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Higher education digital content priorities

Higher education digital content priorities

8 minute read

Higher education digital content priorities

8 minute read

Higher education digital content priorities

Paige Toomes

Copywriter and Digital Marketer

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For many institutions, digital transformation is now a priority and you might be thinking about multi channel content for your website, apps, social media, and internal comms.

The coronavirus pandemic and shift to online learning has pushed universities to prioritise their overall digital strategy. It’s an ongoing process, and as part of digital goals, many universities are now looking to:

  • design online learning for the future
  • redesign or refresh their websites
  • adapt to changes in how prospects and current students are using digital platforms
  • improve digital experiences and create a more unified experience
  • connect content more clearly to recruitment and retention efforts

As GatherContent’s previous research has shown, higher ed institutions have a complex digital content environment, often having huge web estates with large amounts of content, some of it outdated, duplicated or inconsistent, to manage and govern properly.

When thinking about content for digital transformation, you need to think about content operations as a whole, and how this works with your new digital goals.

Content operations is the people, processes and technology involved in content creation and management, and how these work together to help you deliver your content strategy.

What were higher education content focuses last year?

We previously wrote an article on what content will look like for higher ed in 2020, which covered things like the 2020 IT trends report from EDUCASE on higher ed digital transformation.

This found that the key IT goals for universities were to “simplify, sustain, innovate” To do this, they needed to move to systemic, scalable, and repeatable approaches.

Other content priorities focused on improving user experience included:

  • Accessibility
  • Video and live streaming
  • Mobile-first content
  • Using social media to facilitate connection and community
  • Personalisation
  • Chatbots
  • Optimising for voice search and conversational AI

While these are still important factors in digital content, a lot has changed in the last year, especially with the coronavirus. In our survey of higher ed professionals on the impact of the pandemic on content creation:

  • 58% of respondents said that content is now more business critical than before COVID-19
  • 39% shared that there are now more people involved in content creation
  • 43% said they now need to deliver content quicker

So, what are the key things universities should focus on for 2021? We run through the stats on four current and emerging digital content priorities:

1. Improved site search

Your website contains crucial information for prospective and current students, and to help people navigate your website, well-designed search functions are imperative. When you help visitors find what they want through optimising on-site search, they’ll have a much better user experience.

eQAfy, who help higher education institutions improve website performance and effectiveness, did an interesting analysis of 160 university website home pages (you can access the webinar or transcript that goes through key results for free).

They found that while 100% of UK and US universities had general site search, only 70% of UK universities and just 4% of US universities had a prominent course finder search capability.

mStoner and Funnelback also led some very interesting research on institutions across North America. They ran an observational survey of the websites of the top 55 National Liberal Arts Colleges as ranked by U.S. News & World Report.

Some key findings from the research include:

  • 54 out of the 55 universities did not use site search filters
  • 43.7% say site visitors use site search — this is a growing trend at the majority of institutions.
  • 74% report website search as a top five website management pain point, citing old or irrelevant results as the leading issue.
  • 71% note website search is more important to visitors today than in 2016.
  • 70% say it’s more important than 2 years ago

What they found was that poor site search is a pain point for many universities.  When they asked college and university web and marketing professionals about the pain points for their websites, outdated design was much less of an issue than poor onsite search. The latter was identified as a pain point twice as often as outdated design!

Other pain points were:

  • poorly organised information architecture
  • poor on-site search results (directory, program and general search)
  • inconsistent and poorly written content
  • clunky technology and content management system
  • search returns old our outdated results, with Google returning better results
  • style of search is off-brand

Best practice recommendations for the next year include using structured content to facilitate detailed searches, and deliver results like related programs, using search suggestions, filters, and monitoring site search analytics. Read the full study for more in-depth advice on university challenges and improving UX with site search.

2. Accessibility and usability

This was on last years’ list, but accessibility and usability are an even bigger digital priority in 2021 and an on-going one too.

Universities need to be paying attention to accessibility and presenting information in clear, plain, readable language on everything from their website and apps to things like hashtags on social media.  Universities are also under pressure to make sure online learning is fully accessible to all students.

Key accessibility standards come from the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which US university websites need to be compliant with, and new regulations and deadlines for compliance have recently come in for UK public sector websites and apps.

There are also certain consumer regulations that require institutions to use plain language in things like informational and legal content, policies and procedures.

Yet in February 2020, WebAIM conducted an accessibility evaluation of the home pages for the top million websites and over 100,000 additional interior site pages.

What they found was that 98.1% of home pages had detectable WCAG 2 failures. Although this was up from 97.8% in February 2019.

According to their research, these errors include:

  • Low Contrast: 85.3%
  • Missing alternative text: 68%
  • Empty links: 58.1%
  • Missing form labels: 52.8%
  • Missing document language: 33.1%
  • Empty buttons: 25%

If your university doesn’t have accessibility as a top priority, now is the time. Not only is it a legal requirement, it’s the right thing to do.

3. Faster loading speeds

Students are spoiled for choice online today, and loading speed is a key reason why you might be getting high bounce rates on your website. People will simply go elsewhere if it’s slow to give them the information they need. In fact, millennials suffer 'load rage' if download speed is longer than a minute. In many cases this will tarnish your brand image for them.

And, as we said in last year’s trends post, mobile-friendly content and web design aren’t optional for universities anymore. Institutions need to go mobile-first with their digital content. Studies show that 53% of mobile users abandon sites that take over 3 seconds to load.

Another big issue that we’ve seen this year are pop-ups on mobile: either for things like GDPR, cookies or marketing. If these aren’t working properly or are too big, it can really impact on the user experience. If a user can’t close a pop-up, or end up viewing your page through a tiny screen on their phone, it’s going to be a very frustrating experience.

4. User generated content

Social media usage is up since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with  44% of the world using social media more. This creates a significant opportunity for institutions to reach and engage students.

What’s more, much of this content being created by students and young people themselves, which is known as user generated content (UCG).  Millennials are the biggest content drivers —  contributing over 70% of the world’s UGC. This is something that universities should be taking advantage of, especially on social media.

This type of content is great for increasing brand authenticity and creates two-way relationships with students and prospective students. UGC can be utilised by reaching out to make connections with students through their content, using hashtags, or student takeovers where students run university social media accounts. Check out our article for examples of universities using user generated content successfully.

GatherContent helps universities create high-quality and compliant content

User expectations evolve over time and your website should, too. Meeting user needs is only possible with consistently high quality content. But, universities often have exceptionally large volumes of website content to create, manage and govern.

This is where GatherContent can help. It’s a Content Operations Platform that can help universities plan, create and manage their content, and the people and processes around it too. The focus is on the content, which ensures it is high-quality, compliant and meeting organisational goals.

To find out how GatherContent can help future proof your content strategy, head to our higher education page, book a demo or 30-day free trial.

For many institutions, digital transformation is now a priority and you might be thinking about multi channel content for your website, apps, social media, and internal comms.

The coronavirus pandemic and shift to online learning has pushed universities to prioritise their overall digital strategy. It’s an ongoing process, and as part of digital goals, many universities are now looking to:

  • design online learning for the future
  • redesign or refresh their websites
  • adapt to changes in how prospects and current students are using digital platforms
  • improve digital experiences and create a more unified experience
  • connect content more clearly to recruitment and retention efforts

As GatherContent’s previous research has shown, higher ed institutions have a complex digital content environment, often having huge web estates with large amounts of content, some of it outdated, duplicated or inconsistent, to manage and govern properly.

When thinking about content for digital transformation, you need to think about content operations as a whole, and how this works with your new digital goals.

Content operations is the people, processes and technology involved in content creation and management, and how these work together to help you deliver your content strategy.

What were higher education content focuses last year?

We previously wrote an article on what content will look like for higher ed in 2020, which covered things like the 2020 IT trends report from EDUCASE on higher ed digital transformation.

This found that the key IT goals for universities were to “simplify, sustain, innovate” To do this, they needed to move to systemic, scalable, and repeatable approaches.

Other content priorities focused on improving user experience included:

  • Accessibility
  • Video and live streaming
  • Mobile-first content
  • Using social media to facilitate connection and community
  • Personalisation
  • Chatbots
  • Optimising for voice search and conversational AI

While these are still important factors in digital content, a lot has changed in the last year, especially with the coronavirus. In our survey of higher ed professionals on the impact of the pandemic on content creation:

  • 58% of respondents said that content is now more business critical than before COVID-19
  • 39% shared that there are now more people involved in content creation
  • 43% said they now need to deliver content quicker

So, what are the key things universities should focus on for 2021? We run through the stats on four current and emerging digital content priorities:

1. Improved site search

Your website contains crucial information for prospective and current students, and to help people navigate your website, well-designed search functions are imperative. When you help visitors find what they want through optimising on-site search, they’ll have a much better user experience.

eQAfy, who help higher education institutions improve website performance and effectiveness, did an interesting analysis of 160 university website home pages (you can access the webinar or transcript that goes through key results for free).

They found that while 100% of UK and US universities had general site search, only 70% of UK universities and just 4% of US universities had a prominent course finder search capability.

mStoner and Funnelback also led some very interesting research on institutions across North America. They ran an observational survey of the websites of the top 55 National Liberal Arts Colleges as ranked by U.S. News & World Report.

Some key findings from the research include:

  • 54 out of the 55 universities did not use site search filters
  • 43.7% say site visitors use site search — this is a growing trend at the majority of institutions.
  • 74% report website search as a top five website management pain point, citing old or irrelevant results as the leading issue.
  • 71% note website search is more important to visitors today than in 2016.
  • 70% say it’s more important than 2 years ago

What they found was that poor site search is a pain point for many universities.  When they asked college and university web and marketing professionals about the pain points for their websites, outdated design was much less of an issue than poor onsite search. The latter was identified as a pain point twice as often as outdated design!

Other pain points were:

  • poorly organised information architecture
  • poor on-site search results (directory, program and general search)
  • inconsistent and poorly written content
  • clunky technology and content management system
  • search returns old our outdated results, with Google returning better results
  • style of search is off-brand

Best practice recommendations for the next year include using structured content to facilitate detailed searches, and deliver results like related programs, using search suggestions, filters, and monitoring site search analytics. Read the full study for more in-depth advice on university challenges and improving UX with site search.

2. Accessibility and usability

This was on last years’ list, but accessibility and usability are an even bigger digital priority in 2021 and an on-going one too.

Universities need to be paying attention to accessibility and presenting information in clear, plain, readable language on everything from their website and apps to things like hashtags on social media.  Universities are also under pressure to make sure online learning is fully accessible to all students.

Key accessibility standards come from the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which US university websites need to be compliant with, and new regulations and deadlines for compliance have recently come in for UK public sector websites and apps.

There are also certain consumer regulations that require institutions to use plain language in things like informational and legal content, policies and procedures.

Yet in February 2020, WebAIM conducted an accessibility evaluation of the home pages for the top million websites and over 100,000 additional interior site pages.

What they found was that 98.1% of home pages had detectable WCAG 2 failures. Although this was up from 97.8% in February 2019.

According to their research, these errors include:

  • Low Contrast: 85.3%
  • Missing alternative text: 68%
  • Empty links: 58.1%
  • Missing form labels: 52.8%
  • Missing document language: 33.1%
  • Empty buttons: 25%

If your university doesn’t have accessibility as a top priority, now is the time. Not only is it a legal requirement, it’s the right thing to do.

3. Faster loading speeds

Students are spoiled for choice online today, and loading speed is a key reason why you might be getting high bounce rates on your website. People will simply go elsewhere if it’s slow to give them the information they need. In fact, millennials suffer 'load rage' if download speed is longer than a minute. In many cases this will tarnish your brand image for them.

And, as we said in last year’s trends post, mobile-friendly content and web design aren’t optional for universities anymore. Institutions need to go mobile-first with their digital content. Studies show that 53% of mobile users abandon sites that take over 3 seconds to load.

Another big issue that we’ve seen this year are pop-ups on mobile: either for things like GDPR, cookies or marketing. If these aren’t working properly or are too big, it can really impact on the user experience. If a user can’t close a pop-up, or end up viewing your page through a tiny screen on their phone, it’s going to be a very frustrating experience.

4. User generated content

Social media usage is up since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with  44% of the world using social media more. This creates a significant opportunity for institutions to reach and engage students.

What’s more, much of this content being created by students and young people themselves, which is known as user generated content (UCG).  Millennials are the biggest content drivers —  contributing over 70% of the world’s UGC. This is something that universities should be taking advantage of, especially on social media.

This type of content is great for increasing brand authenticity and creates two-way relationships with students and prospective students. UGC can be utilised by reaching out to make connections with students through their content, using hashtags, or student takeovers where students run university social media accounts. Check out our article for examples of universities using user generated content successfully.

GatherContent helps universities create high-quality and compliant content

User expectations evolve over time and your website should, too. Meeting user needs is only possible with consistently high quality content. But, universities often have exceptionally large volumes of website content to create, manage and govern.

This is where GatherContent can help. It’s a Content Operations Platform that can help universities plan, create and manage their content, and the people and processes around it too. The focus is on the content, which ensures it is high-quality, compliant and meeting organisational goals.

To find out how GatherContent can help future proof your content strategy, head to our higher education page, book a demo or 30-day free trial.

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About the author

Paige Toomes

Paige is an English Literature and Media graduate from Newcastle University, and over the last three years has built up a career in SEO-driven copywriting for tech companies. She has written for Microsoft, Symantec and LinkedIn, as well as other SaaS companies and IT consulting firms. With an audience-focused approach to content, Paige handles the lifecycle from creation through to measurement, supporting businesses with their content operations.

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