Creating Winning Site Navigation for EDU Sites with Drupal

Here at KWALL we constantly look to create a great innovative website for universities that visitors can actually use. This can be more complex than other industries due to the large span of visitor types and their reasons for visiting.

Some of the visitors might be: 

  • A prospective student looking for information about a degree or program
  • A prospective student looking for information: location, pricing, application process, parking, etc.
  • A current student looking for services, information, amentities, etc.
  • A current student looking for events and upcoming program agendas
  • An alumni looking for alumni chapter or membership information
  • Anyone looking to pay fees or registrations
  • A parent looking at a school for a child
  • A parent looking for a students information
  • Media looking for information on updates, events, etc. 

Additionally a university has many content authors and content owners. Departments, marketing, finance, recruiters, and many others post content to the site in various methods which all have different needs and placements.

Creating a great site means that we need to create a great navigation for the user and each case is different. There's no one way to craft a universities navigation, but there are some overall general rules that we like to apply. 

1. Create navigation that focuses initally on inbound students and program information

Just like anything where we want people to join such as a membership site, our first focus needs to be on the customer. Create navigations that outline admissions, culture, programs, and events / deadlines. If we don't provide sufficient information to our interested and incoming customer base we are at risk of losing great students to competing campuses and programs. People tend to spend less time on a single site but research more online than ever before. Information has to be easy to obtain.

2. Create landing pages that lead people to the information you see they need.

Typically overlooked, use the primary tabs to get someone right to the page of details they need. Many universities categorize content into top level navigations but miss the opportunitiy to describe each section. Put information about your programs and culture and requirements in a summary on the programs top level navigation page and have a real page outlining why these programs are amazing. People love to see why you think this is great opportunity and it's a perfect place to describe the options and lead them to simple calls to action.

3. Create sub-navigation that leads the user through the story or information

Your sub-navigation that follows a specific primary subject should lead a person through the experience. For example, if you have a program that has general information and requirements, place those first and then create a page after for application / action once they have read the section. Treat this like a book and give as much detail as you can prior to throwing the final chapter at them and forcing them to figure out where the first five chapters were. 

Ultimately make a site that interests the key stakeholders and attracts them to your strengths - culture, knowledge, programs, teachers, or research. Make the site build interest first, then provide obvious next steps to apply or review.