When you visit a website, can you tell who the author is writing for? In the case of higher education, I find that many pages (especially department pages), the author(s) is writing for themselves or their Dean, instead of their students. When was the last time you went to a department’s page and saw a long message from the Dean? I don’t think I’ve ever said “thank goodness there is this 5-paragraph long message from a person I don’t know. It’s exactly what I’m looking for.”

Often authors write for what they want the audience to know instead of what the audience is looking for. Or, they are writing for how they want to receive the message, assuming the student audience will accept/want it the same way.

The audience is fickle, especially the iGeneration. If content that they are looking for is hard to find and/or unnecessarily hard to read, they’ll move on. In the case of prospective students, this is enough for them to discount your school and consider another.

How often do you hear students say they can’t find what they’re looking for and you say “it’s on the website?” Probably more than you want. They’re frustrated they can’t find what they need and you’re irritated they’re not reading the information you provide.

If you are writing for yourself (or your department) and you’ll be the primary audience to visit your site/page, awesome. Keep doing what you’re doing. If you want to have students pay attention to your message, it’s time to make some changes.

Listen, I’ve been working in higher ed for about 14 years. I understand that what happens more often than not is that our resources and time are stretched to the max and we’re just trying to quickly get the information up and move onto the next task. However, if you can make some adjustments to your content, how it’s worded and presented, you may actually be saving yourself some time later on; the “I can’t find it” comments will probably be reduced.

I encourage you to think of the following when posting:

  • Who is this content for?
  • Why bother posting it? Who cares? What is it solving/addressing?
  • How many calls-to-action do you have on the page/post? We assume that people are carefully looking at each and every link on our page, however it’s not reality.
  • Can the audience quickly scan the content or does the reader have to read every single word?

To enhance browsing and scanning, here are some content elements can help:

  • Headers: clear and to the point
  • Links: not too many, use the text in the content rather than phrases like “click for more”
  • Bulleted and numbered lists: this breaks up the content
  • Photos/graphics: be sure they are relevant to the content and ensure they are named appropriately
  • Captions
  • Pull-quotes