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How Higher Ed Sites are Holding Up to New Demands

The pandemic has accelerated digital disruption in every sector, and possibly none more so than higher education. Faced with expectations to pivot on a moments notice with websites that need to do more heavy lifting than ever before, colleges and universities are taking a closer look at the possibilities and the pitfalls of their current sites. 

New inquiries are serving to sharpen the focus on what works and how to ensure that this vital resource is fueling current strategies and positioning colleges and universities for what’s next. 

First-hand research among prospective undergraduates, conducted by Promet Source, confirmed that initial web experiences amount to make-or-break determinations. During one-on-one phone interviews, respondents indicated that if they had a hard time finding the information they needed or if the site failed to impress, they tended to translate their frustrations into what they could expect of the university as a whole.


Student-First Websites

A few other key findings from our research: 

  • When given the choice between mobile first menu navigation and the more traditional mega menu for desktop navigation, prospective undergraduates opted for the latter. 
  • Cost is key. An essential question is “can I afford it,” and visitors searching for this information lose patience if they have to dig too deep for information concerning cost, affordability, and financial aid.
  • Disparate user groups – prospective student, faculty, parents, and administrators – have distinctly different needs and expectations when visiting the site.  A dropdown or “I am a …” navigation option with separate landing pages for each serves to streamline access to needed information.


Multiple Missions

Clearly, the stakes for getting it right among digital natives who are search of the right fit are high. But that’s just the beginning of the heavy lifting that is increasingly being required of higher ed sites. Administrative staff, department heads, faculty, current students, and parents – along with prospective students – are counting on the website as a central hub for conducting business, conveying information, and connecting.

Sites that are positioned to step up to such a depth and breadth of expectations need to be easy to manage with the assurance that content editors -- sometimes from hundreds of different departments -- are empowered to easily update content, switch up layouts, and add pages as needed.


Digging Deeper

Noting the need for a greater depth and breadth of instruction and insight to help benchmark the current state of higher education websites and effectively advance to the next level, Simpson Scarborough, in partnership with Pantheon and Siteimprove, surveyed 170 martech leaders working at four-year non-profit colleges and universities in the United States. Their findings were synthesized and reported on in the recently published State of Higher Ed Website & Marketing Technology

Describing the current state of higher education website and marketing technology as “all over the place,” the study confirmed one overarching trend, that concerns a shift in ownership of higher education websites from IT to Marketing. As higher education websites are increasingly required to function as an essential platform for storytelling, lead generation, and brand engagement, the report pointed out that assigning primary ownership to marketing and communications teams “supports those goals and leads to more coordinated outcomes.” 


Drupal Dominance

The trend toward marcom ownership appears to coincide with an increasing popularity of Drupal. Fully 30% of respondents cited Drupal as the Content Management System that is relied upon as the primary website, followed by 22% for WordPress. The remaining respondents cited a wide range of disparate CMS options, with none approaching the popularity of Drupal or WordPress.

As far as which version of Drupal, it appears that much catching up is required among colleges and universities as the Nov. 28, 2022 end of life date for Drupal 7 approaches. Only 18% of those surveyed responded that their institution was on Drupal 9, with 45% on Drupal 8 and 37% still on Drupal 7. 

Drupal for Higher Ed websites

When asked about satisfaction with their current CMS, Drupal had the edge with 49% of Drupal users reporting satisfaction with their current solution vs. 25% of WordPress users.

It’s important to note, however that all Drupal users who indicated a degree of dissatisfaction with their current CMS solution were on Drupal 7 or 8. All Drupal 9 appeared to be happy with their current CMS solution.

As the Drupal 7 end of life date nears (and in light of last year’s Drupal 8 end of life) we at Promet Source are excited about the multiple benefits that are in store for Drupal 7 and 8 users as they move forward with migration to Drupal 9. 

Looking for insight and execution with higher ed websites that adeptly tell your story while digitally driving a full range of objectives? That’s what we do. Let us know how we can help. 

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