5 best college website designs and practices

Constant review shows cracks, and what functionality opportunities can better serve web users

The idea that the best college website designs put users first seems like a no-brainer, but not all higher ed institutions have quite taken the right approach.

Hope College, which revamped its site in 2015, set out to optimize the user experience so students, parents, alumni and other stakeholders could find information easily—and continue to surf pages they weren’t necessarily looking for.

Assessing user behavior accurately requires a thorough depiction of website visitors and their expectations. Hope College relied on 15 artificial intelligence personas to interact with the site and unearth discrepancies in navigation and information.

Four years later, Hope continues to tweak the site, says Jason Cash, the college’s director of communications. “We have learned that a content management system and campus website are never complete and that there are always new ideas and initiatives to communicate on the web,” he says.

The best college website designs involve keeping websites fresh and user-friendly and can be accomplished by following a few key practices:

Design for success

Keep it simple by paring down information and avoiding the urge to add more elements. Sites should work on mobile devices as well as desktop computers, which means users can scroll—rather then tap—to move through pages. Also, break content up into searchable categories.

Keep track of user behavior

How users arrive at your site and how they share content represent two, among many, valuable pieces of data campus should track to gauge engagement, according to Campus Suite.

Assess the best platform for your school’s needs

One type of content management system may seem ideal, but it may be unrealistic to expect a single platform to deliver all the functions needed. Hope College employees use OU Campus from OmniUpdate, but also rely on the open source WordPress for special projects—such as the school’s intranet website, two online magazines, blogs and a private network for admitted students.

Collaboration is key to innovation

The members of Hope College’s web team, who work in different departments, meet monthly to discuss site performance and upgrades. Learning from others is key to remaining on top of web development. “Members of our team present and contribute to an annual CMS conference and have regular problem-solving sessions year-round with web developers at other institutions,” says Cash.

Drill down to enhance accessibility

Accessibility for all users is top of mind at Hope. Recently, designers adjusted the site’s color contrasts to better accommodate screen readers and other assistive technologies, says Cash.

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