The university website – a window of opportunity

The university website – a window of opportunity
Over 50 percent of international students rely solely on a university’s website as a means of seeking information and applying for a course. Source: Shutterstock

In the digital age, it’s unlikely that any retailer would question the importance of a website. With 40 percent of internet users making purchases online, the ability for 24/7 transactions is too good an opportunity for many to miss.

But more than this, websites give retailers a constant presence, providing a continually-lit shop window in a global market. Whilst this undoubtedly allows organisations to reach huge numbers of potential customers, the requirement to set out your stall in a way that’s both inviting and appealing, is paramount across many industries, and never more so has this been the case for education providers.

Although the requirement for a website was never in doubt, news that over 50 percent of international students rely solely on a university’s website as a means of seeking information and applying for a course emphasises its importance, granting institutions an unambiguous instruction to reassess their window displays – does it clearly convey what’s on offer and is it sufficiently enticing?

Whilst this all sounds logical and simple in theory, it’s harder to achieve in practice. UniQuest make some broad suggestions for making websites more internationally-friendly but these are unlikely to provide a wow factor on their own. In a crowded market, your shop window must stand out and be refreshingly original.

University websites are likely to be managed centrally by the marketing department; there may even be a dedicated web team, solely focused on developing and maintaining web content. To continue the analogy, they are the window dressers. And universities themselves are rather like department stores – large establishments offering a wide variety of products from a number of different departments, tailored to a diverse audience.

The window dresser is skilled at knowing the ‘look’ the store is trying to convey. They know how to create an eye-catching display using colour, space and height. They might know what products are popular and what might pique customers’ interest, but are unlikely to have any product knowledge beyond that.

Whilst this all sounds logical and simple in theory, it’s harder to achieve in practice. Successful marketing takes skill! Source: Shutterstock

Similarly, the marketing department will know what will be visually appealing on the website and how to use language and tone of voice to appeal to the audience they are trying to attract. They may know what courses are growing in popularity or that recruit large numbers, but that is likely to be the extent of their knowledge. And this is limiting when students are likely to head directly to the shop window that showcases the subject they’re interested in.

The programme or course team, on the other hand, can be likened to the staff in various departments on the shop floor. Staff on the shop floor have specialist knowledge of the products in their own area and know how they work. They can explain how one product is subtly different to another, as well as how each could benefit the customer. Staff on the shop floor interact with customers daily, coming to understand both the market and the competition. This not only enables them to talk with confidence about the products they sell, but also to distinguish themselves from competition. However, they are not necessarily equipped to build an appealing window display.

This is the same with the course team. They can talk with confidence about the differences between one course and another and the different topics covered in the curriculum. They can talk about assessments and extracurricular activities or about the skills and knowledge developed over the duration of the course, and how specific programmes might lead to different careers.

When the customer is likely to be making a decision based purely on the window display – in this case, the website – this level of detail is absolutely necessary. But to be effective, it must be presented in an appealing way.

For web content to stand out and be meaningful, marketing and course teams must work together. The marketing team knows what looks good and the course team understands the level of detail being sought. If the marketing team can take the course team’s curriculum detail, distinctive course features and likely career paths, displaying this in an appealing, easy-to-navigate visual format accompanied by high quality imagery and creative graphics, they will have achieved what all good retailers aim for: a striking window display.

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