Some college and university websites are too complex, use campus jargon, and bury the information students need. As a result, these sites may be damaging the brand of their institutions and prompting prospective applicants to go elsewhere, according to web design consultant Nielsen Norman Group (NNG).
NNG recently tested 57 university websites and found that “users are often frustrated or thwarted by the frequent usability problems on university sites. The best university websites speak clearly, even to yet-to-be students, and make it easy for everybody to find what they want. The rest fail.”
NNG put together a list of its top 10 guidelines for college and university website design. Topping the list is the recommendation to identify the institution clearly on every page. That will ensure that visitors who enter the site on an inner page via search engine will realize where they’ve landed.
Institutions should also test their own sites, without going into a lot of expense. NNG suggested asking just five prospective or current students to perform a variety of small tasks on the site, such as finding information about a major field of study or calculating the cost to attend. The test group should reflect the school’s key audiences.
Other recommendations include using images that accurately reflect the school, creating a powerful summary for the About Us page, highlighting what makes the school different from others, organizing information about academic programs, connecting information about job placements to the alumni section, spelling out the application process and deadlines, avoiding “hip” wording and graphics, and making sure the site has a good internal search engine.