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Best Web Design Tips for Colleges in 2019

Your website is the first place students go when looking for information about your college. Because most searches are for unbranded terms such as “best colleges for architecture” or “small colleges in Miami,” many college applicants will be learning about your school the first time they visit your site. If your website is at all clunky, slow, outdated, unappealing, or isn’t optimized for mobile devices, you will lose prospective students by the hundreds and miss out on thousands of dollars of potential revenue.

Your website needs to showcase the best your college has to offer, from programs to amenities and student life. Whether you’re looking to rebuild from scratch or revamp your current website, Optimum7 offers an array of web design services that can address your college’s specific needs.

Web Development Services

Optimum7 provides a variety of world-class web design and development services, including:

  • UI/UX Optimization
  • Website Design
  • Mobile-Friendly Design
  • Student Portals
  • Content Management Systems

…and more.

11 Web Design Tips for Colleges

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1. Create a Plan Before You Start

Going in directionless is a surefire way to have a site that is disorganized. Many start by sketching out their vision of a website on paper – this is also called building the site architecture. Have your user’s journey in mind when creating your site. You should have a taxonomy worked out that is clear and logical. This helps Google understand your site for indexing and helps users navigate to what they are looking for.

  • Does your website feature your top performing programs?
  • Does the information presented effective sell your university?
  • Are sections updated regularly to have the most recent developments?


2. Use Calls to Action

A call to action refers to an instruction designed to prompt the user to a specific action. Your page should have multiple calls to action to move navigators down your marketing funnel. Orient your CTAs towards your audience’s pain points and you’ll keep their attention. Do this by anticipating their reasons for being on the university website.

  • Calls to action use suggestive language – ‘Register,’ ‘Contact,’ ‘Learn More,’ etc.
  • Marketing funnels take users from being aware to taking action.
  • Multiple calls to action are needed as different demographics navigate differently.

3. Have a Clear Navigation

76% of users said the most important factor for a website is being able to find what they need. Having a clear organized site structure with relevant URLs helps with SEO too. Good web design means the user knows where they are within the website architecture at all times and can easily return or take the logical step forward with ease.

  • Welcome feedback from your target audience about your website’s navigation.
  • Sidebars, drop down menus and sandwich buttons are common navigation tools.
  • Check that each page has the buttons necessary to return or move forward.

4. Use white space properly

Also called ‘negative space’, white space refers to the areas around elements on a page that are empty and lacking content or visual items. It enhances readability and content prioritization while also adding looking professional and precise.

  • White space is often found around text, images, buttons, headers, and footers.
  • White space used consistently throughout your site, subtlely eases navigation.
  • Negative space does not have to be white. Just so long as it is free of content.
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5. Give the homepage attention

Your homepage is the face of your business and the first place they will navigate if they already know your bran and are now inquiring further. These are sometimes confused with landing pages which, while one landing page can certainly also be the home page, not all landing pages are homepages. A good homepage includes,

  • Your college’s value proposition.
  • An overview of services, programs, and rankings.
  • Reviews and testimonials from standout students, faculty, and alumni.

6. Optimize for mobile

52% of all traffic is mobile traffic and that number is only expected to grow. Your website needs to be responsive, meaning that the structure, fonts, etc. adjust based on the size of the screen/display. This is no simple task as every clicked page would need some form of mobile optimization, but one we can’t emphasize enough.

  • Again, feedback from user testing is key to understanding functionality.
  • As desktop to mobile users increases, capturing mobile audiences prioritizes.
  • Short, clear language and calls to action are best on mobile and avoid load times to

7. Address 404s with 301 redirects

Whenever you delete a page, create a 301 redirect to the next most relevant page. 404s hurt SEO, so 301 redirects help pass whatever link juice/authority you received from the old page to the new page. This directly affects your audiences ability to find the information they are looking for which affects your authority, or worse, the first impression.

  • Regularly perform maintenance testing clickable links for accurate navigation.
  • Errors can especially occur when sites are being updated or created.
  • Oversights can also occur if links to new pages aren’t provided in old pages.

8. Avoid social media links in the header

If they follow those colorful links, they’ll land on a site full of distractions. You want them to be moving down your funnel, not leaving your site and getting distracted. Social media links should be at the footer, if at all.

  • Social media is a tool primarily to promote content to existing students/faculty.
  • Social media can be fun, but make sure it also echoes your value proposition.
  • Use social media as a way to direct users to landing pages you want to promote.

9. Use headers to guide users

The more organized and structured a site is, the more user-friendly is as we mentioned in navigation; but also using relevant keywords and terms within the page’s copy helps with SEO too, therefore make sure you follow a logical structure.

  • H1 for title/page heading
  • H2 for sectional headings
  • H3, h4 etc to further break up those subheadings

10. Avoid long, blocky paragraphs

Paragraphs should be 2-3 sentences each. Short paragraphs get read, long paragraphs are skimmed, and very long paragraphs get skipped entirely. Creating structured content on a website is a process, but one that pays in dividends.

  • Add dimension to your information with bullet points, charts, graphs, etc.
  • Add multimedia to your pages to convey information in creative ways.
  • For website copy, always provide the value or answers in a clear way, direct way.

11. Make site speed a priority

The longer a site loads, the more likely the user is to bounce. Google also factors site speed into SEO ranking so consider removing any elements that may be slowing down the site. This might sound like a contradiction to after suggestion to add multimedia to pages, but done strategically, the page elements can balance one another.

  • Use free websites that test your site’s speed.
  • Don’t assume that your site speed is forever set. Periodic updates are needed.
  • If a heavy piece of content is absolutely relevant, then consider linking to it.