How well does your online course catalog represent your school to prospective students? Before you answer, did you know that many prospective students have only seen college websites on mobile devices? According to the 2013 E-Expectations Report: The Impact of Mobile Browsing on the College Search Process, a full 43 percent of students report using their mobile devices for all their web browsing.
However, only 43 percent of four-year institutions and 26 percent of two-year campuses say they use adaptive technology to make their websites mobile-friendly.
As the provider of content management and digital marketing solutions for more than 700 college and university websites worldwide, OmniUpdate has worked with institutions across the country to make the move to mobile-friendly course catalogs.
Below, two schools using our content management system (CMS), OU Campus™, share tips for a successful move to mobile course catalogs.
1. Dig into the data on your old site before designing your new mobile-friendly course catalog.
Although the transition to a mobile-friendly course catalog may seem daunting, most schools already have a wealth of data on how students are using their existing online course catalogs. Those analytics can help unlock the best ways to reimagine your course catalog for a mobile audience.
The web team at California State University, Fresno (also known as Fresno State) knew exactly what information its students were looking for, especially around registration time, based on web analytics from their old online catalog.
“We saw we needed to organize the catalog by degrees and programs, since that was what students were most interested in,” said Associate Director of Web Communications Dawn Truelsen.
2. Design your course catalog for a mobile audience first.
Another key finding from Fresno State’s analytics was that students were on their mobile devices more than ever. Fresno State decided to go “mobile first,” meaning designing the catalog to work on a smartphone first, with a design for larger desktop computer screens as a secondary consideration.
For Stony Brook University in New York, the path to a mobile-first site was a more iterative one. The university first put their undergraduate catalog online as PDFs in 2009.
“Since the first one in 2009, we’ve improved on the technology,” said Lynn Zawie, the school’s Web Production Coordinator. “But the minute the catalog went online, it was out of date. We were having to do new PDFs.”
As part of their ongoing improvements to the catalog, they decided to move to an HTML catalog. Then in 2014, the team started creating mobile-first catalogs. “Now we’re almost done with a new health sciences catalog that is fully responsive,” Zawie said. “It is a modern, mobile-friendly site.”
3. Work collaboratively with stakeholders for a happier process and stronger end product.
Of course, for institutions that have organized course catalogs the same way for generations, a radical rethinking can be a challenge. At Stony Brook University, Zawie emphasized the importance of spending time with partners across campus throughout the process.
“Without buy-in, stakeholders might have second thoughts at the end, meaning a hold-up, or layers of functionality added on at the last minute,” said Zawie. “Early on, we made sure all stakeholders agreed what the end product would be. We did plenty of demos and then we made sure everyone was signed off before we went live.”
One way Fresno State gained cooperation for the move to mobile was to present the redesign of the course catalog as a way to test the waters before making their entire site responsive. The university’s IT strategic plan called for all webpages to use responsive design within five years, so with the course catalog transitioning first, partners across campus could be eased into the new approach.
Better mobile experience = better engagement with prospective students
We know prospective students look at course catalogs when deciding where to apply. By making the mobile experience seamless, colleges and universities can engage better with these students where they are – which is very likely to be their smartphone.