Many underestimate the importance of having a well optimized website, especially in the field of higher education. Not only is the university’s website a primary resource for campus operations, but it is also the student’s first impression of the organization they are considering. Having a great web presence is a necessary marketing tool and is essential for your organization. Without an overarching design and clear direction, a website becomes difficult to use and loses the many advantages of functionality and credibility; two factors that directly affect application and enrollment in this highly competitive marketplace.

To help you evaluate if you’re investing enough in a website, here are five must-have elements we recommend every high performing higher education website should have:

Clear navigation and conversion path

It’s one thing to make all your content available to someone, but if they don’t know where to go, they will get lost in the options presented. Whether you want students to visit a course page, peruse your blog, or complete an application, it’s important to prioritize your users’ experience to ensure they’re able to get to where they need to be on your site when they need to be there.

Authentic student voice (real life testimonials)

It’s hard for a student to see themselves at your institution when they cannot picture themselves succeeding there. People identify with someone who has lived the experience. Seeing other students’ success is a great way to demonstrate how the university is able to support individual students with their personal aspirations, among other key differentiators and elements of the student and alumni experience.

Accurate contact information

A primary goal of a higher ed website is to effectively provide information and answer user questions but it can’t always be all things to all people. In many instances there are no substitutes for speaking to the right individual. Making contact information easily accessible underscores an institution’s dedication to customer service.

Attention to important personas

A higher education website that attracts a diverse array of users needs to provide a simple user experience that makes it easy for each audience to find what they’re looking for (and ultimately take the actions you need them to take). For example, every university has prospective students, current students, and alumni. All three of these personas are vastly important to the institution and have very different needs, questions, and goals when visiting your website. These should be reflected in the way users are able to navigate and experience the site.

Overall brand strategy

An expansive and well designed website needs to represent the brand and overall values of the institution. Whether it is your faculty, location, accreditation, range of majors, research programs, or more. Your brand is what differentiates you and allows your institution to be competitive, garner quality applicants and—most importantly—great success stories.

With these elements in place, your site will have a great foundation to keep you moving in the right direction. What comes next? Using analytics to optimize for engagement and other important metrics, creating landing pages and more to support the prospect journey, and even integrating your marketing automation, CRM and other tools to best support your marketing and admissions teams.