Reams of paper stacked on top of each other

Managing Internal Content on Your Higher Ed Website

Most college and university websites have reams of content intended for internal audiences — content that overwhelms menu structures, clogs site search, and lowers search engine rankings. Here are some ways to get internal content under control.

When prospective students come to your site and search for their major, do they find it? Or do they find the academic senate minutes from when that major was created? When they navigate to study abroad, are they presented with amazing international opportunities — or a list of forms? If this sounds familiar, you may need to take a look at how you manage your internal content.

What Is Internal Content Anyway?

Marketing teams can sometimes view anything that’s not related to recruitment as “internal content” — but that’s not exactly true. Most college and university sites have a good deal of external content that’s not recruitment content. Here’s a more precise breakdown:

Recruitment content: Content that brings new students to your school, whether they’re undergrad, grad, or non-degree-seeking students. Examples:

  • Your home page
  • Academic program pages
  • Information on tuition and fees
  • Information on visit programs

External content: Content for external audiences that isn’t directly related to recruitment. The audiences for this content might be alumni, donors, job seekers, accreditors, faculty at other institutions, the media, or other audiences. Examples:

  • Events happening at the performing arts center
  • Homecoming information for alumni
  • Detailed research results for faculty at other institutions
  • How to rent out the college chapel for a wedding
  • Giving campaigns

Internal content: Content meant for internal audiences: current students, faculty, and staff. While this content typically has a very targeted audience, it’s typically not information that needs to be kept from the public. Examples:

  • How to make a dorm room maintenance request
  • Institutional review board (for protecting human research subjects)
  • Details on health benefits for employees
  • Website documentation
  • Documentation of procurement procedures for employees

Notice that for some of these categories of information there is both internal and external content. For instance, your procurement office has information that needs to be external for vendors and also internal procedural information for employees.

Private content: Content that needs to be distributed to the campus, but which should not be shared with external audiences. In general, this content does not belong on your main website, which is designed to publicize things, not to keep things secret. Consider dropping this sort of content on SharePoint server or Google Drive folder with permissions set appropriately. Examples:

  • Resumes for presidential and vice presidential job candidates.
  • Agendas and minutes of university committees

On most of the higher ed websites we’ve audited, it’s that third category, internal content, that takes up the most pages and causes the most problems.

Why Is There So Much Internal Content? And Why Is It a Problem?

The first universities formed around libraries and archives. They were built to collect knowledge and in detail. No wonder many early college websites were more like reference books about the school than marketing sites encouraging prospective students to take action.

This website-as-reference-book model was sustainable when prospective students were plentiful, enrollments were higher, and many recruitment activities still took place offline. Most college websites today need to focus on enrollment first — and all the non-recruitment content on your website has a way of getting in the way of that. Here’s how.

Submenus within submenus within submenus within submenus

If there’s one thing academia loves as much as a reference book it’s a hierarchical classification system. While that works great if you’re aiming to classify all living things, it’s terrible as website navigation. Highly vertical sites are hard for users to navigate. Financial aid > types of aid > free aid > scholarships might make logical sense, but it puts the thing high school students are looking for 3 or 4 clicks away. And given that many high school students don’t think of scholarships as financial aid, you’ve effectively hidden this content from many potential students.

Site search is flooded with poor results

When users can’t figure out your navigation, they turn to site search. But when there’s so much content on your website, your site search is probably just as overwhelming as your navigation. So prospective students who search for “nursing” end up in the course catalog instead of on your carefully designed program page. Or current students looking for research opportunities are sent to pages explaining how to hire a research assistant, not a list of current opportunities.

Multiple — and conflicting — copies of the same information

If prospective students can’t find what they need, your web editors probably can’t find it either. So they add the information to their section of the site, often unaware that it’s already there. Over time those multiple copies of the same information are going to get out of sync, and then it’s anyone’s guess as to which version prospective students see. Sometimes that’s not a big deal. Does your school have 224 or 247 student organizations? Either number is fine. But what if students are seeing different numbers for tuition and fees on different pages?

External searches can’t figure out your site, either

With tons of content, multiple (and differing) copies of the same info, and poor SEO practices on many of those pages, Google may not be sending searchers to the pages you want them to go to. Try a search for “[program name] degree at [your university].” How many pages get returned? Is the program page at the top of the list? Do all of those pages get the facts about the degree correct? Do they all have clear pathways for students to request info, visit, or apply?

Internal audiences can’t find the content they need

The reference-book model isn’t just bad for prospective students, it’s bad for all your audiences. They also struggle with your navigation and find site search results overwhelming, which will give them a bad impression of the website overall — and of your management of the website.

First Steps

If the above sounds familiar, what can you do about it? Let’s start with some short- and medium-term solutions.

Reduce the amount of content on your website

OK, OK, this one’s not a short-term solution. But as with many things content related, a content audit is the place to begin. The audit will reveal exactly how much content you have and begin the process of determining what content is redundant, outdated, or trivial — in other words, content that no longer needs to be on the website.

As you review pages, start drafting some guidelines about when content should be reviewed or taken off the website. For instance, you might decide that news and events older than X months should be archived.

A site migration can be a good time to do this kind of content reduction, but it can happen at any time. If you’re not in the midst of a site migration, don’t try to audit the whole site at once. Work through just a few sections at a time.

Move archival content to an actual archive

College websites tend to build up a lot of out-of-date information. Old news and events postings, past conferences, committee minutes, completed strategic plans, last year’s commencement — it’s tempting to simply delete these and be done with them.

Yet these types of content may still have a small but important audience. Faculty members may need documentation of their activities for their tenure, promotion, or five-year review files. Accreditors may want to see evidence that a program or department has been active over the past 5 or 10 years. And other material might be relevant to the history or your institution. (The COVID-19 site you stood up overnight back in 2020? It’s now an historical document that someone is going to cite in their 2070 master’s thesis.)

So where to keep all this stuff? Many, if not most, university libraries maintain some form of digital archives. While you shouldn't — and your archivist won’t let you — move everything into a digital archive, it is an excellent place to put out-of-date content with some lasting value.

Reconfigure and monitor your site search

Many site search engines allow you to choose the first result returned for a keyword. Take a look at your top 25 searches (you can set this up in Google Analytics) and then make sure that you’ve set a top search result for each that matches the intent of that search as best as you can. For example, a search for “tuition” should return the page that has your tuition and cost of attendance as the first result.

Some site search engines also allow you to set up filters based on URL paths, so that, for instance, users could choose to include or exclude results from the /catalog/ or /administration/ areas of your website. Try creating a more focused search as the default and allow users to add more categories if needed.

Improve your search-engine optimization

Many site search engines use the same basic principles as Google and will respond well to SEO updates. Getting good titles and meta descriptions on your content will help your site search — and Google — return better results and make it easier for users to find the result they need.

Long-Term Solutions

Longer term, there are two basic paths for managing internal content. 

Keep internal content on the main site

If you keep internal content on your main site, you’ll need two things:

  1. An information architecture that separates recruitment, external, and internal content.
  2. Clear user pathways that steer your audiences toward the right content.

If the primary audience for your website is prospective students, you’ll want to use your home page and main navigation to present recruitment content. Then make content for your internal and additional external audiences available through:

  • Utility navigation: Utility navigation is typically presented through smaller links above your main navigation, and could contain news, events, a list of departments and offices, a giving link, a link to your external athletics website, and so forth. In the example below, the line of text starting with “Apply” is the utility navigation.
  • Footer navigation: Your footer might link to legal notices, accreditation information, information for job seekers, and your library.
  • Audience pages: Pages linking to information specifically for alumni, parents, current students, employees, etc. Because many audiences need to access the same resources — both students and faculty use the library — these pages are typically not website sections on their own, just links to other areas of the website.

Don't forget that many, perhaps most of your site visitors will be using external search engines to find what they need on your site. Utility and footer navigation helps here, too, because those links appear on every page, which gives hints to search engines about which pages are most important on your website. In other words, if every page on your website links to your job seekers page, that page is more likely to appear in the top position when a user searches for “jobs at [your college].”

There are a few advantages to keeping your internal content on your main site, but better organized: 

  • There’s no need to stand up an additional website.
  • Users may have an easier time finding this content, since it’s all on the same website and your site search will search all of it.
  • There’s no need for users to log in (as they would for a traditional intranet). This removes a barrier to users finding this content and keeps it available for any prospective students who really want to dig into the details of the study abroad application process.

The disadvantage of this approach: if you haven’t reduced your content, improved your site search setup, and improved your SEO, you may not get the results you need.

Move internal content to a different site

You could think of this as the intranet approach: create a new site just for internal audiences. This could be a subdomain ( or a URL path (

While a traditional intranet requires users to log in, that’s not a requirement. And it could make your internal content harder to find, since the login will block search engines — and your site search — from finding that content.

Advantages of this approach:

  • A clear separation between internal and external content.
  • A blank canvas where you can more easily organize content around user needs. For instance, you could create a “Pay your bill” page that combines content from the bursar, financial aid, and the registrar. This can make things a lot easier for students unfamiliar with higher education terms and your org chart.


  • Standing up a new site is a major task. You’ll need technical support, front-end design and coding, an additional sitemap, an additional navigation system, and more. If you feel stretched thin managing one site, think carefully about whether you have the resources to maintain a second one.
  • Because of the effort involved, intranets have a tendency to become less and less organized over time. Recruitment is vital, so web teams tend to put more effort into admissions and less into keeping internal content organized and up to date. The result can be a highly chaotic intranet that really frustrates your internal users.

All that said, either approach can work. And it’s entirely possible to mix and match a bit. But to make any approach work, you’ll need a solid governance plan.

Governing internal content

Good governance is the key to long-term web success, and you’ll need to make sure your governance plan clearly addresses your non-recruitment content. Some key issues to consider:

Your authority to make these changes

When you move your website from the reference-book model to a more user-centered model, you are bound to encounter some objections. If collecting knowledge is a core higher ed mission, removing pages from the website can feel like a betrayal of principles.

Of course, you’ll address this by providing alternative locations for those archives. But you’ll want to make sure that your authority to make these decisions for the website is clear.

Most governance plans provide this through a web oversight board that includes representatives from across the organization. Make sure your web board understands the plan for internal content and the strategies behind it. Having their blessing will make it much easier for you to make — and if necessary, enforce — the necessary changes.


What counts as internal content? Where do different types of content go and why? Clear definitions can help users understand the changes and head off conflict.

Roles and workflow

Who will make day-to-day decisions about internal content? What is the workflow for internal content? Is it different from the workflow for recruitment or external content?

Need help figuring out internal content on your website? We are happy to talk through your concerns.