking is making sure you have plenty of good, quality content. If you find yourself struggling to create high-quality content, consider creating content around subjects such as affordability, culture, career outcomes, and more. Set a minimal goal of 250 words per page, and always be sure to weave in as many keywords as possible without compromising quality or relevance. Tools like Google Search Console or Keyword Planner can be especially helpful with this.

Take content optimization one step further by personalizing what a user sees based on their behaviors on your website or position in the funnel. Personalizing content is a great way to ensure that relevant, essential information is being presented to visitors while simultaneously enhancing the user experience and nurturing engagement.

3. Your internal site search stinks

A Nielson Norman Group study released in 2016 surveyed a group of students across 57 university websites and found that 48% of users didn’t realize the university offered the program  they were looking for, even when it did. It’s an admission nightmare to realize that your university program offerings could be missed by nearly half of all prospective students. What they found through user testing is that most students don’t search for schools by name, but by program. Most of the remedies to this issue tie back into SEO, but ensuring that you have a robust program listing page and search functionality on your site can help prospects find what they’re looking for more quickly and easily. Ensure that each program page has appropriate meta titles and descriptions, especially if your program has a unique name that doesn’t follow industry standards.

4. Your forms are too long

Whether the prospective student arrives at your website organically or by way of a digital ad campaign, you must ensure they land on a page with content that is relevant and valuable to them, with an easy way for them to complete the call to action on any device. Make sure the call to action is engaging, well defined, and stands out—you don’t want visitors to have a chance to miss it or miss the value in completing it. Follow the same guidelines for your forms, and try not to ask for more required information than you need. According to an Unbounce Study in 2015, the more required fields, after seven, the greater the decline in the completion proved to be for that particular study. However, they, and most other landing page studies, caution that there is no magic number of form fields that will guarantee the most conversions. Every school, value proposition, and page is different. Admission and marketing should work together to determine what those fields are together. One way to do so is to decide what is nice versus necessary. While it would be nice to have a prospect’s phone number, is it really necessary when the next contact is an e-mail confirmation as opposed to call?

If you’re struggling with getting forms filled out, keep the following in mind:

  • The form should be accessible, easy to understand, and complete across all devices.
  • The value of the information your students are asked to provide is comparative or less than the value you are going to provide them with.
  • You have just enough data to get them into your CRM and help admissions facilitate the next appropriate point of contact.

5. Relying on assumptions, not analytics

If you find yourself making website decisions based on engagement metrics like sessions, conversions, and bounce rates, you’re off to a great start! But there are several other determining factors when it comes to understanding what behaviors on your website are indicative of solid content and user experience. This is when it’s important to listen to your users, as opposed to just hearing them. For example, if users are converting most often from an event page with just a form—versus a page that has a video to watch and a form—don’t assume the video is what is restricting conversions. Evaluate the sources and channels users came from as well as what other pages and content they interacted with prior to converting. Simple Google Analytics page path views and event tracking can help with this.

When redesigning pages or optimizing areas of your site, consider heat mapping to understand specifically what users are interacting with on the page, or where they tend to go (or not go) most often before converting. User testing conducted by actual people, live on your site and talking through their experience, is also a great method to understand how your website is perceived. And before you embark on a change, make sure to test everything. From button colors and form lengths to page copy and imagery, testing is critical to steer your website improvements based on analytics, not assumption.

If you need help with implementing intelligent analytics, improving SEO, or optimizing your website to nurture more conversions, reach out to us today.

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