All too often, I see a problem arise when I start a relationship with a college or university. It’s even more shocking when I’m working with a research university. This problem isn’t as blatant as misspelled ad copy or duplicate content. It’s not as obnoxious as seeing an error message or untouched social channels. This is a silent problem, but a problem nonetheless that could cost you new students down the road. It’s not what you are doing, but what you aren’t doing: testing.
Students spend every day studying for tests that help them to prepare for the future. They try new things, challenge the norm, and seek better and more efficient methods of doing things. Your faculty is guiding them on this journey and encouraging them. I am here to encourage you to do the same by testing your university’s website and digital assets.
It can be challenging at universities to make changes to your site and landing pages. I think this is what may sometimes lead to discouragement when presented with the idea of website testing in higher education. After all, “If ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” right? But would you even know that a page isn’t optimal? There is no way to know if you aren’t testing. A simple A/B test is a great way to start. Here are some ideas that make A/B testing simple, easy, and worthwhile.
- Start by testing copy. This involves no design work. All you need to do is create a test variation of the page (this should be simple for your technical folks to help with). Once you have both variations, utilize a testing tool. Visual Website Optimizer is a simple tool that involves placing a piece of code on both pages and adjusting your test settings. HINT: Try changing your headline or call to action text for the biggest impact and more insightful findings.
- Don’t test everything at once. If you change the colors, form, copy, and CTA all at once, it’s going to be very difficult to know what is or is not effective. Sure, you may end up with a better page, and if you’re not following general best practices to begin with, you may feel like starting fresh. But if you have a solid baseline and you’re looking for key insights to help with marketing initiatives, work in phases and find out what specifically works best.
- Don’t make your changes too minor. Don’t be afraid to be bold with the items that you do test. If the change is minimal (such as changing your intro sentence), you may not see any change at all and you don’t want to risk wasting time.
- A.B.T.: Always be testing. You aren’t going to simply run a test and call it a day. The point of testing is to drive continual change and improvement. User behavior will continue to change in the digital space (quickly!), and you need to stay on top of that. Practice what you preach when you tell you students to dig and challenge the norm.
These guidelines should get you started. Once you feel comfortable with testing your university’s website optimizations, I challenge you to go out of your comfort zone, test multiple pages, and be aggressive. You can be a key player in providing your marketing team with valuable insights that can drive marketing tactics, both online and offline.