You know it and your students know it. Universities are no longer simply institutions of higher learning but also businesses. Like other corporations, millions of dollars are spent polishing the image of US higher education institutions to enhance market position.
With students paying a hefty price for additional schooling, universities and colleges must deliver a high quality experience at every stage of the relationship. In this blog, I examine how school information request forms run the risk of impacting their organisation’s brand.
Brand And Service – Two Sides Of The Same Coin
Potential students are all looking for the edge that will help them land their dream career. To do that, they need to know they’re making the right university or college choice. Often, a strong marketing campaign has attracted them to your website where one of the first things they’ll is fill out your information request form.
A well-designed, on-brand form will seamlessly continue the positive connection that’s been made through your marketing. A poorly designed form that contradicts your brand will jar the user’s experience and sow seeds of doubt about your organisation’s authenticity.
Be A Brand That Values Potential Students’ Time
Applying to college or university is an involved process that potential students complete on top of their studies, jobs and extracurricular activities. With some students applying to 30 or 40 schools they will be comparing their experience either consciously or subconsciously.
Keeping information request forms short demonstrates respect for their time. Yet my research shows that, although institutions seek similar information, there’s a significant variance in form length. Some contain as many as 15 fields, others just four.
Longer forms squander precious time and may also feel invasive by requesting information other organisations have not asked for. Even if students do complete and submit a longer form, they’re likely to leave your website feeling less than happy. Which will put you at a disadvantage in comparison to your more succinct competition.
For tips on shortening your forms, take a look at my in-depth report of online US university and college information request forms.
Be A Consistent Brand To Gain Trust
Research shows that consumers regard brand image as indicative of the quality of the product or service they will receive from that business. This is no different for higher education institutions whose paying students feel as much a customer as they do a scholar.
A consistent brand message is key to attracting and engaging students. Consider your form as an extension of your marketing plan: from brand colours and fonts to tone of voice, your form should be part of a consistent journey. Forms that don’t tie in jolt and distract. And if the form deviates too far from the brand it can undermine trust making it less likely that users will submit their information.
To give users confidence in your form ensure it links seamlessly with rest of your website. Not only will users be more likely to complete it but your brand will be portrayed as one that’s solid, dependable and trustworthy. Which is how you want students to view their future seat of learning.
Be A Brand That Takes Care Of Minor Details
What might seem like a minor form design decision can make a major difference to how potential students view your institution. For example, including mobile friendly keyboards or deciding whether to enable a form to auto-tab to the next field when a phone number is entered.
Failing to include this kind of functionality is frustrating for users. Yet my analysis shows that over a third of schools don’t help prospective learners at the very time when they should be creating a good first impression.
Institutions that include helpful form components present themselves as organisations that are easy to deal with while also improving conversion rates. When the majority of your competitors are doing this it’s crucial you follow suit or risk marking your institution out for all the wrong reasons.
Be A Brand That Chooses Its Words Carefully
Academics are renowned for picking over details and questioning every word used. While prospective students might not be doing this just yet, you can expect them to be more sensitive to language than other populations.
While universities and colleges are places of knowledge, they are also considered to be benevolent. Asking people to ‘submit’ a form may feel like the natural thing to do but who wants to ‘submit’ with its associations of power?
Try A/B testing your forms with different call to action words like ‘register’, ‘request now’ or ‘continue’ to see what works best for you.
Be A Brand That Helps
When a student is dipping their toe into a possible long-term relationship with you they want to feel reassured. Supporting them at every touchpoint with offers of additional help is a great way to show you care.
As in the image below, providing customer service details using a warm, supportive and friendly tone of voice creates a sense that the university cares. It would be interesting to see whether making this support more obvious would impact form conversion.
Having analysed thousands of online forms for businesses, I’ve learned that design directly impacts how others view your brand and the number of form submissions you capture.
As other organisations continuously improve their forms, you need to ensure you don’t get left behind. Take time out to ensure your forms are doing everything they can to enhance your brand and encourage potential students to apply to your institution.