While the pandemonium of clearing has passed and students are settling into their studies, universities cannot be lulled into thinking that attracting students is complete for another year. We recently heard that Brexit has had an immediate effect on British universities, with our institutions tumbling in international rankings, as concern persists around the impact of an EU exit on the country’s higher education (HE) sector. As Article 50 is set to be invoked in March 2017, universities must plan now for how they will continue to attract students.
A vital area that universities should focus on is enhancing their user experience. Tech giants such as Deliveroo and ASOS have placed the consumer at the heart of their offering and students now expect similar experiences from their university. The HE sector can learn from these brands who have engaged their audiences so well.
Transformation of education
The main user interface for universities is their website. Being the key touchpoint that prospective students look to, this needs to provide all information a potential joiner needs in an engaging manner.
However, lots of universities build a website that suits their own needs rather than their students’. One of the largest universities in the capital, London Southbank University (LSBU), realised that its website consisted of an astounding 286,000 distinct URLs, distributed across 130 domains and sub-domains. With so many different pages and contributors, LSBU was faced with a diluted brand and disjointed service for the user when navigating around the site.
Sitemorse, the independent digital insight provider, had ranked the LSBU website 179th spot nationally in their league table of HE websites, something that the team knew they needed to improve to compete against universities that had seamless websites. LSBU partnered with Squiz to ensure that it had the ability to provide an outstanding customer experience.
Customer first approach
The first step for LSBU was completely transforming the external-facing website so that it was student-first. In order to do this, Squiz prioritised delivering clear workflow processes, a sturdy infrastructure and quick updates, whilst keeping the university’s online footprint on-brand. To ensure that this could be maintained, Squiz worked to empower the LSBU team and their technology. When the team behind the site had an important role to play, they were engaged from start to finish.
Simple, effective and relevant content was also high on the agenda. By using Squiz’s Matrix CMS system, there was no longer a need for hand-coded pages and time consuming updates were eliminated. Content is now simplified through a central governance structure, educating and allowing all teams to schedule updates themselves through an automated system. This ensures that rich, engaging content flows throughout the website, making the user experience simpler and also more informative and useful.
The results are in
Over the last three years, the digital experience that LSBU offers to students has completely transformed. The site came 1st in 2016 in the Sitemorse ranking of Higher Education and Further Education sites, and ranked 2nd for all websites worldwide by Sitemorse. LSBU completely surpassed their target of 40,000 visitors per month to their site, resulting in a 13% application conversion rate. In addition, the team has been empowered to maintain the interface.
Universities must address their user experience if they are to continue attracting students in the post-Brexit era. Their website gives students a first impression of their brand so a good user experience will increasingly set them apart. By ensuring that each interface gives an accurate representation of the university and highlights the most important information seamlessly, prospective students will be engaged. Capturing students’ digitally is the new currency for universities.