11 Champions of Top Task Website Design in Higher Education

Don’t Kill Your Brand with a Bad Website Experience

A few weeks ago Fredrik Wacka, a Carewords partner in Sweden, asked me about how higher education websites were using a “top task” approach. That took me back to a scan of Link of the Week listings to find college and univesity sites that, in various ways, had created websites that make it easy for people to complete the tasks they want to do rather than suffer through navigation nightmares created by people driven by old-style marketing messaging.

After sending Fredrik links to website examples, the next step is what you see below… a list with comments on 11 sites that show how schools of every type have managed to give navigation and content priority to make things easier for people using the site.

How valuable is “easier” to the people who use your website, especially potential students? Priceless.

The website is where thousands of people every year get their first impression of a university. If that impression is not a good one, money spent on brand research, brand strategy, and brand creative is wasted. Visitor experience determines in great part what people think of a college or university brand. The quality of that experience depends on how quickly people can find and complete their tasks. If the first experience is not successful, many visitors will leave and never return.

Without, as they say, further ado, consider these 11 championship examples that in varous ways incorporate top task principles.

Home pages

  • Bellarmine University home page. Notice that “search” is prominent here. Even more prominent are 6 links on top of the opening image rather than below it. Bellarmine recognizes that the power of a key “careword” is stronger than a visual of people walking about a campus. Two of the links are future student top tasks: the “majors and programs” available and “net price” information. Seldom will you see “net price” in such a prominent home page position.
  • Xavier University home page. Xavier also dares to place powerful words over an opening image. In this case, you’ll see the most prominent display of a pathway to “search” on any higher education website. Great market research device as well.
  • Colorado College home page. A diffrent home page design features 25 task links grouped under 5 headings below the opening view. Not all of these are “top tasks.” What you usually find in a mix like this are genuine tasks plus others added for the usual internal political purposes. But all in all, this is an easy-to-scan group and real tasks are not obscured by false ones.
  • University of Manitoba home page. Here task links appear under the audience-based drop down menus across the top of the page. Manitoba worked with Carewords specialists at Neo Insight to conduct a full top task research project. Like Colorado College, some tasks listed might not quite be “top” ones. But for each audience, the list is easy to scan and then move directly to the task location.

Future students, after the home page

  • Wharton School Executive Education programs. The top task here for new visitors is simple: “What programs do you have for me?” Few executive education programs present the 6 options in such an immediately visible display. Yes, there is a bit of brand-speak copy here but it is tucked away nicely on the left of the page where it does not interfere with program visibility.
  • East Stroudsburg University admissions. Top tasks for future students change as the admissions cycle unfolds. ESU does the best job I’ve seen at separating those tasks by 4 cycle stages, starting with “Thinking About ESU” and ending with “Preparing for School.”
  • Arcadia University study abroad. Simplicity is beautiful. Arcadia places 4 key task words on top of an opening image: What, Where, How, and When? That’s it.
  • University of Georgia academic bulletin. Visiting an online academic catalog is something Dante might reserve for his deepest Inferno dwellers. In this case, UGA offers a friendly approach for future students with 3 task options to “Explore Majors” or “Search Courses” or “Compare Majors.” If there is a Grand Gold Award for catalog sites, this is the winner.
  • Rochester Institute of Technology merit scholarships. A rare page with no photo. And that’s fine. What is here is not only a list of 15 merit scholarshops available but also the amount of each award and how to apply for it. All on a single page. Trust me, that’s rare.

Current students, faculty, and staff

  • Cardinal Stritch University library. Cardinal Stritch combines graphics and words to present 6 task activity steps as the page opens, starting with “Articles and Databases” and ending with “Course Reserves.” Current students and faculty should be delighted.
  • University of Missouri Registrar. Here’s more proof that not every major website page needs a photo. Instead, Mizzou uses 12 easy-to-scan content blocks to take visitors to important tasks. Unbelievably fine compared to other sites from university registrars.

Workshop on “Top Task Websites: Content Design for Marketing Success”

I’ll be doing an updated version of this workshop at the eduWeb Digital Summit in Boston August 7.

Last year’s version of the workshop is online at SlideShare.

That’s All for Now

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