Three Tips For Newly Launched Higher-Education Websites

Ideas & Insights from Research & Design

You’ve been through months of preparation to create a new website. Finally, you are approaching the launch date.

So how can you avoid post-launch issues that leave your current and potential students, alumni, and donors frustrated? After all, the goal of this new site was to drive up engagement -- not to increase your bounce rate or initiate panicked emails from colleagues. There is a long list of items to check off when a new website becomes public facing. No worries, here are a few often overlooked areas to consider during website launches. 

Number 1: Be fast or they’ll be furious.

According to a 2017 study by Google, a page load time of 5 seconds can increase the probability of users leaving your site by 90%. This means that striking a balance between features and functionality is very important. You can have impressive videos and images of students, classrooms, and campus vistas, but you need to be careful to do so without sacrificing your site performance. The key is to make thoughtful decisions about images and content you have added to your website and make sure they are practical and impactful.

Review your code

It is common for suboptimal coding practices to delay page load times. For example, by deferring JavaScript, you can essentially only load the content that prospective students need immediately, instead of loading unnecessary functionality that is out of view. Likewise, your HTML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) need to be optimized in order for your website to load quickly. If you haven’t done a code performance review yet, now is the time.

The biggest gains can come from optimizing images

A picture is worth a thousand words. But in the context of a higher education website, oversized or unoptimized images can cost you the opportunity to convince a new student to attend, or slow down a current student that needs information. Yes, prospective students want to see images and media that help them imagine what it would be like to attend your college or university. However, there is a sweet spot between abundant use of media and site usability. Be sure to optimize your site by measuring tradeoffs and choosing the best approach for speed and usability. Images should not only be compressed, but delivered in the optimal format, resized appropriately, and use a Content Delivery Network (CDN) where possible.

Number 2: Security Measures

Symantec reports that during 2019, web attacks increased by 56%. Imagine the nightmare of a FERPA violation or ransomware attack that puts students, parents, and regulators on red alert. Prioritizing security at all stages is a must, but after a launch exposes your new site to the world, you need to be especially mindful to watch for intrusions, vulnerabilities, and unusual behavior. A full security audit is always advisable, but a few basic measures can go a long way.

Configuring your website to use HTTPS by default is strongly recommended. This involves encrypting the connection between your server and a user’s computer. It is critical that your university protect the personal information (i.e. SSN and Date of Birth data) that typically passes through your site. Using HTTPS can help prevent attacks that may result in malicious edits often used for malware purposes. Popular web browsers, like Google Chrome for example, indicate when a site is “Not Secure”. Consider the viewpoint of your prospective students, would you be excited about entering your private information in a site that is not secure?

Create a plan to stay on top of Content Management System (CMS) security updates. Delaying maintenance on your new website elevates your risk for cyber security issues. Staying on top of updates can be a complex process to manage as many sites utilize a myriad of modules in order to function. If you have resources internally to assign a person to this responsibility, then do so, otherwise it may be worth engaging with an external partner to provide ongoing help and expertise in this area. 

Number 3: Measure Before & After Performance

Tools like Google Analytics can be used to measure the previous version of your website so that you can compare your new site performance to the old site. If you had analytics installed on your old site, comparative analysis is possible. If not, be sure to begin tracking website performance moving forward.

Some of the key metrics to look out for include:

  • Page Views and User Sessions
  • New vs. Returning Users
  • Bounce rate 
  • Organic search traffic

After a site launch the bounce rate is the only metric you want to see decrease within the items listed above. When organic search traffic, page views, and users sessions increase, that is a good indication that the new website design is causing visitors to engage with the site. If things appear to be headed in the wrong direction, refine those pages though testing and experimentation to improve results.

Research & Design works with colleges & universities to design and engineer high performance websites. Contact us for a performance analysis of your site compared with your top competitors.