If you want the answers, you have to ask the questions.

Simply put, your website should offer what your customers need. To get answers about what customers want, you have to ask them what they want. Ta-da!! This even works in higher ed. In fact, you might say it’s easier since your customers are right there on campus with you. Go stand in your university center and ask a few students what they think of your website. Better yet, buy some pizza and host a small focus group.

When we visit campuses to begin work with mStoner clients, we ask to meet with small groups of students. We like to talk with first-year students because they can speak most immediately about the college decision-making process. Particularly during their first semester on campus, first-year students have a mindset more similar to that of a prospective student. We also like to meet with juniors and seniors because they can speak most immediately about the campus culture and opportunities. And, older students are already beginning to reflect on their undergraduate experience and evaluate how it stacked up to what they were promised.

In my first nine months working at mStoner, I’ve been a part of 14 student focus groups on seven campuses. In all, I’ve heard the wisdom of 100+ students and, frankly, I’m impressed. On every campus, they are honest and constructive. Their answers reflect a commitment to the collective good. They care about their schools and tell us they want to see more photography, detailed faculty bios, and information about financial aid that is easy to find.

Here are a list of favorites from the students I’ve met:

“Peer to peer influence is huge for us. Our generation is all about peer to peer.”

“This generation is picture-oriented—Facebook is what we use. You find out what people are doing by their pictures and that’s how you learn what’s been going on.”

“Please make the website work on my phone.”

“This is a creative place and a unique atmoshphere but the website is bland. It lacks personality. You click on a link, and then…words.”

“There are too many choices from the homepage. Too many endless lists.”

“It’s very hard to navigate and to find exactly what I’m looking for. I can rarely find the same thing twice.”

“You are trying too hard. Navigation is everywhere on the homepage. There are bars at the top, in the middle, and on the side. There are too many options, too many links. The homepage should be simple and usable. Put the bare essentials there and that’s all.”

“The website should be more about the students and less about the administration.”

“Our website has a personality disorder.”

“It would be nice for all departments to match or at least look somewhat similar. It’s weird when you go from one to the other or from the main site to a department and it’s different.”

“Because of all the different looks, I couldn’t tell the websites were connected; it was not the same college I was on two pages ago. The look would shift and make you feel like you left the site.”

Remember, to get the answers you need, you have to ask the questions. And, once you’ve asked the questions, you have to heed the responses. Do good web work, higher ed. Your customers will thank you for it.

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Author: susantevans

Susan T. Evans is director of corporate and foundations relations at the College of William & Mary. She is a proven strategic leader with deep expertise in advancement, communications, brand management, marketing, digital strategy, technology, administration and organizational development. She is known for creative and strategic approaches to challenges within higher education, nonprofits and business.

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