The digital revolution which is currently sweeping over the world, has only been accelerated by the ongoing pandemic. This will help serve the future generations. As the changemaker in the higher education industry, you too can contribute by offering one hell of digital experience through your digital assets. But the process of creating such digital platforms is painstaking and tedious. This is where we can help. Taking cues from our in-house team, and from the world’s best university websites, we have developed three stages of creating the perfect digital version of your higher education institution.
Stage I: Plan
Just like every other project, creating this digital experience will require a lot of planning. Everyone's contribution is the picture-perfect scenario. This is the part where you’ll plan, and strategize. This is also the part where you (and/or your team, including external vendors) will brainstorm and come up with the best possible ways to present the most relevant information in the most succinct manner possible.
Ranked 1st on the World University Rankings 2022 by Times Higher Education, the website of Oxford University (Which is built on Drupal) clearly provides resources for the students and staff on the very first page.
But as they say, to each their own. You have to find your way of highlighting one aspect/portion of the page, yet being accessible for the rest of the page.
1.1 What to plan for?
While planning, you’ll have to account for your primary objectives from the website. That is, what exactly are you trying to achieve with this website? Write these down as clearly as possible because this will help you throughout your project and will leave you with a clearer and crispier communication plan. In this part of the project, you may also want to define your target audience.
Pro-tip A: It is the students who are your primary audience, followed by the staff. It is better to have a consensus among the stakeholders regarding this before moving further.
1.1.1 This is what your website goals should ideally zero in on
Brand awareness: You want to get the word out that you have a remarkable college, where students and the faculty, both, can flourish in a manner ultimately beneficial to society. To make this happen, your university/college/school website needs to be front and center.
What is a brand image? One of the earliest definitions, “the total impression an entity makes on the minds of others” (Dichter, 1985), still holds true in 2021 for every industry, even in this digital age (Something like, ‘evergreen content’?)
Research by American and Indian academicians shows that “a distinct brand image plays an important role in students’ level of satisfaction.” They further add that the service quality has a greater impact on student satisfaction levels (as compared to university heritage and trustworthiness). The authors also found a positive mediating effect of university reputation in the relationship between university brand image and student satisfaction levels. Still, wondering why you should try to build a brand rather than a website? Perhaps not.
Revenue:You want to hire the best faculty for the students, you also want to have the best infrastructure, you would also want to offer the best facilities. All of this will demand money, a lot of it. Even though your primary aim may be (or could be) to serve the students, you’ll still want money to do that in your best possible capacity.
An article on Medium by a UK-based education-entrepreneur, Shinaz Navas, even claims in his research that financial sustainability is the ‘biggest existential threat facing the higher education (HE) sector today.' We believe that the reality lies somewhere in the middle. Neither completely towards a for-profit approach, nor towards a completely charitable cause. So you will need to make money, to thrive.
1.1.2 Identify your audience
To have clarity on what messages to display, you’ll have to first ascertain who it is that you’re speaking to. Once you have the knowledge of the potential audience of your website(s) you’ll be able to take your marketing efforts in a more focused direction.
As discussed before, your primary audience will be the students; past, present, and prospective. Next comes the staff and faculty, both of them essential for smooth operations. Similarly, parents of the students also need to know where their child is studying or is going to study.
Stage II: Build
2.1 Craft the digital experience
Now that you have a communication plan, complete with goals and target audience, you can start creating your website. Hire a professional full-service digital agency to power your digital ambitions. You’ll want the most powerful CMS, coupled with a beautiful front end. Something like Decoupled Drupal should definitely get this job done.
2.2 How do you communicate across regions and geographies
Few higher-ed institutions realize this, but eventually, you’ll need a framework where you can deploy multiple websites (for research publications, for different branches/specializations, for different audiences). Not only this, what if you could control all the said websites using one dashboard? Drupal is among the sparingly few options that let you do that.
Besides multisite, Drupal is also multilingual. So, communicating your message across different geographies and languages is just a matter of an additional module in the Drupal core. But being consistent with your messaging across these multiple platforms will be tricky.
2.3 A list of features your audience is expecting from your website
- Accessibility: The mantra of creating an equitable society is to impart education to all sections of students, including people with disabilities. Therefore, your website should empathize with all those who are likely to visit your website. One of the most accessible CMS out there, Drupal, has core features that make the user experience friendly for all sections of the society.
- Ease of Usability: Undoubtedly, your website should be easy to navigate for all of your audiences. The typography and the content should be such that it creates a digital impression of your values. It should be easy for stakeholders to manage the website, including ease of content management, publishing, and distribution.
| Pro-tip B: Place your navigation page’s link somewhere on the main homepage. This will enable entire chunks of unanticipated audiences to navigate comfortably on your website and find the resources they’re looking for.
- Student and payment data require the highest security: When you have personally identifiable information stored on your servers, including payment data, it becomes your responsibility to protect this information. One thing you can do is to use a CMS core which is widely known for its security, Drupal.
- Best to work with a mobile-first mindset: The youth of today interact with your website through multiple touchpoints. Therefore your website should also offer seamless digital experiences across all platforms.
- Content authoring experience: It is with your content, you’ll capture the attention of your audience, and it is the content on your website that can make or break a budding relationship with the audience. Therefore, it becomes imperative to empower the editors to create and edit the content with ease.
2.4 We don’t live in a cave
Since we don’t, you will need to collaborate with others. For this, to work on your website, you’ll need the power of third-party integrations. This is where Drupal does a remarkable job. Coming ripe with Modules, Distribution, and Integrations, Drupal gives you the flexibility to mould your digital identity around the walls of your institution.
2.5 Bring it all together with a design system
To make consistency your brand value, you’ll need a design system in place. A design system will not only serve you in offering a consistent digital experience right now, but it will allow you to offer a unique and particular brand voice till the time this design system will live.
This will allow all current and future site contributors to create content that is within the brand guidelines. Think of it as a stylesheet for your website(s). This also results in a faster turnaround time for every new piece of content or every new page/website that you come up with. Basically, a design system ties everything in one thread to offer a consistent digital experience unique to your institution.
Stage III: Analyze
Just like any other organisation, you’ll want to understand if your digital efforts are working for you or not. Therefore, collecting and analyzing performance data is critical for your website’s improvements over time.
The more data points you gather, the better the strategies you’ll come up with. This will also inform you of the parts of your website which are not working and will require a course correction. One of our clients, the world's top business school, was looking for a way to unify their digital offerings and wanted to enhance the all-round effectiveness of the website.
We developed a strategically manufactured Design System, and upgraded their website from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8. This enabled their content editors to create and manage webpages while maintaining an unified Design System.
We, at QED42, pride ourselves in having offered solutions to our clients, which gave their audience an exceptional experience across all of their digital offerings. We can do the same for your higher-ed institution’s digital heart and soul as well. All you have to do is get in touch.