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What do teens really think of our website Top takeaways from Mythbusting Websites

Author: Marketing

Posted on Dec 15, 2016

Category: Marketing Services

A new report into how teenagers interact with university websites has some surprising findings that may seem counterintuitive to university marketers. What Professionals Believe Teens Think About Higher Ed Websites — And What Teens Really Think, by Gil Rogers and Michael Stoner, surveyed both teens and university marketers, asking the latter group to rate what they think teens would value in a university website. “Our goal this year was to understand how well college marketers, admission officers, and web professionals know how teens use websites — and where they misunderstand prospective students’ needs, interests, or experiences,” the report says. As you might imagine, there were some stark differences. We dug through the 17-page research report to pull out our top three takeaways.

1. Teens prefer text and articles, not video

Teens may love online video, but when it comes to ranking preferred media on a website, videos came in at a measly 5th place in importance— behind text and articles, photographs, infographics and headlines. This may come as a surprise to university marketers. Most of those surveyed (76 per cent) thought teens would prefer video over text. Teen web content preferencesWhy? Likely because these future students are trying to be efficient in finding the information they need. Visitors read websites by scanning, picking out individual words and sentences before focusing their attention. You can’t do that with a video. “It can take a minute or more to watch a video, only to learn that it doesn’t contain the information you need. Now imagine that you’re doing that research on an iPhone with poor reception. Which option seems preferable to you?” Don’t hesitate to use videos — four out of five teens say they do watch university videos  — but be sure your videos are informative and put in context by relevant headings and text. Key finding: Teens expect clear, concise, informative text when looking for detailed answers to specific questions. Videos are icing on the cake.

2. Social media and websites don't overlap

Teens use social media differently than marketers expect. They don’t travel freely between university websites and social media, for example, by clicking on social media links on your website (or by coming to the website via social media). University marketers dramatically overestimate how often teens click-through from their sites to social media (e.g., from a UNB website to a UNB Facebook feed). Fewer than 40 per cent of teens clicked through to Facebook or Twitter from a university website during their research and apply phases. When the students are deciding to accept or commit, that number drops to almost zero. Unsurprisingly, marketers expected those numbers to be much higher. “This doesn’t mean that prospects don’t use these sites: It’s just that they are not getting to them from college websites. In the same vein, teens don’t necessarily visit college websites after spending time on an institution’s Facebook page,” the report says. Clickthrough rates It’s not that social media isn’t important: About 35 per cent of teens said they used university social media accounts at some point during their search and choice (about 70 to 80 per cent of teens used the university’s website). Key finding: Keep using social media, but don’t expect prospects to travel between your social media channels and your website.

3. Websites aren’t a top influencer in a teen’s decision to apply

Teens use websites to learn about institutions during their research phase, but when it comes to applying, the advice of family, friends, guidance counsellors and teachers will nearly always trump a university's website. Just 37 per cent of teens said a university’s website was a highly important influencer in deciding to apply, versus 80 per cent of university marketers. What else ranks highly? College visits, recruitment fairs, rankings like the Macleans University Rankings and posts on social media. Myth busting websites That doesn’t mean our websites are unimportant. Students consistently rely on university websites throughout their consideration and application phases. Here’s when they’re looking for which information: While researching universities, students’ top needs are:
  • Academic programs
  • Location
  • Cost
Once they’ve been accepted and are deciding where to go:
  • Professors
  • Financial aid
  • How to ask questions
Key takeaway: Websites are valuable to future students, but they're only one element in a teen's decision-making process. The survey was conducted in the United States, and included responses from 596 higher education professionals and 2,346 prospects.