How to Write Content That Engages Students
by Rachelle Avery on April 20, 2016
Robert Feighl, Webmaster and Faculty Member at National Park College, gave a thought-provoking presentation at our 2016 OmniUpdate User Training Conference (#OUTC16). He described his recent adventure in redesigning the college’s website by structuring content based on student interests. Check out his valuable insights below.
What Students Want to See
Colleges and universities tend to focus on regulatory information instead of what students are really looking for. Feighl began researching what students want to see on college websites, conducting focus groups, surveys, and using analytics tools that showed how students were navigating their site.
He found that students primarily search for information on academics. What programs are offered? What skills would they be learning? What jobs might they qualify for, and how much do they pay? Second up was cost of the program. Then, how do they apply?
Laying It Out
Oftentimes, websites are built based on how an institution is structured. This can create many layers of information that require too many clicks. Students trying to find specific information are going to look for a shortcut, and if they can’t find one, they might leave the site.
In response, Feighl’s team restructured the way information is presented and focused on how students flow through the site. They created new program overviews that are short and easy to read, with links to further information. They added OmniUpdate’s OU Blogs™ module to showcase student success stories, made an easy to find FAQ page, and built faculty biographies that enabled students to contact faculty members, an essential for graduate students.
Writing the Content
Web readers don’t read online material like a book. Instead, they quickly scan pages, reading only about 20% of the content on a page. It’s easy to miss things if signposts aren’t there. Signposts are headings, subheadings, link text, and article summaries that tell the reader what’s on the page. Writing good signposts will ensure that the reader finds what they’re looking for, and is also good for SEO!
Other ways you can help the reader:
- Put key ideas at the beginning of the paragraph so readers know what the rest of the paragraph is about
- Have only one key idea in each paragraph or readers might skip additional ideas
- Use short words, short sentences, and short paragraphs
- Remove all unnecessary words
- Write your content for an eighth grade reading level
- Use lists to break up text (see what I did there?)
People tend to read in an ‘F’ shape when reading online: they read along the top of the page and down the left, moving in to read across the page from time to time. Signposts pull in readers, so put rich information in headlines.
Pictures should be an indicator of what the page is about. Navigation structure, thumbnail images, and breadcrumb bars are all signposts as well. Optimizing each of these elements will make it much easier for readers to navigate and find what they’re looking for.
Making these adjustments on your institution’s website will make it more user-friendly and help retain visitors. As Feighl said, “Every college is dealing with enrollment numbers. The more effectively we can write for web and provide the content that engages students, the better those numbers are going to be. It’s a marketing tool to reach the community… and beyond.”