Is your website structure hurting your website’s performance?

There are so many things to think about when embarking on a website redesign. You want your website to look really good, but more importantly, you want it to be user-friendly. The basis of any user-friendly website is a navigation structure that makes it easy to find the information you are looking for as efficiently as possible. The problem is community college websites are typically quite large. That makes it even more difficult to put the right information in front of your audience in as few amount of clicks as possible. Having the right menus on your website can make all the difference in the world. Here are seven menus to consider for your website.

#1 – The Audience Menu

Community Colleges serve many different audiences and each one needs information that is relevant to them. It makes sense to group this content and provide navigation channels that are tailored to each audience.

Here are a few items that you may see in an Audience Menu:

Prospective Students

This is the lead generation section of your website. It should give quick access to the content that will answer prospective students questions as quickly as possible. The majority of schools title this section “Prospective Students” but we are starting to see a trend to simplify the language to “Future Students”.

Content: Programs, Admissions, Financial Aid, Apply

Current Students

You don’t want to make your website so laser focused on prospective students that you lose focus on serving your current students to the best of your ability. This puts all of the information current students need at their fingertips.

Content: Academic Resources, Bookstore, Library, Registrations & Records, Student Services

International Students

Some areas of the country are very desirable for International students. Foothill College (located in Silicon Valley) markets their ability to be a transfer school of choice to many prestigious universities. This menu item probably is not for every school.

Content: Stats, International Student Case Studies, Brochures, Virtual Experience

Community

This is a great place to put all of the services that the college provides to the local community. This can be everything from the visual and performing arts, TV and radio stations, salon appointments for your cosmetology student, small business center resources and so much more. What a great way to showcase the impact your college has on your community.

Content: Early Childhood Center, Career Centers, TV Channels/Radio Stations, Cosmetology Studio, Small Business Center, Volunteer Services

Faculty & Staff

No one will use your website more than your Faculty & Staff. Provide them with the resources they need to manage their day efficiently.

Content: Administrative Resources, Faculty Resources, Staff Development, Leadership & Governance, Technology, Marketing Services, Emergency Procedures

Alumni

This is usually one of those items that our clients debate leaving off of their website. The main reason being that, besides transcript requests, there really is not a lot of content geared towards Alumni. We feel that if you want to develop a strong Alumni base that will give back to your school in the future, you need to include them. In fact, you may consider titling this “Alumni & Donors”.

Content: Transcript Request, Social Links, Donate Online

Continuing Ed

This is a menu item that is often debated on our website projects. Technically Continuing Education class information could be within Current Students and Prospective Students menus, but in some communities Continuing Education is a big part of the school’s makeup.

Content: Programs, Services, Forms, Registration

Drop Downs vs Standard

If you plan to utilize an Audience Menu you will need to decide if you want to make it a drop down menu or standard menu. We have done this both ways for clients in the past. Here are some things that you should consider before making this decision:

Reducing Clicks

It is possible to reduce some clicking for users by putting key pages at their fingertips via drop down menus but often they will need to drill down even further anyway.  Southeastern Community College in Whiteville, NC is a prime example of a drop down style Audience Menu.

We think that Standard Links can also reduce clicking drastically if executed well. Foothill College does a great job of making the Audience Landing Page (ex: Faculty & Staff) a link page where all of the links related to that audience type is well-organized into sections.

Responsive Design

You have to take some extra steps to make sure they are executed well in responsive (mobile) design. This can be difficult when you have several menus on a page and some are drop downs and some are not.

Heat Maps

If you haven’t created a heat map for your website, you are really missing out. Crazy Egg is the coolest and most powerful website development tool we have used in a long time. It allows you to visually see where people are clicking on your website. Based on the reports you get back, you can reorganize your website to make it easier for users to navigate. Crazy Egg can not pickup clicks that happen on a drop down navigation menu, so it does not give you a complete report. It sounds trivial, but for us it is enough to consider not using drop downs on a website.

#2 – The Choose Your Path Menu

Some community colleges will have what we call a “Choose Your Path” menu. The primary objective of this menu is to help the prospective student find the college path that meets their specific needs. This type of menu often includes the following components:

Find Your Path

This is a step-by-step guide to help the prospective student get started. It usually leads to a landing page with several “paths” (links) with clearly stated definitions for each one. Central Carolina Community College does a great job of this. Here is what they include on their “Find Your Path” page:

New – Enroll for the first time at CCCC.

Returning / Current – Currently enrolled or have taken classes within the past year at CCC.

Former – Returning to CCC after one year or more break from classes.

High School – Enroll in college credit classes while in high school.

Special Credit – Take a class without declaring a major.

High School Non-Completer – Complete a high school diploma/GED®.

Non-College Credit – Enroll in short-term workforce training.

Personal Interest / Hobbyist – Explore interests and hobbies.

Active Duty Military / Veteran – Learn about educational benefits.

Degree, Diploma, or Certificate

This is for prospective students that know they want to choose a career or transfer to a university. When they click on this link they can be taken to a page that lists available Programs as well as information about University Transfer.

Finish High School

For those that need to complete high school, get their GED® or need to go through an English as a Second Language Program.

Continuing Education

Provides quick access to short-term job training, certifications and classes for those seeking personal enrichment.

What we like about this approach is the ability to use these various pages as campaign landing pages and to be able to tag these prospects accordingly via marketing automation. You will also be able to identify a conversion path in Google Analytics and analyze which paths draw the most traffic. One drawback to this approach is making your home page more about the prospective student than the other audiences you serve (current students, faculty & staff, community, alumni, etc..).

#3 – The High-Traffic Pages Menu

Even if you are able to layout your entire website navigation within a menu like “The Audience Menu”, you may still want to have a secondary menu that we like to call “The High-Traffic Pages Menu”. The purpose of this menu is to put the most popular pages of your website available within one click on the home page.

Here are some examples of pages that can often be found in this type of menu:

  • About Us
  • Admissions / Apply
  • Academics
  • Campus Life
  • Programs / Find a Program
  • Pay for College / Financial Aid
  • Student Resources / Student Services
  • Alumni & Friends
  • Contact Us

This is probably the menu that gives us the most indigestion as web developers. We like to formulate this menu based purely on traffic data analysis using tools like Google Analytics traffic reports and Crazy Egg heatmaps. Despite our hard data approach, the High-Traffic Pages Menu always seems to become a battleground for departments that think their page deserves prime home page real estate.

One recent Heatmap for a client revealed that the school’s “Foundation Page” was receiving virtually zero clicks on the High-Traffic Pages Menu. The website users would be better served having a more desirable link be accessible on the home page.

#4 – The Action Menu

This is a personal favorite of mine. In fact, I am pretty sure I am in love with it. The Action Menu is usually a small but powerful little menu that encourages people to take action. We actually received inspiration for this menu from my alma mater, East Carolina University. The links are all short and simply hypertext. Here are the links that ECU includes in its Action Menu:

Apply

What is the #1 action you want prospective students to take? Apply of course. I really love how this is the first link at the top of the website.

Give

A lot of people have no clue what a community college “foundation” is. On top of that, Foundation is not a very actionable term. So why not simply ask your website users to “Give”.

Jobs

Careers sounds so much better, but it can be misconstrued with the future careers of students. Job seekers are one of the top traffic generators for any website. This makes it easy for those seeking employment with your school to reach the “Human Resources” page without having to dig too deep.

Maps

Super short alternative to “Directions” or “Schedule a Campus Visit”. This link is sure to help your prospective student find you and the correct office building very quickly. By the way, if you struggle with custom Google Maps, we can help.

Directory

Everyone needs access to the campus directory. Prospective students, current students, faculty & staff and the community as well. This provides the masses with quick access to it at the top of the page!

The Action Menu should also include a search box since it is the most handy tool on the website. Did I mention that I really, really, really love The Action Menu?

#5 – Quick Links Menu

The Quick Links menu is the workhorse menu for current students as well as for faculty & staff. These are direct links for the applications that students and faculty use every single day campus-wide. Southeastern Community College has a great example of a Quick Links menu in the right column of their home page. Here is what they include in their menu:

Ask SCC

This is the frequently asked questions section of their website.

Calendars & Schedules

Everyone on campus counts down the days left on the calendar and keeps up with important deadlines.

Campus Map

They do not include Map as part of their Actions Menu, but do include it here.

eCashier

The ability to pay their tuition bill online.

Ed2Go

The portal for their online courses.

EDU-Cable

This is a link for their public-access cable channel.

Faculty/Staff Mail

Link to the webmail login for faculty and staff.

Moodle

Link to their open source learning platform of choice.

Rams Mail

Webmail access for students.

Web Advisor

Easy access to their class registration system.

We designed the Southeastern Community College Quick Links menu in what is called a tile format. We really like this approach because it looks really good in the responsive (mobile) version of the website.

#6 – The Social Media Menu

You can not have a modern website without a social media menu. This one seems all too obvious but there are a couple of points I would like to make with this. Most community colleges will display the icons for the various social media outlets that they utilize. Middlesex Community College is a good example of what you typically see (and they do an amazing job with their social media engagement).

One problem that a lot of community colleges face is the fact that they have many different departments within the school that have their own social media accounts. We are starting to see a trend of schools where the Facebook link goes to a webpage that lists the school’s social media statement along with a listing of all of the various Facebook pages under the school’s purview. One example of this is the Facebook website page for Wayne Community College.

#7 – The Footer Menu

The Footer Menu isn’t a menu as much as it is a compilation of the various menus mentioned above. We like to integrate the above menus in a well-organized hypertext list format. Pages on a community college website can be lengthy at times and it can be very useful for a user to have access to the top navigation links at the bottom of the website. For Southeastern Community College we focused on including The Audience Menu and The Quick Links Menu in the footer. We also like to include a “Social Footer” in our websites which feature links to primary social media accounts as well as a newsletter subscription CTA (call-to-action).

Conclusion: Optimizing Your Navigation is Never Finished

No matter how many hours you spend doing up front research before beginning your website redesign project, I hope you never consider your navigation menu as set in stone. We take what is known as a “Growth Driven Design” approach to developing websites for our clients. As a SaaS (software-as-a-serve) business, we are constantly monitoring a client’s Google Analytics reports and Crazy Egg Heatmap reports to get a clearer view of how users are experiencing the website. I encourage you to experiment with navigation and look at Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to see how well your changes improve or negatively impact the way users interact with your site.

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