At KW2, we’ve conducted research with thousands of prospective and current students—from high schoolers figuring out what’s next to lifelong learners seeking professional development or personal enrichment. We’ve asked what makes them choose a school, decide to enroll in a course, what’s important to them, how they use higher ed sites, and what barriers they face.
The number one barrier, no matter who we’re asking? The navigation.
It makes sense—higher ed websites can be incredibly complex, sprawling over hundreds (or thousands) of pages and helping many different types of users with varying levels of education and familiarity with your organization. When they’re searching for information quickly, they’re often frustrated.
The good news is that you can take some simple steps to improve your navigation. By avoiding three common navigation pitfalls and using our higher ed navigation best practices, you’ll be able to decrease user frustration, improve the experience on your site and help prospects, students, faculty, administration and the community get the information they need, quickly.
With so many different audiences, it seems easiest to just give each type of person a link that contains everything they might need. That’s why so many sites use terms like Prospective Students and Current Students in their main navigation. Unfortunately, this audience-based navigation style can create problems when users are trying to locate content. Nielsen Norman Group reports that audience-based navigation can be a barrier for visitors because they:
Audience-based content can also become a maintenance nightmare because it can lead to duplicative content in multiple sections or leaving content out of a relevant section to avoid duplication. For example, much of your “Current Students” content might be relevant to prospects looking to better understand what a program or course might be like, but they might not think to click on Current Students to find it.
Most users, especially prospective students checking you out for the first time, may not know what programs or information belong with which unit or department, and may not think to look for content in the same place a faculty or staff member would. Before giving content a home, ask yourself: Before I worked here, would I have known this content or page goes with this department/unit/program/etc.? If the answer is no, is there another place you can put it that might make more sense to those important first-time visitors?
Just like organizing your website around your internal structure, it can be easy to let jargon or organizational terms slip into your navigation label names or to use confusing acronyms that prospective students won’t understand.
Want to discuss your higher ed navigational hurdles? Shoot us a note to learn more about improving your navigation and helping your users find what they need.