Chansone Durden, TG Account Executive Team Manager
It’s true generally, and it may be particularly true for anyone working with college students: your website is one of the most important communication tools you have. There is information your students need to know, and the website is a great way for them to get that information. Whether that information is about a scholarship application deadline, a new work-study opportunity, or the need to schedule exit counseling, they need it, you’ve got it, and you want to make it available to them. The website is a great way to make that happen . . . if they’re going to the website on a regular basis.
Beyond crucial elements like good design, clear, descriptive, concise page and document descriptions, and plenty of internal links to make your site easy to navigate, how can you keep visitors coming back? Here are some steps you can take to boost traffic to your site, so that your students will get the most benefit from your digital efforts.
Keep it freshJob one in the quest to boost Web traffic is to make sure that your content is worth your visitors’ time. That means accuracy, of course, as well as easy-to-navigate design and reader-friendly text. But even assuming you’re doing a beautiful job on all those things, people won’t keep coming back if the content is always the same. You need to keep it fresh with new content added regularly.
This doesn’t have to mean that you make Herculean efforts in writing or design. Regularly posted blog content will do nicely. This blog content could consist of easily generated lists (maybe “Five FAFSA Facts”), local reflections on national news stories (“The National Unemployment Rate vs. the Local Unemployment Rate”), or other regular features like a calendar update, or an education-related quote of the week.
The regular addition of fresh content — including very simple things like links to audience-relevant news stories — drives traffic. Bob Ugiansky, webmaster of TG’s student-facing site Adventures In Education (www.AIE.org), says that these kinds of features are part of why his site saw a 35% increase in page views from 2011 to 2012!
Blow your own hornSending an email newsletter or a tweet, posting a Facebook status update, or sending a press release to local media outlets (including and especially your university’s newspaper) are all ways you can get the word out about important Web content. Not only will it drive traffic to the site in this instance, it will remind people of the site in a more general way, and help build the habit of going there.
Jack Leblond, TG’s Director of Internet Strategy and Operations, states: “These aren’t different channels so much as they are spokes on the same wheel. It’s to your benefit to have all these things working together for you. ”
Jason Falls, CEO of Social Media Explorer, makes a similar point: “We’ve got to stop looking at social media in a silo. Leverage your other communications channels to drive your customers to more deep connection points.”
SynergizeDoing occasional interviews with students, professors, or university staff about a range of topics will create opportunities to benefit from promotional efforts others carry out on your behalf. These members of your campus community can then help promote that content (and, by extension, your website). They can do this on their own social media channels as well as directly to their classes, student organizations, and colleagues. What kind of content could this approach generate? Ask yourself, could an economics professor talk about how interest rates work on student loans? Could you get a psychology professor to talk about how to develop good personal finance habits? Could students who have studied abroad compare and contrast how higher education is financed in the U.S. and in the countries where they studied? Yes, yes, and yes. There are people on your campus with interesting perspectives and expertise. Much of what they have to say can be shaped to relate to financial aid. This is a way to generate traffic and interest, and remind people that your website is available as an informative resource.
Get people engagedWhen people come to your site, they don’t want to be completely passive; they want something to do. Opportunities for visitors to actively engage might include polls, surveys, or contests (try a gift certificate for the best clean limerick about scholarship applications). One of the best things about that kind of content is that it drives traffic twice: when you first post the item, and then again when results are announced (“There once was a student from Dallas . . .”).
Another example of content that gets people actively engaged is a resource center. A group of easy-to-download documents on an important subject is a huge convenience for people who need to know about that topic. Jeff Foster, owner of social media marketing and website design firm WebBizIdeas, includes resource centers in his list of “types of content that Google loves.” In a recent article on Ragan.com, Foster says that resource centers are a very popular feature and that “more people link to them, share them, and spend time on them.” He adds that it’s important to continually update!
There are multiple ways to do it, but the common thread is engagement. Give your visitors a way to interact with content, and they’re more likely to be back.
ConclusionYou’re a knowledgeable professional with access to information that your students would do well to absorb. From financial literacy workshops to the earnings prospects for particular majors to a hard look at debt-to-income ratios, your students will benefit from being regular visitors to your website. Using these practices can boost traffic, get the word out, and help students reach better outcomes.