Is Your Site Scaring Off Generation Z?

What is the next generation of applicants – Gen Z – looking for when they reach your site? And are you serving up the content they want and need at the right time?

“What you put on your website may not be what your users want” a speaker at HighEdWeb 2017 shared with an unsurprised audience of higher education web professionals. The leadership team wants to share the school’s guiding philosophy; your visitors may want a (usable) campus map and the out-of-state application.

So what is the next generation of applicants - Gen Z - looking for when they reach your site? And are you serving up the content they want and need at the right time?

What we heard in Hartford

We go to HighEdWeb every year not just to share the good news about site search. We go to learn and be inspired. “It’s the people that make HighEdWeb go. It’s the people who share powerful knowledge and advice freely, either in presentations, workshops and posters, or over a beer when the day’s sessions are done,” Dave Tyler wrote at the end of the conference.

This year was awash with powerful takeaways. A few especially relevant nuggets from our team’s notes:

  • If the user meets their goals, the business meets its goals (@chdeveau)
  • "508 compliant [accessible] content available on request is like 'separate but equal'. It's not equal. (@mitch42)
  • 48 percent of users don't realize that the university site offered the program that they were looking for. (@RonAgrella)

Where Amazon leads

What would Amazon do if 48% of users couldn’t find products available through the online reseller? How about Facebook? It’s no surprise that these content-heavy sites relies extensively on the ever-present search bar. You don’t visit to browse their categories; most visitors head directly to search.

The same can be said across the internet at large: Econsultancy has found that more than 30% of users on an average site navigate through search. Other studies have ranged higher.

Short of maintaining almost endless landing page, search is the most effective way to surface what each user wants at the right time.

Breaking through barriers

Search doesn’t just help to overcome navigational deficiencies: it overcomes the natural barriers within organizations.

Within academia, silos often force students, prospects, donors and alumni to hunt through different sites, platforms, and even social media to find answers to simple questions. Does the library have this book? Where is this room? How can I donate to the business school?

Platform agnostic by nature, site search helps to cut through the silos in University life. Optimized site search can even highlight just the right content based on existing marketing strategies, from highlighting international student applications to those in a certain geographic area, to sharing the latest class videos from a popular professor.

Learn more about breaking through silos in higher education in this podcast with mStoner.

Seeking returns, calculating ROI

Alan Etkin, Senior Analyst at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, presented his analytics work at HighEdWeb 2017. In his presentation, he touched on the importance of search to the BCIT page.

In a redesign, the institution replaced the search bar with an icon of a magnifying glass. This common ‘abbreviation’ of the search bar looked great - but caused a 15% decrease in searches on the site.

How do you value search? For Etkin, each website visitor is assigned a value. The average site visitor is worth $12. Those who use in-site search? They’re worth $53. (Searchers are 216% more likely to convert than non-searchers.) That 15% decrease in site searches had a measurable, substantial impact on the bottom line.

We’ve spent some time building an ROI calculator for site search. Based on independent studies and our own research, the tool is available for free on our website, here.

A final note on accessibility and ROI

Accessibility isn’t just the right thing to do. It has a direct impact on the 1 in 5 people living with a disability. And it has a measurable impact on ROI. “Accessible content available upon request” is never acceptable in a digital environment.

We integrated an Accessibility Auditor directly into Funnelback for Higher Education. Many universities rely on standalone accessibility tools. However you go about it, don’t forget that doing the right thing is financially and socially justified.

This blog was originally posted on Higher Ed Live on November 8, 2017.

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