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Why You Don’t (Just) Need a Prettier Grad School Website

Posted By Laura Loker on 12/22/15 7:30 AM

Read Time: 3 Minutes

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When I was younger, I shopped exclusively at The Dollar Tree for my Christmas gifts. Nowhere else could I walk in with nine bucks and walk out with such a sophisticated bundle of goods.

As long as I wrapped things well and curled the ends of my ribbon, I figured my presents ranked among the best. And who’s to say which my mom preferred: the Star Trek snowglobe from me or the set of Czech crystal wine glasses from my dad? My dad certainly didn’t curl his ribbons.

Wisdom over Beauty

As you design or update your grad school website, remember that while a good wrapping job is nice, it’s no substitute for having a worthwhile gift inside the box. Transforming your school’s website into a true resource is more important than improving its design.

Aesthetics only go so far; you need to prove that there’s something of consequence inside your wrapping. An institution’s website is sort of like an employee who works 24/7. It’s always working in the background and needs to be equipped to answer questions that prospective students have in a matter of seconds.

By developing relevant content and peppering this content in appropriate places on the site, institutions can more easily convert casual website visitors into real leads. Offer pieces of free downloadable content that your student personas will actually find valuable — perhaps a “Guide to Affording Grad School” or “ How to Rock the GRE in Six Steps.”

You want to transform your institution into a thought leader; you want prospects to identify you as the institution that “really knows social work” or “understands what it takes to balance family life with grad school.”

Don’t be a Pack-rat

You need a watch, and your Grandpa is certain his classic Rolex is still in mint condition… somewhere in the piles of junk upstairs. You opt for Macy’s.

Strong content is only beneficial if potential students can find it. Many grad school websites are in a state of chaos. They are gigantic sites with disorganized structure and page hierarchy, crowded with a mix of both helpful and unhelpful information.

So many of these websites attempt to be a “digital brochure” and cram as much information as possible onto each page. This will only frustrate visitors to your site. Make sure you have a concise list of categories on your menu of options (then more specific subcategories should be logically grouped within one of your general categories). At each level of your website, group together related topics of equal importance.

Purge your pages of extraneous facts. Simplify. De-clutter. Make sure every word you include is pertinent.

The Right Gift

You would never give a goose down coat to your nephew in Hawaii; he simply couldn’t use it. Similarly, contextual content is of the utmost importance. Displaying the right content on the right page will make it easy for visitors to “go deeper” with you and “raise their hand” saying they’re interested in learning more.

Place relevant calls-to-action on your various website pages and make sure what you offer makes sense in the context of each page’s purpose. A video about “Living in Birmingham as a Grad Student” is completely irrelevant on the page of an online program in business.

A better piece of content to promote on this page would be a video showcasing how a 30-something year old woman was able to balance her family and her job while also pursuing a graduate degree — thanks to your institution’s online business school.

The Gift That Keeps Giving

A fresh design doesn’t increase your SEO, but fresh content does. Google recently confirmed a new update to its algorithm called the “Quality Update.” It has decided to reward sites — by increasing their SEO rankings — that are focused on improving the user experience by regularly publishing high-quality content that is educational and original.

So don’t litter your website with filler information that anyone could supply. Present your material through an innovative lens. Augmenting your site with rich content will help drive more organic traffic to your website.

For example, if you have a piece of content about “Tips on Studying for the GRE” and someone enters this search term into Google, they are more likely to stumble onto your website (rather than your competitors’!) to read the content.

They may have not previously been considering  — or even known about — your institution but now that they’ve read helpful content associated with your brand, you’re on their radar! Optimize this fresh content with keyword-specific meta descriptions and alt image text to broaden your website’s audience.

By all means, make your website look good. That Interior Design program page had better be attractive, or you might dissuade the artistic prospects you want from considering your program. But if you also offer a guide on “10 Things to Look for in an Interior Design Program,” you’re showing Website Browser Bill that you can offer him what he needs.

And you make it that much more likely that you’ll be shaking his hand at the start of next semester.

So you get the value of promoting content throughout your website, but how do you create this kind of educational content?
Download our guide to find out!

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Topics: Graduate Enrollment Management, web development, websites

About the Higher Ed Marketer

This blog is dedicated to sharing best practices, trends and case studies for the marketing of higher education. Our content is developed out of our partnerships with both undergraduate and graduate enrollment management professionals, as well as those who specialize in higher ed marketing and communications designed for student recruitment.

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