I was digging through some old files last night and came across the slide deck of a workshop I taught in 1998 on creating quality web sites.  The third slide in the deck included the headline from an article that stated “Most Web Sites Are Bad, Really Bad”.   It was an accurate description for most college web sites in the late 1990’s.

So how much have college web sites improved over the past 13 years?

In the course of my consulting work I have benchmarked several hundred college web sites over the past few years including main sites, sites for administrative units, and sites for academic departments (which is always my favorite).  In addition, I have conducted dozens of site audits. These audits are an expert evaluation of a site, examine the site based on graphic design, navigation, usability, quality of coding, accessibility, and more.

Well here we are in 2011 and IMHO, most college web sites are still pretty bad.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am a tough grader. I have high expectations. I expect:

  • Basic usability principles to be followed
  • A professional design
  • Intuitive navigation
  • Well written content
  • The code to validate (to current standards)
  • The CSS to validate
  • To never see tables used for layout (yes, I still see this on many sites)
  • The site to be fully accessible (pet peeve – when a college’s page on accessibility is itself inaccessible)
  • To never find broken links
  • To never find outdated content
  • Pages that load fast
  • And I expect that this will be the case for all pages, not just top level pages.

My guess is that many of you feel the same way. The No Laughing Matter article on Inside Higher Ed last summer that discussed the infamous xkcd venn diagram was one of the most discussed articles on that site in the past year.

While the main cause of these problems back in 1998 was the skill and experience of the campus web team, in most cases that is no longer the case. The reasons that college web sites haven’t improved lie much deeper and include campus politics, campus culture (academic freedom anyone?), HIPPOS (HIghest Paid Person’s Opinion), lack of resources, and most importantly, a lack of formal governance and management.

So back to the title of this post.  True or false: most college are bad? I’d love to hear your thoughts.