Academic Programs: Alpha list allows easy top task completion
For potential students of every type, learning if a college or university has the academic program(s) that interest them is a top task, usually the first or second most important on their first visit. Making that task as easy as possible to complete is a marketing strength.
Thus I was a bit puzzled when this question recently was posted to a group of higher ed web professionals:
- “We are going through a redesign and the agency is trying to arrive at a solution to the alphabetical program list, with the idea of using a program finder. The pushback is that at a small liberal arts school, we don’t want to steer people away from any potential program so the idea of a program finder is not popular among faculty. Likewise, they are not keen on the idea of breaking programs into smaller lists for humanities, social sciences, physical sciences, etc.
- “So I am wondering if anyone has the solutions. How do we get away from an alphabetical program list and make for a better user experience?”
The question is from Paul Fairbanks at Gettysburg College. And so I went along to see how academic program content was being presented now at Gettysburg. Clean, simple, fast. One click from the home page, under “Academics.”
Most potential students who come to a page like this already have an academic program in mind. Their task is to find out if Gettysburg offers that program. Why make that more difficult than it needs to be by substituting (or adding in priority place) a “program finder”?
In this case, I agree with the faculty who are pushing back against replacing the alpha list with a program finder. Mark Mende at St. Lawrence University has the right insight:
- “I think the alpha listing of programs has become as ubiquitous as the search bar in the top right corner of every page. Unless you are getting feedback that it’s not working for a significant number of your users, I wouldn’t mess with it. My suggestion would be to perhaps offer an alternative to it as an added feature, but not replacing it.”
A key point: If you don’t know that an alpha list is not working for potential students, don’t go in search of a solution to a problem you likely don’t have.
On Mobile… a very rapid 3 second download speed.
Google Test My Site gives the Gettysburg page an unusually strong 3 second mobile speed rating and a “low” estimated visitor loss from the download time.
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Visit an admirably strong academic program page at Gettysburg College.
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