Is web strategy different for graduate schools? Part 1: Business and Law

Business grad student I’ve been thinking about the nuances of web strategy. What’s different when the strategy will be applied to the websites of graduate and professional schools? We’ll be exploring this topic over a series of posts. This first post will consider web strategy for schools of business and law. Let’s get started.

What’s the same?
First, are we certain that the website matters as much for individuals applying to graduate schools? What research can we draw on to confirm that the website of a business or law school influences prospective graduate students? The Noel Levitz Report, 2012 Marketing and Student Recruitment Practices Report for Master’s-Level Graduate Programs, identified a trend observed regardless of institution type:

“Beyond funding, the Web was clearly identified as an important and emerging tool for graduate recruitment and marketing. Across all institution types, the practice of maintaining graduate program Web pages to attract the interest of inquiries was included in the top 10 practices.”
[Reference from the Noel Levitz Blog]

Many of the general best practices for college/university websites also apply to business and law schools. Prospective students still want quick access to a list of programs and degree options. And, they will probably be influenced by large-format, high-impact photography. No surprises there, moving on.

What’s different?
Privately brainstorming, I came up with a short list of items that I suspected were uniquely important for the website strategy of graduate and professional schools:

  • Mobile
  • Rankings
  • Outcomes
  • Career services
  • Faculty bios and profiles that outline research and experience

One morning, while sipping my coffee, I did some armchair research to test my short list. I visited the websites of 16 business and law schools. Here’s what I observed:

  • Career services was a prominent link (and often placed in the global topic or task-based nav) on 9 of the 16 sites (56%).
  • Faculty & Research (or Faculty) was included in the global topic nav on all 16 sites.
  • Partner, Recruiters or Employers was a primary navigation option on 6 of the 16 sites (38%).
  • Social icons were prominent on 11 sites, available on 4, and not present on one.
  • Only one of the 16 sites I randomly visited was responsive (optimzied for mobile). Kudos to the George Mason University School of Law.

Direct from a web strategist at a business school.
For more insights, I contacted Joel Pattison, director of web communications at UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce. Joel led a web relaunch at McIntire during his first year at UVA and here are his responses to my questions about website strategy for business schools.

What are your general thoughts about how web strategy is different for a business school?
Our audiences are very focused on outcomes and our web strategy reflects that. Prospective students expect to see placement data, but they also want to know what experiences and opportunities will give them an edge in the business world. Alumni are interested in this information because they view it as an indicator of the school’s overall health.

Communicating outcomes in both quantitative and qualitative terms is an important piece of our web strategy. Raw data (such as starting salaries) is useful, but there are many benefits of a business education that are better told using narrative, photography or video.

Specifically, are there unique aspects of global, topic-based navigation on a school of business website?
Listing every academic program in the global navigation (and on the school’s homepage) is standard practice. Most business schools also include links to career services, corporate partners and executive education in the global navigation scheme. Faculty directories and research centers are also prominent on business school websites.

Do you have any details or impressions about the type of information that is most popular on your site?
Our academic program pages receive the most visits, followed by the faculty directory. Pages related to admission are next on the list.

Are the primary and secondary audiences for a school like McIntire different from those of the university at large?
While our audiences are similar to the university, McIntire does have a sizable international audience. International students make up 37% of the current M.S. in Accounting class. And 25% of our undergraduate students hold citizenship from countries other than the United States.

Any other thoughts on this topic?
Finding compelling visuals can be a challenge for business and law schools. We don’t have electron microscopes, musical instruments or archeological digs to use in our photographs. Strong visuals are still possible, but it requires more brainstorming and planning.

My final thoughts on…

  • Mobile
    I realize that the use of responsive web design is every day rising; still, it seems prospective law and business students would be even more likely to have the expectation that a graduate school website would already be optimized for small screens. Who’s with me on this? No evidence, just my gut.
  • Rankings
    I get the controversy and suspicion around rankings. But after (gladly) paying 8 years of tuition and fees for our two children, I feel confident that parents and prospective graduate students are paying attention to rankings. A plan for communicating about business and law school rankings should be addressed within the website strategy.
  • Outcomes
    Individuals are shelling out somewhere around $120,000 for three years of law school and about $60,000 for a two-year MBA program. Professional schools historically haven’t offer funding since the idea is that future income makes the debt students will incur a good investment. The bottom line is that business and law schools need to cover content about outcomes, placement and alumni success in an overall web strategy.
  • Faculty Profiles
    Who’s on the faculty clearly matters to prospective law and business students. They likely want to know how individual professors were connected to the field they are teaching. Were they practicing attorneys? Did they serve as CFOs for top companies? Profiles and details about faculty are a clear win within the website strategy.

Do you work on the web team for a graduate business or law school? What are your thoughts about website strategy? Please share.

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