In higher education marketing, there is no lack of competition. You know that valuable budget dollars are spent on your institution's home page, the admissions section of the website, television and radio ads, fancy print materials and recruiters traveling around the country to bring in more and more students. All these things may help with awareness, but there is often an overlooked section of the website that might be turning away prospective students.

Program pages are a key piece of the recruitment puzzle. Even students who are undecided on what to study still turn to these pages to complete the big picture of the institution(s) they are considering. The challenge is turning a page that is often outdated and overloaded with content into one that becomes a positive factor in the decision-making process for selecting an institution or a program to study.

Below are a few things to consider when creating an all-star program page with great content, visuals and calls to action.

Determine ownership of your program page. 

This might already be decided at your institution or it may be a decision that is constantly a topic for debate. The reality is that unless you have a huge content team, these pages might be more than the marketing or communications group can handle. However, these pages can make or break the experience for prospective students, so they need the care of someone comfortable with content strategy. Whoever the owner, that person must be dedicated to regular content updates, be trained on the strategy of the page and be very familiar with writing best practices for the web.

Define a strategy. 

This is a very important step that will help you make informed content decisions throughout the life of your program page. Strategy should include research (gathering input from your stakeholders and completing a competitive review at a minimum), documented findings, defined goals of the page and a clear outline of the approach that is supported by your research and helps to achieve your goals.

Know the audience. 

Don’t be tempted to make broad assumptions about your program page audience when dealing with limited real estate on your program page. Every program has a slightly different audience type, and as the program page owner, you should understand yours better than anyone.

To avoid these general assumptions and to leverage concrete information, consider focus groups or surveys of both prospective and current program students (likely defined as your primary and secondary audiences in the program page strategy) to learn what program information is (or was) key to the users when making the decision to attend the institution as well as select a specific program of study. Target audience personas are also a very helpful exercise to really understand the needs and goals of your prospective or current students.

Note: In addition to prospective and current students, you should have an understanding of the current and prospective faculty and staff involved in the program, parents of current and prospective students, and others who may view the program page to gather information. The influence of these additional audiences may drive the decision to add content to the page that addressed their unique needs.

Make the content easy to find and scan. 

Your users don’t want to get bogged down in the details before they even know if they are interested in the program. To make the page easy to scan, keep the following content tips in mind:

  • Content should be short and succinct
  • Include clear section headings
  • Use bulleted and ordered lists when appropriate
  • Don’t forget to make your content accessible to all users. If you aren’t sure what this means we have a few blog entries that can help: Demystifying Accessibility: 5 Simple Tips to Avoid Getting Burned by the Man and Accessibility: Higher Ed Website Content
  • Be creative, you don’t always need a paragraph to get a point across. Do you have high-tech labs? Show a picture or video of students in the labs. Do your students have a high, first-time pass rate for a national exam? Show a stat. Are your alumni strong advocates who stay in contact and have great success stories? Have a promo connecting your web visitors to testimonials and success stories.

Use the information learned from your target audience analysis to inform what content makes the top-level page and what doesn’t. Before you add pieces of information see if it fits at least 2 out of 3 these requirements:

  1. Does this piece of information consistently match the key topics students wanted to know about the program? (Should be discovered in your stakeholder research.)
  2. Does the information describe a specific selling point for the program?
  3. If a prospective student was comparing this program page to four other programs (whether within your institution or a competing institution) would this information be helpful in making a decision on which is the best fit?

If information didn’t make the top-level page, consider subpages or links to other areas of the site to provide users with the additional details they’ll be looking for when they are ready.

Make the page visual. 

Even part-time prospective graduate students considering an online program identify real images as a way to boost credibility, show personality and provide a sense of place. Keep in mind that visuals, just for the sake of having them, aren’t a great idea. Make sure the images, videos, designed charts and statistics clearly relate to and enhance the content and messages you are sharing with the user. And don’t forget the alt text for those who might be using a screen reader.

Offer next steps. 

If a user feels that your program might be a good fit, they’ll probably want to learn more. This is where strategically-placed calls to action will provide the most value. Promos for “get more info”, “apply” or “contact us” allow users to move forward. Calls to action should be prominent enough for users to easily find them once they’ve consumed the content and are ready to take the next step.

I hope these tips will be helpful as you work to improve your program page and bring in more of the right students for your institution. If you’re interested in learning more, you’re in luck! This post is just the beginning. Stay tuned for a more in depth explanation of successful program page elements in future blog posts.