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Improving content quality on higher ed websites

Improving content quality on higher ed websites

Improving content quality on higher ed websites

Improving content quality on higher ed websites

Shannon Lanus

Content Strategist, mStoner

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In higher education, no institution’s website is ever truly done. You can launch a great website, but maintaining it means making improvements over time. Whether you’re launching a new website or you’re looking to make your existing site better, you need a plan to keep your content fresh, relevant and impactful.   

Why focus on content quality?

Improving content is one of the most valuable investments you can make. Great content not only makes for a better, more pleasant experience on your website, it engages your site visitors and facilitates action. Such actions might include:

  • contacting an admissions counsellor,
  • filling out an application,
  • purchasing a ticket to an event,
  • or making a donation.

By contrast, poor content not only inhibits the same actions, if your content does not follow SEO best practices, people may never find it in the first place. Content that does not meet basic accessibility or accreditation standards can have even worse consequences.

What is quality content? 

Broadly speaking, good digital content is engaging, helpful, and to the point. However, if you want to improve the content on your website, there are a few more considerations to keep in mind. Quality content meets the following criteria:

  • it is crafted for a specific audience, 
  • has a defined purpose,
  • is accurate and informative, and if appropriate, persuasive,
  • reflects your institution’s brand and mission, 
  • follows SEO and accessibility best practices,
  • and meets regulatory and compliance requirements.

Use these criteria to benchmark your content and decide who you need to involve in the review process. 

How to improve your website’s content

The two biggest keys to success are also the greatest hurdle for most institutions — consistent content review and institutional buy-in. Here are a few tips to make it happen:

1. It all starts with governance

Without the right policies and processes in place to articulate who is responsible for what, your website is vulnerable to inconsistency and sprawl. A strong governance plan ensures that all content on your site has an owner, and that that owner has the permissions, skills and training necessary to make changes to their content if necessary. If governance is a pain point, check out this post about developing web governance policies from mStoner’s CEO, Voltaire Santos Miran.

2. Check the data

Use analytics to identify problematic content. While analytics alone won’t tell you exactly what the problem is, they can point you in the right direction. Here are few helpful metrics to consider:

  • Low page views: This content may be outdated, not useful, or hard to find.
  • Time on page: Is the amount of time visitors are spending on this page correlated with the content available?
  • Bounce rate: A high bounce rate could mean the content is not very interesting. It could also mean that your page title or meta description don’t align with visitor expectations. In some cases, like a directory listing, a high bounce rate is not necessarily a concern.
  • Exit rate: If your exit rate is especially high, this content may not be engaging or actionable. 

3. Schedule content review

Someone should touch every page of your website at least once annually, but more often for time-sensitive content. Depending on the size and structure of your website, you may want to complete your review in sections. Use important points in the calendar year as catalysts for review. For example, you’ll want to have admissions and financial aid content reviewed well ahead of a new admissions cycle. You may want to focus on alumni content in advance of a reunion. Review content for employees before annual benefit elections.

4. Consider SEO

While many institutions follow SEO best practices on the most highly trafficked, marketing-critical landing pages, dig a little deeper on the site, and you’ll often find a huge opportunity for improvement. Not only do prospective students and other external audiences use Google to find information about your institution, many current students, faculty, and staff do too, especially if your site is large. Get started with mStoner's 15-step SEO checklist.

If you’re looking for a place to start, optimise your academic program pages first before moving to other parts of your website. For institutions that have historically struggled with SEO, that’s usually where they see the greatest return on investment. If SEO feels new and unfamiliar, here are a few tips:

  • Start with keyword research. Know your primary and secondary keywords and everything else will follow. Use your keywords in headlines, page titles, body copy, and alt text. 
  • Avoid keyword stuffing. While you want to use your keywords, content should still feel natural. When in doubt, write for humans, not search engines.
  • Keep page titles and meta descriptions clear, specific and succinct. If your CMS autogenerates this content, include it in your content review to make sure you’re happy with the results.

5. Don’t forget accessibility 

Like SEO, many institutions get this right on a few select pages, but it falls off the priority list over time. Use your scheduled content review to ensure that all content on your site is accessible and compliant.

Make sure each page on your site has:

  • correct heading structure, using H1s to H6s hierarchically 
  • Alt text for images
  • closed captioning or transcripts for video content

Getting started with your own improvements

Each institution has its own unique concerns and priorities, not to mention its own quirks, so use the criteria and tips above as a starting point and adapt them to your own needs. If you don’t have a content review and improvement process in place already, designate a small set of pages for a pilot project. Start small, refine, test and learn. 

In higher education, no institution’s website is ever truly done. You can launch a great website, but maintaining it means making improvements over time. Whether you’re launching a new website or you’re looking to make your existing site better, you need a plan to keep your content fresh, relevant and impactful.   

Why focus on content quality?

Improving content is one of the most valuable investments you can make. Great content not only makes for a better, more pleasant experience on your website, it engages your site visitors and facilitates action. Such actions might include:

  • contacting an admissions counsellor,
  • filling out an application,
  • purchasing a ticket to an event,
  • or making a donation.

By contrast, poor content not only inhibits the same actions, if your content does not follow SEO best practices, people may never find it in the first place. Content that does not meet basic accessibility or accreditation standards can have even worse consequences.

What is quality content? 

Broadly speaking, good digital content is engaging, helpful, and to the point. However, if you want to improve the content on your website, there are a few more considerations to keep in mind. Quality content meets the following criteria:

  • it is crafted for a specific audience, 
  • has a defined purpose,
  • is accurate and informative, and if appropriate, persuasive,
  • reflects your institution’s brand and mission, 
  • follows SEO and accessibility best practices,
  • and meets regulatory and compliance requirements.

Use these criteria to benchmark your content and decide who you need to involve in the review process. 

How to improve your website’s content

The two biggest keys to success are also the greatest hurdle for most institutions — consistent content review and institutional buy-in. Here are a few tips to make it happen:

1. It all starts with governance

Without the right policies and processes in place to articulate who is responsible for what, your website is vulnerable to inconsistency and sprawl. A strong governance plan ensures that all content on your site has an owner, and that that owner has the permissions, skills and training necessary to make changes to their content if necessary. If governance is a pain point, check out this post about developing web governance policies from mStoner’s CEO, Voltaire Santos Miran.

2. Check the data

Use analytics to identify problematic content. While analytics alone won’t tell you exactly what the problem is, they can point you in the right direction. Here are few helpful metrics to consider:

  • Low page views: This content may be outdated, not useful, or hard to find.
  • Time on page: Is the amount of time visitors are spending on this page correlated with the content available?
  • Bounce rate: A high bounce rate could mean the content is not very interesting. It could also mean that your page title or meta description don’t align with visitor expectations. In some cases, like a directory listing, a high bounce rate is not necessarily a concern.
  • Exit rate: If your exit rate is especially high, this content may not be engaging or actionable. 

3. Schedule content review

Someone should touch every page of your website at least once annually, but more often for time-sensitive content. Depending on the size and structure of your website, you may want to complete your review in sections. Use important points in the calendar year as catalysts for review. For example, you’ll want to have admissions and financial aid content reviewed well ahead of a new admissions cycle. You may want to focus on alumni content in advance of a reunion. Review content for employees before annual benefit elections.

4. Consider SEO

While many institutions follow SEO best practices on the most highly trafficked, marketing-critical landing pages, dig a little deeper on the site, and you’ll often find a huge opportunity for improvement. Not only do prospective students and other external audiences use Google to find information about your institution, many current students, faculty, and staff do too, especially if your site is large. Get started with mStoner's 15-step SEO checklist.

If you’re looking for a place to start, optimise your academic program pages first before moving to other parts of your website. For institutions that have historically struggled with SEO, that’s usually where they see the greatest return on investment. If SEO feels new and unfamiliar, here are a few tips:

  • Start with keyword research. Know your primary and secondary keywords and everything else will follow. Use your keywords in headlines, page titles, body copy, and alt text. 
  • Avoid keyword stuffing. While you want to use your keywords, content should still feel natural. When in doubt, write for humans, not search engines.
  • Keep page titles and meta descriptions clear, specific and succinct. If your CMS autogenerates this content, include it in your content review to make sure you’re happy with the results.

5. Don’t forget accessibility 

Like SEO, many institutions get this right on a few select pages, but it falls off the priority list over time. Use your scheduled content review to ensure that all content on your site is accessible and compliant.

Make sure each page on your site has:

  • correct heading structure, using H1s to H6s hierarchically 
  • Alt text for images
  • closed captioning or transcripts for video content

Getting started with your own improvements

Each institution has its own unique concerns and priorities, not to mention its own quirks, so use the criteria and tips above as a starting point and adapt them to your own needs. If you don’t have a content review and improvement process in place already, designate a small set of pages for a pilot project. Start small, refine, test and learn. 

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About the author

Shannon Lanus

Shannon Lanus is director of content strategy and services at mStoner, Inc, a digital-first creative agency focused on higher education and nonprofits. She works to make sure great content and amazing design co-exist in every mStoner project. Prior to mStoner, Shannon spent five years working in film and television development for companies such as Harpo Films and DreamWorks Animation TV. She holds a bachelor’s in film, television and theater from University of Notre Dame and a Masters of Fine Art from the Peter Stark Motion Picture and Television Producing Program at University of Southern California.

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