As a college or university professional, you understand the importance of a strong school website. Prospective students count on your website to learn more about your institution, alumni look to your website for donation opportunities, and faculty and staff need an operational site to stay up to date on events and university updates.
With so much riding on your website, it’s critical that you take the time to develop a visually appealing and informative web design that meets your community’s needs. After all, strong website design can easily take your marketing and fundraising strategy to the next level, increasing your brand visibility and revenue.
Use these expert web design tips to build the perfect college site from the ground up or revamp your existing digital presence:
- Brand the website to your school.
- Optimize for accessibility.
- Strengthen your donation form.
With so many competing priorities on your mind, you might be wondering how much time and effort is required to improve your website. Manually optimizing your pages might take hours and coding your website can easily take days or weeks. This is where a user-friendly school website builder can help.
Morweb explains that a school website builder, or CMS, takes care of all the heavy lifting and allows you to simply plug in your content and push it live. All you have to do is create quality content that will appeal to your audience. Armed with an intuitive website builder, you’ll be well on your way to building the website of your dreams and executing these top strategies. Let’s begin.
1. Brand the website to your school.
Your brand is the total of the different features you use to set yourself apart from other institutions. Essentially, it helps communicate your identity and foster emotional connections with your audience, from eager college applicants who want to learn more about your school to alumni who are hoping to reconnect with their alma mater.
Every college has a distinct brand made up of visual elements like:
- Color schemes
Plus, your university should have verbal branding guidelines that cover your:
- Vision for the future
- Tone of voice
When you add these branding elements to your website, you’re showing visitors that your site is directly connected to your institution, making it feel more trustworthy. For example, a generic college website might signal to visitors that the site isn’t a safe place to input personal information for class registration or donations.
On the other hand, a branded website can make all the difference in signaling to your audience that your website is a legitimate tool that they can use to engage with your school.If you’re looking to communicate this message of legitimacy and professionalism to your audience, you’ll want to focus on branding your website effectively.
Here are three tips to get you started:
- Lean into your most familiar visual branding elements. What visual element of your brand is your school known for? Perhaps your community loves your school’s mascot or maybe your campus clock tower’s silhouette has become an iconic image for your institution. Use these elements on your website to show the association between the site and your school.
- Little things make a big difference. Make deliberate choices about where to place branded elements. For example, you can place your logo in the top left-hand corner of your homepage and incorporate ample white space to help branded elements stand out. This will draw attention to your brand and prevent your audience from getting overwhelmed by a busy design.
- Be consistent. Consistency is key to creating a clear brand. Your website should align with your branding on your other marketing materials, from the t-shirts you sell in your campus store to your social media content. This way, site visitors will have a firm idea of who your school is and what you stand for.
Great branding can make a strong first impression on students, parents, and alumni who land on your website, setting the tone for whatever action they want to take. Carefully choose the branding elements you’ll showcase on your website and place them where they can be the most effective.
2. Optimize for accessibility.
An accessible website means that everyone, including website visitors using assistive technology like screen readers, can get the most out of their experience with your website. Whether they’re using your online donation form or reading about one of your professors, all users should be able to easily navigate through and explore every page of your website.
Use these tips to infuse accessibility into your web design:
- Add an accessibility widget to your website. An accessibility widget puts the power in your website visitors’ hands. The widget allows them to adjust the viewing settings of your site for a better user experience, whether that’s changing your site’s coloring to grayscale, increasing font sizes, or highlighting links.
- Include transcripts or closed-captioning for multimedia elements. Providing captions and transcripts for podcasts, videos, and other multimedia content can give visitors multiple ways to get the information they need from those elements. And, it’s especially helpful for web visitors that are hearing impaired.
- Avoid hard-to-read fonts. While it’s tempting to use a fun font, they can be difficult to read, and no one wants to have to sit and decipher the text on your website letter by letter. Instead, opt for a sans serif font, which is cleaner and less distracting than a serif font that has added strokes on each character.
- Add alt-text to graphics and images. Alt-text describes images and graphics for visitors using screen readers or who are having trouble getting the page to load correctly. Taking the time to write a one-sentence description of an image for the alt-text ensures that nothing slips through the cracks for visitors who can’t see your images.
- Choose on-page elements that allow for a high contrast ratio. These elements include text, images, and background colors. People who have visual impairments rely on high contrast ratios to be able to read text and see images. Note that black text on a white background provides the highest contrast ratio.
To ensure that your website is up-to-date with the latest accessibility best practices, you can refer to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The WCAG, created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), outlines standards for all websites to make content more accessible to people with disabilities. Work with a school website builder that prioritizes web accessibility so you can easily adhere to the WCAG.
3. Strengthen your donation form.
Your website’s donation page is the central hub of your digital fundraising strategy. However, donors, like your alumni, can’t readily give to your college if the donation experience is long or overly complicated.
The best nonprofit and college websites use these donation page best practices:
- Brand your donation page to your organization. To help donors feel confident about donating to your school and remind them what their contribution is going toward, include verbal brand elements like your messaging and tone, as well as visual brand elements like your logo or pictures of students on your donation page.
- Optimize your donation page for mobile devices. Ensure that donors using tablets and smartphones won’t have to deal with pesky pop-up buttons they can’t dismiss. Plus, text, blank fields, and images should automatically resize on smaller screens. The easiest way to accomplish this is to use a CMS with ready-to-go website templates already optimized for mobile.
- Offer multiple ways to give. Donors like to have options. Help them give in new ways by offering multiple options for contributing to your institution. For example, you might empower donors to opt-in to a recurring monthly giving program or request for their gifts to be matched. According to Double the Donation’s guide to corporate matching gift programs, many employers offer matching gifts for higher education. Embedding a matching gift database on your donation page will help donors quickly find out if they’re match-eligible.
- Keep your donation form simple. Make the donation process short and sweet by only asking for necessary information, such as contact information, donation amount, and payment information. Speed up the process even more by offering suggested giving amounts, which may even encourage donors to increase their gifts.
Creating a positive donor experience can help you secure more gifts and encourage your donors’ continued support. If you’re wondering whether your donation page is up to par, consider reaching out to major stakeholders and eliciting their feedback. This will help you build stronger relationships and point you to clear ways you can improve your donation experience.
Your college website is one of the most important online assets your institution has for connecting with students, parents, faculty, and alumni. As you optimize your website, leverage your CMS to track analytics like total page views, conversion rate, and bounce rate. This will help you identify areas for improvement so you can continuously optimize your site’s web design for marketing and fundraising success.