Ideas & musings about consumer behaviour

University Series: Understanding how prospective students search on university websites

In this week’s 2 series blog post, we unravel insights from our recent study in the Higher Learning space. The main purpose of carrying out this research, was to find out answers to the way prospective students search for a course on a university website. The results were then evaluated to find out, if there is a link between the way they searched and the choice they made as a consequence of that.

What we hope you gain from these insights is a better understanding of:

– Why prospects behave the way they do and ‘why’ they make the decisions they make when interacting with your brand.

– What is important to your prospective students when they are looking at what your university offers.

 – Where and why your processes and systems are negatively impacting prospective students and the chances of them returning to your website.

– Whether you’re leveraging the strengths of each customer or prospect (interaction) channel

 – Who within your competitor set is best at winning your target prospects and why.

This blog post series will address two major aspects from our research findings and delve into a deeper understanding of each one:

  • Presentation of finding course options.

  • How information architecture impacts user behaviour for finding a course.

In Q4 2017, Global Reviews conducted a research study to understand the behaviour of 796 prospective students, while they searched for a course on their desktop devices. This search was conducted across the websites of 22 major Australian universities to further evaluate industry best practices and recommendations of why each one works.

The main takeaways from the research study were:

Site navigation was ranked as the second most important criteria by prospective students when searching for a course.

  • This was made clear when universities like ECU and CSU were ranked much higher than the other brands competing for their attention, solely based on the ease of navigating to their courses.

Time taken to locate a course range does not equate to the success of a university website.

  • Success rate is not equal to having an efficient website. If users take more time to find certain information on the website, they are inclined to leave the website.
  • CSU may have the highest success rate; however, users took above average time to complete this task.

The main issues faced by prospective students while undertaking the course search task were:

  • Multiple pathways competing for attention.

– Prospective students came across websites where there were no “Courses options/ button”, thereby compelling them to use the generic search bar to find the course information they wanted.

  • Ambiguous labelling leading to confusion in finding the right course on university websites.

  • Lack of course search options based on various filters.

 Based on a few industry best practices, our recommendations to combat these issues would be:

  • Simplify information, use formatting and progressive disclosure techniques-

Industry Best Practice- ECU does a great job of displaying the information the way they do. The information is streamlined and easy to navigate to.

  • Provide clear labelling and obvious signposts

Industry Best Practice- La Trobe University succeeds in ensuring prospective students are taken down one clear pathway in their search for course information.

  • Offer tools to assist prospective students with course choices

Industry Best Practice 1: USQ’s course search caters to various segments of prospective students.

Industry Best Practice 2: Deakin’s tool shows the number of courses available based on the prospective student’s selection:

All of the information we have relayed thus far, goes to show how important paying attention to minute details is for your website.

In our next post we will talk about the importance of website architecture and the impact it has on the traffic and retention rates of your website.

Alternatively, click here to check out the full video of the webinar we recently conducted on this topic:



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