The 2 Types of Content Every College Website Must Have
A college website can be a powerful recruiting tool, an effective fundraising engine, and invaluable resource, but on a bad day, it can also seem like a crotchety Hydra--the mythical beast with countless heads, and more growing in for each one that’s removed. Because it serves so many different constituents, the average college website can overwhelm some visitors with plentiful information at various levels of accuracy, and completely fail others through gaps in information that is as crucial as it is conspicuously absent.
The best way to prioritize content creation and make sure it’s a must for your website is to understand what types of content are crucial to the audience you’re trying to reach, and those fall into two categories.
1. Content That Helps Your Audience
The main questions your website needs to answer for a prospective student are (in no particular order):
- Do they have the major I want?
- Is this a place I want to go?
- How do I get in?
Colleges spend a lot of time, money, words, and pixels trying to give prospects the impression that yes, you most certainly want to come here to get your degree, but often fail to place the most important information front and center.
Truly helpful content aids in answering these key questions, and in navigating the complex maze that is the college application process. To give you some ideas, truly helpful content will assist a prospective student in:
- major selection and understanding job outcomes
- planning for the transition from high school to college
- understanding the cost of attending and applying for financial aid
- self-selecting as a fit for your institutional culture--or not
- requesting more information, scheduling a visit, or completing an application
All of these questions can be answered in various formats, but if a student can’t do the above tasks on your website, you’re not helping them, and you’re not helping your admissions efforts.
2. Content That Tells Your Story
The other crucial type of content is narrative content that gives prospective students and their families real insight into what the experience of attending your college is really like.
A typical 17-year old has a pretty opaque idea of college life, mostly based on what they have seen in movies and TV shows. Unless Jenny Student has known since age 3 that she will be attending Stanford like her parents and grandparents, she’s searching carefully for a college where she can secure a better future through the right degree, and feel like she truly belongs.
Communicating that out of the five colleges that have Jenny’s major yours is the place for her requires sharing stories about students, faculty, alumni, campus buildings, traditions, and anything else that helps you go beyond the story that most colleges tell: that they’re a close-knit community with a focus on academic excellence and educating the complete individual.
Good narrative content:
- Communicates campus values
- Illuminates campus culture
- Helps prospect picture themselves on campus
- Relatable from a student’s point of view
- Shows that interesting things are happening
- Manages expectations of college life and behavior
Good narrative content on a college website will above all illustrate what you have to offer instead of saying how fantastic you are.
What About the Other Stuff?
But what about our mission and vision? Letter from the president? Our board members? Doesn’t all that matter? Whether it matters is not the right question.
Balancing the requirements of admissions, alumni, athletics, academics, and the administrative branch of a university in a single online vehicle is complex. If it’s your job to tend these varied gardens and manage their myriad content and design needs, you likely deserve a medal. Take a moment now to pat yourself on the back.
There is also your college’s regional accrediting body, which periodically looks for you to demonstrate your integrity and transparency, and that you do in fact deliver on your mission. You don’t have to toss important content out the window, but you can politely decline to put items that don’t help admissions on the homepage.
There’s room for all kinds of content on your website, but how you prioritize and where it goes should be determined by whom it matters to. Will a letter from a dean help you recruit? Most likely not. Will accurate major information and profiles of students doing exciting things with their professors help you recruit? Absolutely--because they’re relevant.
Web content management done well requires editorial priorities. If growing enrollment is a priority for your college, placing the needs and questions of a prospective student first is non-negotiable, and everything else is secondary.
Karo was born in Poland, and learned to speak English by watching "Saved by the Bell" reruns during her first summer in the U.S., which has left her unable to go through life without occasionally breaking the fourth wall. As Percussion's content marketing manager, she oversees and creates content that drives website traffic, engages followers, and helps fill the marketing and sales funnel. She writes about content management, content marketing, SEO, social media and web design, and how to make it all less complicated.