Building a powerful college brand online

In a mobile, digital world, creating a consistent user experience across devices is critical

When Centenary College was granted university status in May, the news was celebrated by students, faculty, alumni and staff.

For the marketing and student recruitment team, the renaming was an opportunity to build awareness of the distinctive experience our institution offers career-oriented students. And one of the first places we needed to make the Centenary University brand come to life was our website.

Going mobile

The current generation of college-bound students has grown up in a digital and mobile world. Consider that the first Apple iPhone was introduced in 2007, a time when today’s high school seniors were entering third grade.

As mobile devices do more, they’re gaining more users at the expense of desktop and laptop machines. In 2015, 15 percent of internet users primarily accessed the web over their mobile devices. A year later, the number has jumped to 26 percent.

This trend is even more pronounced among the college-age audience: 45 percent of 18- to 30-year-olds use mobile devices to get online on a daily basis. And 60 percent of online searches today are made on mobile.

That said, it is important to remember there are still millions of desktop and laptop computers in use, including in many high school classrooms and guidance offices. As university marketers and recruiters, we need to consider all the different touchpoints and technologies along the applicant’s journey to selecting their school.

And we need to offer a consistent, engaging and efficient experience across all those platforms. Perhaps most important, the site must be fast, easy and intuitive for students to scan your school’s offerings, drill down for additional information, schedule a campus tour, and ultimately submit an application.

Bringing the brand to life online

Our goal was to position Centenary as a place that delivers “big university” opportunities in a classic small-college setting. To produce the site, we assembled a cross-functional team from Centenary’s marketing, recruitment and information technology departments, as well as an outside web design firm and a video production company.

For site content we focused on telling Centenary’s story in an engaging way—through the voices of our faculty, students and staff. Multiple videos provide prospective students with insight into the Centenary experience and enable them to hear directly from faculty and staff on how the university prepares graduates for success.

The site was designed to work efficiently on a small smartphone screen. As the user scrolls down the page, the site menu follows along in the form of a small icon, making it easy to click on navigation at each stage of the journey. Buttons are embedded in each area for users to click to learn more about a particular topic or to request more information.

Keys to success

The new Centenary University site ( went live in September. A project of this size could take 14 to 16 months to complete. We accomplished it in a little over 20 weeks by following a few key principles:

  • Start with a small team of trusted, proven players and let them run with it. Involve senior leaders at key decision points for approvals.
  • Develop a detailed timeline and stick to it.
  • Develop assets such as photos and videos before you begin building the site.
  • Designate a single copywriter for new and updated copy so your site has one voice.
  • Use clear headlines and short, to-the-point paragraphs, so users can quickly absorb what they need to know.
  • Chose a content management system that enables people at different skill levels to contribute.
  • Don’t be afraid to get things wrong. You can fix it.

Finally, keep the ultimate end user in mind—specifically, the students you want to recruit to your institution. The primary goal of a college or university website is to engage prospective members of your next incoming class, tell your story in a compelling way, and make it easy for them to learn what they need and submit their applications.

John Meagle is the chief marketing officer at Centenary University in New Jersey.


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