Why Mobile-First Design Is Essential in Higher Education Websites
Prospective students are living in a mobile-first online world, and your web presence must be just as native to it as they are.
Does anyone leave home without their cell phone anymore? That is especially true for high school and college-aged youth and adults. Many of them cannot remember a time when mobile phones did not exist. Smartphones and tablets are everywhere now, and if your higher education website does not cater to that market, you are missing opportunities. Those students may even be going to other colleges and universities rather than even considering you.
Let’s take a better look at the “mobile-first” philosophy and why it’s important for higher education websites in 2020.
What does mobile-first mean?
Mobile-first means just what it seems to: A shift in mindset to design, first and foremost, so the site will look and function optimally on a mobile device. Another consideration is performance, which may be much different on a tablet or smartphone.
Designing for mobile involves thinking a bit harder and being more critical of what is included where on your website. But it also means targeting prospective students where they live: online, in a mobile world.
Make a great first impression
Have you ever been to a website that was not optimized for mobile? Of course. Everyone has. There is nothing worse on mobile than visiting a website you really need to get information from, but then having to scroll not only up and down, but side to side, to find the information you need.
That is not the kind of first impression anyone would like to have, especially not from a higher education space. Potential students who find your website not mobile-ready will quickly feel alienated and wonder if you understand their needs. That is the last thing you want when trying to attract students in a competitive marketplace.
First impressions are always important. A site that not only looks good but performs well on mobile is the first step toward making that good first impression. One study found that seven in 10 potential students have a first interaction with a school via mobile. That number for parents is about 50 percent.
While it may seem like a simple thing to do, adopting a mobile-first mindset is a paradigm shift from the outset. It requires designing a site, from the very first, that will create a great mobile experience for potential students and their parents. Pages must not only load quickly but be visually appealing and provide the content for which the visitor came to your website.
One way to create the most flexible site possible is to build it on a platform with mobile-first and responsive-design capabilities, like Drupal. Responsive design means your site can detect what kind of device visits and serve your website in a template that displays perfectly on that device.
Why does a user come to your website?
This one question will help you decide what should be on your website and how to place those elements and items. On mobile, users will have a more positive experience when they can quickly and easily find what they came to a website to find.
While a common approach to mobile in the past may have been to essentially retrofit a website with a mobile view, building for mobile-first is a much better approach. Think about what is most important and relevant to a mobile user and include that in easy-to-find places on your website.
Balancing the needs of all stakeholders
There may be some push back when you adopt the mobile-first philosophy because it can limit space for departments to show all the information they may want to. The challenge here is balancing the needs of your departments and colleges to show all of the information they wish to convey with the need of prospective students and their parents to consume that information on the devices they use and find what they need.
With the constraints of a small screen, this can be a delicate balance. It may take some buy-in from your faculty to streamline information and messaging, but with an experienced team designing the mobile-first site on a responsive platform, the new site will give you several recruiting advantages.
Mobile-first design saves money and increases engagement
The goal of any website is to move people down the marketing funnel by keeping them engaged and on the site. If a person leaves your website unhappy, the likelihood that you will see them on your campus or attending your college decreases drastically. The goal of your website is to keep the user there long enough to take that step — to ask for more information and opt-in for future contact. From there, your team can work its magic and hopefully bring aboard a new student.
In the way of costs, many colleges and universities that adopt a mobile-first philosophy realize the savings of not having to replicate the same information for a mobile app. Instead, they let their mobile website do the work, and that double-duty more than offsets the little bit of extra time and money that went into building a mobile-first site. It is time and money well spent, and your institution will see its advantages as well.
Adopting a mobile-first mindset requires a paradigm shift and buy-in from faculty and staff. But it will be well worth the investment to connect with students and parents where they live. This has been proven out by many institutions, and yours could be the next to benefit.