Website design victory… Quick Links gone from the home page, Majors and Progams added

My first task this morning left me smiling.

I was reviewing several web pages sent from a potential Customer Carewords research client, a regional public university “down South” here in the States. The pages were not online yet… this was a series in redesign to replace the current site not long from now.

Something was missing… and it took me a few minutes to figure it out.

“Quick Links” were not on the home page. Amazing. Wonderful.

Quick Links are Seldom “Quick”

Over the past three years, in almost every website review I’ve done, the Quick Links feature popular on many sites was anything but “quick.” In the original incarnation, Quick Links was a bandaid for poor home page navigation design. Home page political wars meant that important pages were hidden among a legion of topics in the left hand column. So why not list the important pages in Quick Links to make them easy to find?

Nice idea that didn’t long survive. Web design politics quickly captured Quick Links and the list morphed into 12 to 20 items. Sometimes more. Truly important destinations (to audiences like potential students) were hidden in that long list. 

In a later phone talk with the marketing director at the university, it turned out that the absence of Quick Links was intentional. The director is hoping that by simply removing the feature, the political contest will disappear. I’m hoping that the plan succeeds.

Measure Quick Links with Analytics

If people are moved at all by objective evidence, everyone should make sure that their analytics program reports how often people follow each item on the Quick Links. That will at least provide a rationale for eliminating those that are seldom used so that the more important ones are easier to see.

If you must use Quick Links, take things a step further. Review how people are using “Search” and consider adding topics that are often sought in search. Even better, of course, make sure that frequently searched topics are very visible on the home page itself. 

“Majors and Programs” in Top Design

Something else about the page struck me a moment after noting the absence of the Quick Links feature. Up in the top navigation bar, between “Admisssion” and “Academics” was a link to “Majors and Programs.”

This university was placing a highly visible link to content that for many future students is the first thing they want to find on a college or university website right where people can get to it in a single click.

That’s rare. Not long ago I featured DeVry University as a Link of the Week on my website for including the major academic areas right on the home page. This wasn’t quite as strong, but it was much better than most higher ed website manage.

“Majors and Programs” are Carewords

In our Customer Carewords research in higher education, “academic majors” and similar terms are rated highly by potential students of every age and every degree level. Sometime those are easy to find in a single click from the home page. Often they are not. That’s not good marketing. 

For many if not most potential students, the most important initial question is pretty simple: “What programs do you offer?”

If you have the program that people wnat, they’ll stay around and explore more. Of course, what they often want to explore next is more about their favored academic program. Many college and universities are still hoping that potential students get captivated by the brand message first. For institutions without a very powerful brand appeal, that’s backwards marketing. Convince people first that you have a strong program in an academic area that interests them and then they will spend time to explore total brand attributes.

Marketing and Website Design

How did “majors and programs” come to be prominent on the home page? The influence of the admissions director who knew how important that element was. Close collaboration between the admissions and marketing offices. Primary responsibility for website design resting with the marketing director. A reason to smile. The rest of the day also went well.

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