Mobile Websites for Higher Education – 2012-2013 Findings

July 22, 2013

We’ve been undertaking some annual reviews of our higher education clients’ websites to develop on-going mobile strategies. We want to understand the trends and how to best engage their audience: prospective students.

Mobile Traffic Is On the Rise for Higher Education Websites

No surprise here. In looking at analytics for one website we found year-over-year growth of mobile traffic from 8% (2012) to 18% (2013). What makes this number more remarkable is that the number of mobile visits to the site exceeded the number of visitors using popular desktop browsers; 18% using mobile browsers, 15% of visitors were using Chrome and 11% were using Firefox. The take away: don’t ignore mobile visitors; test your site for mobile performance. 

iOS Dominates the Mobile High Education Website Space

We’re seeing iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod) as the clear leader. On one higher education site we reviewed 79% of all mobile traffic in 2012 was accessed from an iOS device. In comparing the same 6-month period in 2012 and 2013, we found no decline in traffic from iOS devices; it is holding steady at nearly 80%.

What is the Best Mobile Content for Higher Education Websites?

We see top ranked pages mobile visits often being highly transactional pages that serve current students or job seekers.
  • Shuttle schedule
  • Security phone numbers
  • Bill payment
  • Financial aid
  • Careers and open positions
By looking at top content by platform (i.e., desktop, tablet, mobile), then sorting our data by number of page views and honing in on the pages with highest number of first time visits, we are able to isolate content that could be attributed to prospective students.
  • As with desktop, the top entry point for mobile visits is the homepage. On most websites we reviewed, fewer visitors bounce off the homepage in mobile than in desktop – even when the homepage is not optimized for mobile. In other words, the homepage is performing better in mobile than on desktop and sometimes the performance increase is significant. On one site we reviewed, the bounce rate off the homepage is 4% to 27% lower on mobile browsers.
  • The highest performing content on mobile (as measured by most visits) had to do with specific academic programs. Visitors are interested in unique program offerings. The bounce rate for these pages is over 96% – this means that visitors are entering this page and then leaving on this same page. The conclusion: this academic content is either not what the student is looking for and/or the content is not optimized for mobile.
  • Student life or campus experience oriented content aimed at prospective students was also accessed, but with much lower bounce rates than the academic content.
  • Maps, directions, directories, and contact us were also accessed, but no clear audience can be determined from the analytics.

Mobile Navigation is Different

One key set of pages that we noticed missing from the mobile visits were the level 2 landing pages – in many sites we design, these would be the top section page: academics, campus life, or admissions. Analytics show users are not accessing these pages, which suggests they are instead navigating deep into the site from search or using alternate means to access content. Mobile users are not following the prescribed information architecture “pathways” through the site.
Our recommendation to colleges and universities continues to be to optimize their web experience for prospective students with a specific focus on academic pages. We recommend a native iOS or Android app for reaching current students, but a responsive website for the main website aimed at prospective students. In addition, we recommend schools include market tests with current students. 

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