Susquehanna University: Amazing Results in Carewords CCI Research

A Note for May, 2011: I’ll be doing a presentation complete with screen shots on the Susquehanna website story at the J.BoyePhiladelphia2011 conference, May 3-5.


Susquehanna University: Visitors Report Very High 90% Satisfaction Level

Websites win awards for different reasons, but seldom for what the people who actually use a website think of their experience with it.

Over the past two years, Customer Carewords partners have completed CCI (Customer Centric Index) surveys at 18 colleges and universities. We’ve asked future students, current students, faculty and staff, alumni, and parents to tell us the top 3 web characteristics (from a list of 13 positive and 13 negative possibilities) that best represent their experience at the website.

There’s a pattern to the results. External users are almost always more satisfied than internal users. And “menus and links” and the “search” function are usually the areas of most dissatisfaction. Relatively few people select the “visual appeal” of a site, but when they do, most are positive about it.

90% Postive Rating from Parents and Future Students

Last week we completed a CCI survey of parents and possible future students at Susquehanna University. The results, compared to other CCI surveys, were indeed amazing. Parents (114 responses) and future students (182 responses) picked one of the 13 positive web elements 90 percent of the time. Susquehanna received the highest ratings we’ve seen in 8 of the 13 areas and was not far behind the leaders in the others.

The website was launced less than a year ago. Paul Novack, director of web communications, and the entire web team have much to smile about as they continue to plan future improvements.

“Search” and “Menus and Links” Stand Out

The results for “search” were especially impressive. The search function on higher education websites is almost always one of the top two topics selected by users and the selections are much more negative than positive. In this case, 6% of the positive ratings received were about search and only 1% of the few negative ratings.

Similarly, 12% of the positive ratings were for “menus and links” and only 2% were negative. 

Both of those results are equivalent to a “man bites dog” story as the exact opposite of what usually happens. The unusual success in these two areas is what set the Susquehanna website apart from most CCI results.

The “visual appeal” of the site was also quite strong, receiving 19% of the positive votes and only 1% of the negative votes. The difference here from other CCI surveys is that “visual appeal” received more total selections than any of the 13 areas. That’s never happened before.

Comments from Real People

We give survey takers the chance to answer this question: “If you could change one thing about this website, what would it be and why” and 164 people did that for the Suspuehanna survey. These two reflect the overall tone:

  • Parent: “Nothing–it is the best of all the colleges we have researched for our son this year, who will be coming as a freshman in the fall.”
  • Future Student: “Sorry, this isn’t an improvement – This website is actually one of the best college websites I’ve come across. Good work!”

Of course, no website is perfect. Changes suggested included: an area for student ratings about their experience after enrolling, more photos and videos of student activities, average test scores and GPAs for entering students, and more information about faculty.

CCI Results at 10 Colleges and Universities

Overall CCI Results at 10 colleges and universities are reviewed in my presentation “Rating Higher Education Websites: The Student Experience” from  the J.Boye conference last November in Denmark that’s available on SlideShare.

A CCI survey can help you fine tune your website. Results are usually available about 2 weeks after survey invitations are sent. Contact me at   

That’s all for now 




  1. As a member of the redesign team (on the agency side) this is certainly exciting to see. The good folks at Susquehanna truly shared and continue to execute on the vision of the site. There are times when the initial restructuring of information architecture and nomenclature proposed can be undone by being “iterated and revised” back to its initial starting point (internal comfort zone). This did not.
    On another note, I find with great interest that this site scored so high, particularly with the ‘prospective’ audience because it doesn’t have a “Prospective” or “Future” Student link on the home page. I have long been an advocate that on many (most) college and university sites having them can do more harm than help.

  2. Jeff, I’m curious about your thoughts on leaving out a Prospective Student link on the home page, and how that can be more harmful than helpful.

  3. Hi Paula: Most engagements I have worked on have clearly identified the prospective student as the number one priority audience, but in many cases a prospective student page is created as a sea of links with no context or expressed benefit/value to the prospect and at the expense of spending valuable time getting those areas of the site that prospects are truly looking to find done well. “Sometimes” they do an okay job at the “how” and “what”, but don’t help at all with the “why”. And when they attempt to deal with the “why” they become “me too” statements rather than true differentiators. In short, I have found it to be more valuable to look at the home page and key landing pages with the prospective student in mind (particulary for a school that is primarily undergraduate in focus). I am not opposed to prospective/future student pages across the board, I just see them as a crutch much like when I see “QuickLinks” on a home page.
    Another challenge I have seen is Admissions sites that are disconnected from the rest of the overall site, in many cases trying to tell the whole story (this is usually a symptom of the challenge of web governance and getting all areas to work in sync to communicate the right messages and convey the right information…another conversation for another day).
    I welcome further discussion to elaborate on what is surely a more complex answer. One question can eaasily spark three more. Feel free to contact me separately (
    On a related note, I don’t know if you have seen the semi humorous/semi serious Venn diagram of University web sites (what they have vs. what user seek). If not, worth taking a look at as a thought provoker:

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