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Visitor Experience & Higher Education Websites

higher education website visitor experience


Moving to Mobile Friendlier Higher Education Websites

For the past decade the proportion of visits to websites from mobile devices has been growing and this trend is projected to continue. Data from Statistica suggests that about three-quarters of mobile phone users regularly access the Internet with their mobile devices.  Your own site’s web analytics will likely confirm the growing proportion of visits from smart phones and that some of the visits originated from mobile device searches. In fact, in May 2015 Google disclosed that for a sample of ten countries (including the US and Japan) a higher proportion of searches originate on mobile devices than desktop computers.

The Mobile Response

Earlier, in April 2015, recognising the shift to mobile and to better meet its customers’ needs Google updated its search algorithm to increase the ranking of websites that displayed content well on mobile devices. In May 2015, Bing followed Google by announcing a similar roll out of search results favouring mobile friendliness.

At the time of Google’s announcement, many post-secondary education websites had long since been constructed according to responsive design principles and thus already worked well with mobile devices.  For those unsure about whether their site is mobile friendly or not, Google provides a useful online testing service: Google Mobile Friendly Test. This test's only drawback is that it tests single pages. As we can attest, effectively testing an entire website for 'mobile friendliness' is way more complex.

The Mobile Imperative

Being mobile friendly isn’t about search. It isn’t even a technical design and site construction issue. Being mobile friendly is a strategic choice to recognise and respond to how visitor now access websites. To this end, over the past twelve months many sites have either undergone a complete overhaul or implemented upgrades to ensure that they can now better serve their visitors.  And, for sites dependent on search-referred traffic, the migration to 'mobile friendliness' has been rapid.

How Mobile Friendly are Post-Secondary Education Websites?

A set of sites that one might intuit as having a mobile-heavy audience are those operated by universities and colleges. So, we decided to take a look at how the mobile friendly migration is working for this group.

We used a simple test.  Did the home page for a group of just over 200 Canadian post-secondary education websites pass or fail Google’s Mobile Friendly Test? While this is a limited approach (as it only tests one, albeit important, page) we deem it a reasonable working hypothesis that most attention is lavished on a site's home page and the test results should be a indicative of the overall mobile friendliness of a site.

On balance, our sampling suggests that a positive result for the home page may well flatter the performance of pages elsewhere on the site, whereas a failure on the home page tends to reflect site-wide issues.

Graph 1: Pass/Fail Ratio For A Sample of 206 Canadian Post-Seconday Education Website Home Pages Tested on Google's Mobile Friendly Test.

The graph shows the pass/fail rate for Google's Mobile Friendly Test. We submitted the home page urls for 206 websites operated by Canadian post-secondary education institutions to Google's test and recorded Google's overall assessment of the home page mobile friendliness. As this post highlights, website visitors are better served if sites work effectively with mobile devices. Our data suggests that about one third of this set of sites, likely serving a disproportionate number of visitors using mobile devices, will not provide a satisfactory experience for visitors using a smart phone.