There’s a lot riding on your college’s website. From showcasing your school’s offerings to prospective students, to providing a touchpoint for alumni to connect with each other, donate, and volunteer, many of your school’s operations depend on what you provide on your website.
Plus, the best school websites not only serve as a one-stop-shop for student, faculty, parent, and alumni resources. They also prioritize the user experience and encourage your audience to engage with your school online, whether that means watching a video about new course offerings, giving a donation to a scholarship fund, or following your institution on Facebook.
To help make your college website into a resource that engages your audience, here are three website design best practices you may want to consider:
- Brand the website to your school.
- Optimize for accessibility.
- Spruce up your donation form.
The best way to implement these best practices on your own college website is to use a website builder created with colleges’ needs in mind. Morweb’s list of the best school website builders highlights some of the most effective platforms and features available that will enable you to build a powerful college site, such as automatic mobile optimization and web accessibility features.
Now, let’s take a closer look at each of the recommended best practices.
1. Brand the website to your school.
Every college has a distinct brand made up of your logos, seals, slogans, colors, and typography. (Your brand also includes things like your values, how you talk about your school’s mission, and relationships with the outside community. But, the visual elements will be especially important for designing your website.)
Essentially, your brand is the sum total of the different features you use to set yourself apart from other institutions, and it can guide your institution in everything from picking colors for your football team’s new uniforms; to how you decorate for your next fundraising event. On top of that, it should also guide your efforts to design or revamp your website.
When you brand your website to your school, your website visitors will see your site as directly connected to your institution, making it feel more trustworthy and useful to them. 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. By contrast, a branded website can make all the difference in signalling 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 your campus clock tower’s silhouette has become an iconic image for your institution. Use these elements on your website to get your audience associating the site with your school.
- Little things make a big difference. When it comes to web design, it’s possible to go overboard with your branding. Instead of plastering your school’s logo on every web page, make deliberate choices about where to place branded elements, and use white space around them to make them stand out. This will help draw attention to your brand while also preventing your audience from getting overwhelmed by a busy design.
- Be consistent. Consistency is key to creating a clear brand. For example, you wouldn’t have a tiger mascot for your school’s volleyball games and a bear for your football games. This would confuse your school community and make them question your legitimacy. The same goes for your website’s branding. You want it to match the rest of your school’s branding, from the t-shirts you sell in your campus store to the banners you hang up on campus during homecoming week. Consistency indicates legitimacy, professionalism, and unity, which are all things you want to communicate to your school community.
Great branding can make a strong first impression with the students, parents, and alumni who land on your website, setting the tone for whatever action they want to take. Take the time to 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.
In today’s world of web design, accessibility is everything. Having an accessible website means that everyone, including website visitors using assistive technology like screen readers, can navigate and 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 explore every nook and cranny of your website.
To ensure that your website is accessible, you can refer to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). It may be tempting to overlook the need for accessibility since it can be difficult to implement, but it’s in your school’s best interest to follow the WCAG and make your website as accessible as possible.
Accessibility not only ensures you can reach the widest range of your audience as possible, but also helps you avoid legal liabilities. This is because websites are increasingly being considered “public accommodations” under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Plus, a website that is optimized for accessibility communicates an important message to your audience. By doing so, you’re showing that your school is a place where people of all abilities can learn, grow, and thrive.
It can be tough to know where to start with optimizing your website for accessibility. Here are some tips to help you get going:
- Add an accessibility widget to your website. An accessibility widget puts power in your website visitors’ hands. The widget allows them to change your site’s coloring to greyscale, increase font sizes, and highlight links for a better user experience.
- 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.
- Avoid hard-to-read fonts. While it’s sometimes 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 can ensure that nothing slips through the cracks for visitors who can’t see your images clearly.
- Choose text, images, and background colors that allow for a high contrast ratio. People who have visual impairments rely on high contrast ratios to be able to read text and see images clearly. Note that black text on a white background provides the highest contrast ratio.
Whether a student is trying to read a class syllabus or a parent is watching a promotional video for an upcoming sporting event, everyone in your community will benefit from a more accessible website.
3. Spruce up your donation form.
From the solicitation of major alumni gifts for construction projects to crowdfunding campaigns hosted to support campus organizations, many of your school’s offerings likely rely on the generosity of others. And now that a large portion of charitable giving happens online, your website’s donation page and form deserve a bit of special attention. After all, the last thing you want is to discourage donations with a complicated or frustrating donation portal.
Donors want a fast, easy, and convenient donation experience. To ensure that your donation page and form are up to the challenge, you’ll need to spend time optimizing them, testing them out, and evaluating your experience. To create a great donation page, use the following Morweb donation page design tips:
- Brand your donation page to be consistent with the rest of your website. Remember that consistency is key for making your website look legitimate and professional. The same goes for your donation page. Too often schools neglect their donation pages, letting them appear generic and disconnected from their institutions. This can cause donors to doubt the security of the donation page. To curb uncertainty and remind your donors what their contribution is going toward, include visual brand elements like your logo or slogan on your donation page.
- Optimize your donation page for mobile devices. More and more donors are giving on the go. Meet their needs by optimizing 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 and that text, blank fields, and images automatically resize for each donor to be able to read them. The easiest way to optimize for mobile devices is to use a CMS built for schools that can automatically take care of mobile optimization.
- 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 let them check a box that signs them up for a newsletter about volunteering around campus. Another option that donors love is gift matching. Many employers offer matching gifts for higher education, and embedding a matching gift database on your donation page will help donors be able to find out if they’re eligible to have their donations matched at a 1:1, 2:1, or sometimes even 3:1 ratio!
- Keep your donation form simple and quick to complete. Even the most dedicated donors don’t have the time or desire to spend all day filling out a donation form. Keep the process quick by only asking for necessary information, such as contact information, donation amounts, and payment information. You can speed up the process even more by offering suggested giving amounts, which will not only make giving faster but may even encourage donors to increase their gift.
Your college’s donation page is just as important as the other resources you offer on your website. Optimizing it for a positive donor experience can help you secure more donations and keep your donors using it to give consistently. With a Content Management System built for schools, you can quickly and easily implement the tips outlined above so your donors can keep giving to your school.
Your college website is easily the most important online asset your institution has for connecting with students, parents, faculty, and alumni. As you incorporate these three best practices into your website design, make sure you take a step back and determine your audience’s needs so that your website can be the best resource possible. Good luck creating your website!