As I work on my keynote speech for the 2015 eduWeb Digital Summit in July, I keep coming back to the following philosophical question: When it comes to the web and digital in higher education, how good is good enough?
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – most college websites are still mediocre at best. For the past two months I have reviewed hundreds of catalog sites and to say they are mediocre is being nice. Most of them are awful. Information about degree programs is arguably the most important information on the site yet these sites are doing disservice to the campus.
I recently asked a group of conference attendees the following question: True or False: Most College Web Sites Are Bad? The majority of the audience said this was false and that their websites are well done. But when I look at their sites I see plenty of areas for improvement. As part of my consulting work I conduct website reviews on a regular basis and I have yet to see a site that didn’t have issues.
Am I being too picky? Is it worth the money to produce the absolute best website? At one extreme is having your site created and maintained by students at $10 per hour. At the other extreme is having a world renown digital agency do this work. Where should higher ed sites fall on this continuum?
How good is good enough?
Another facet of this conversation needs to be “is our site as good as it can possibly be, given the resources we have in place today?”. Are higher ed web sites reflective of the value that higher ed places on those sites? The fact that any institutions make an investment in their sites by hiring you as a consultant is a good sign that some institutions are starting to recognize the value in web sites but I don’t see that as a wide-spread reality in higher ed. I don’t see many institutions display an understanding why resources must be allocated to a web/social media presence. Maybe as an industry, we need to focus on providing higher ed web professionals with the tools to educate administrators as to what resources are needed to create and maintain sites reflective of best practice and what the ROI on those resources could be. Given the resources needed to do our best work, maybe our higher ed sites will reflect that best work.
Mark, An impactful (and all too true) insight. So many higher ed websites nurture info dumping, or they mimic a hedge maze littered with hidden info. And in the digital space, social media’s another dropped ball. Higher ed + social media = a corkboard full of pinned announcements, stale interactives and hawked goods. Odd that in serving a digitally savvy clientele, many colleges/universities are only baby steps removed from the rotary phone.
Absolutely agree. But unfortunately, in many case, the group in charge of the main university website is not the same group that “owns” the degree program information. Even just getting access to the degree program information can be a political nightmare.
In my personal opinion, the state of most university website’s is more a reflection of internal politics and/or dysfunctional culture than a lack of available resources. I have sat in meetings where a college spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a digital agency consultant and heard a director say “i don’t care what their data shows. I want it this way. And even if only 1 person visits the page, it is worth it.” And the dean ok’ed it. No amount of money thrown at a website can fix that.
I think you are pointing out a symptom or a result of a deeper root cause. You mention programs, those are not only the most important piece of info but the main product of a university. This article from Inside Higher Ed touches on this. The real issue is that many if not most marketing departments are not focused on recruitment. They focus on enterprise brand. So they pay very little attention to program pages. In fact at many schools the program materials are simply handled by the program chairs.
Back to the question you posed to people. Are websites bad, I assume most peoples response is in relation to is it pretty, is it functional, is it interactive. But the most important question, how does it perform/ does it drive enrollment like a well oiled machine is the piece that many institutions are not focused on.
Pie in the sky idealism talking, but:
An institution sets goals and figures out how the website factors into generating movement towards those goals and what aspects of the website are important metrics that impact goals.
A “good enough” website is one that makes a positive impact on those metrics.
Considering how many institutions falter on the “setting goals” part of the equation, it’s no wonder that so many websites are /facepalm-worthy.
What are the metrics that define “good”? All of the relevant information is posted? It is accessible? It is interesting? It is updated frequently? It looks attractive? It draws in students? It makes people want to donate? It is grammatically correct? It is well-written? It comes under budget? “Good” depends on who is judging and how they are judging it. Unfortunately, the web has way too many judges and too few participants. Advancement wants the web to sell donors to give money. Admissions wants to attract students. Students want to know where the bus is, what’s for lunch, and when the library is open. Faculty care if it aligns with what they want. IT wants to keep it sustainable and accessible. Communications wants it to look good and keep the brand right. Across all these metrics and judges, is it even possible to have a universally “good” site?
So maybe the question is “Is the web good enough for its audience?” Does the site provide the right information in an engaging way? Do people keep using it?
Google’s main search site is simple and has not changed much over the years, but millions still use it everyday.
That’s my two cents.