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.Top Higher Ed Websites Insights from the 2019 Student E-Expectations Survey

Exclusive Preview of the 2019 E-Expectations Survey Part 3: Higher Ed Websites

This is the 3rd part of the 4-installment series on the 2019 RNL E-Expectations survey results. This survey focuses on the E-expectations of high school seniors, juniors and sophomores (n=900) and will be officially released on July 24. If you read the first part, just skip to the next section without reading the short intro below.

As I explained in the first post of this series, Stephanie Geyer from RNL shared with me the complete survey data set she’ll present for the first time at the RNL NC Conference in Nashville, TN.

This annual survey launched in 2005 has become the gold standard of research on the digital expectations and habits of college-bound students.

Higher ed websites are key for prospective students

When asked to rate marketing channels that most influence them in the college search, the college website takes first place for seniors (4.09), juniors (4.04) and sophomores (4.06) followed by financial calculator results (3.95 on average).

Higher ed websites are influential and get a lot of regular attention from prospective students: 86% of seniors had visited a college website in the week prior they took the survey.

Your website is also the top destination after students attend an information session presented by a college representative with 71% of seniors visiting it and 61% completing an online form.

Iupui WebsiteOh, and submitting an online form on your website is actually the most popular way to declare interest in a school for prospective students (72% seniors, 81% juniors and 75% sophomores) while about 40% of prospective students will schedule a campus visit.

This is why tracking micro and macro conversions on your website is super important, because it can help you assess, evaluate and even predict interest and intent from your prospective students – something you can learn to do in Higher Ed Experts’ 4-week online courses on Website Analytics and Advanced Digital Analytics for Higher Ed.

Because they are so central to the college search, higher ed websites need to meet the expectations of prospective students.

What's wrong with higher ed websites

When asked what’s wrong with college websites, high school students identified issues related to info about programs and degrees, content that is hard to read and some lack of visual appeal.
Moreover, if your higher ed website is frustrating 30% will look at other sites and 1 senior out of 5 will remove your school from your list.

What students expect to find on higher ed websites

Unsurprisingly, the question of affordability is top of mind for 88% of prospective students when they visit your website. Other questions in the top 5 focus on scholarship listings, academic programs, scholarship & financial aid info and how campus looks like.

If your website content doesn’t address the 11 things (below) the majority of prospective students look for when they site a college site, it’s time to rework your web content strategy.

Top topics students look for when they visit a school website

Addressing students’ top questions is key for higher ed websites, but there are also other things prospective students find important: the ease to find the programs your school offers, details about these programs and a je-ne-sais-quoi that gives a feel for the school and how the prospective student would fit in.

Top most important things on a school website for students

Oh, and if your website offers them the option to get personalized content, the majority will welcome it. So, personalization can help your website content make a difference as only 15% of surveyed students are indifferent to it!

Type of information students are willing to share when filling out an online form on a college website

However, only 25% found chatbots and other AI agents helpful on websites. So, we might not be there yet.

So, we know prospective students use websites to find the information they need, but how do they look for this content?

A large majority (79% seniors, 83% juniors and 80% sophomores) use the navigational links you provide on your website, so it makes sense to pay attention on how you organize and design your website navigation and information architecture.

Close to half of seniors (46%) and juniors (50%) will also use your website internal search, while about a third of prospective students will rely on the links shared in email messages.

How students find information on higher ed websites

It’s important to note that almost a quarter of seniors and juniors will also use a search engine like Google to find what they are looking for on your website. This is another reason why you need to keep in mind search engines when writing your higher ed web content.

What about videos?

Prospective students watch lots of videos online. Yet, you need to make sure the videos you offer on your website are the kind they want to watch. If your videos feature current students, campus activities as well as your campus itself and your residence halls, you’ll get the attention of the majority of prospective students.

Top video topics for students

PSA: Everybody uses a mobile device!

Mobile devices are now widely used by prospective students.

Whether they only use them for most of their web browsing or when they don’t have access to a computer, 92% of seniors and sophomores as well as 97% of juniors browse the Web – and your college website – from their mobile device. So, a good mobile user experience is required if you want to meet their expectations.

How students use their mobile device

Prospective students also use their smartphones to complete and submit your online forms.

This year, 53% of seniors (vs. 37% in 2018) have used their mobile phone to complete a RFI form, 35% (vs. 33%) a cost calculator and an admissions application (vs. 23%)!

Online forms completed by students on a mobile device

When a third of your prospects could use a phone to submit their college application, it’s crucial that they can actually do it easily. So, how easy is it to apply to your school with a phone?

Do you know how high your form abandonment rate is on mobile devices?
No? Finding out should be a priority, so you can make any necessary adjustments if they are needed.

Aaron Baker, one of Higher Ed Experts Analytics Faculty team, actually gave a presentation at the Higher Ed Analytics Conference where he explained how you can even find out the last field filled out by users who don’t end up submitting a form. It’s amazing how much can be tracked if you know or learn how to do it 🙂

Want to set up a sound measurement process for your higher ed website?

Higher Ed Expert’s 4-week online course on Website Analytics for Higher Ed will guide you through all the steps.

With the help of your expert instructor and your classmates (all working in higher ed), you will set up the measurement process you need to assess the performance of your higher ed website.

Sounds interesting?
Find out what our alums said about this course!

Next: Insights on Social Media for Students

Stay tuned (or subscribe to my newsletter) for my next post in this series with insights from the 2019 E-Expectations Survey.

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