Today I wanted to share three fairly quick and inexpensive ways to include student feedback throughout your next website redesign project.

Talking to students will help you better understand their motivations and behaviors when using your website, and their preferences for design and content.

  1. Launch an Online Survey
    Before beginning design, consider an online survey. An effective online survey will garner high response and completion rates. There are a lot of strategies for creating successful surveys aimed at students. Most importantly, you need to keep it short and simple. Research has shown that the survey should take five minutes or less to complete. Six to ten minutes is acceptable, but we see significant abandonment rates occurring after 11 minutes. Avoid using complex questions that involve matrices or open-ended responses. Really think about each question you include in your survey to determine how you will leverage the research. If there isn’t a clear and actionable use for the question, do not include it.
  2. Conduct a Focus Group
    It is also important to talk to students directly. This can be done through in-person interviews or you can talk to a larger group of students in a shorter period of time holding a focus group. We find that six to ten members in a group is a good dynamic when talking with students. But how do you get students to participate? For one of our recent projects, we invited students to participate in a focus group after they attended an open house. They were provided free movie tickets for 45 minutes of their time. We were able to ask about their experience using the website before their visit to the open house and what they learned that day that excited them about the college. They also shared what they thought would most benefit other students to learn about the college. Their feedback helped us hone in on key areas of focus with the redesign.
  3. Organize Usability Testing
    Finally, it is critical to gather input from students while architecting and designing a new site to determine if the content, navigation, and design resonates. You can conduct one-on-one usability tests with students while they interact with a wireframe or prototype of a new site. If you have less time or budget available, you can test design mockups using a remote online heat mapping tool. In either case, create a set of tasks and ask students how they would accomplish each tasks. This will test the language, labeling, and categorization of your content. A post-test survey can also gather their overall impressions of the design.

Finding ways to include students throughout your research process is the only way to ensure that the content, structure and navigation, and design of your website will meet the needs of your students.