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2017: The year the emerging tech goes mainstream in higher edIf you want to truly connect with your students – particularly your prospective student community – you must know who they are. You must understand them. Discovering the needs, wants and tasks they try to accomplish when engaging with your website brings opportunity for connection and interaction with content that actually matters to them; making their experience memorable, richer and your organization a viable choice in their journey.

So how do you go about bringing this kind of personalized content experience to life on your website? We have some tips to help inform the process.

What is a Persona?

Your student persona is an archetypal representation of your ideal student. Personas are based on real data from interviews and questionnaires, analytics about student demographics and online behavior; along with educated speculation about their personal histories, motivations, and concerns. Audience personas are not only an invaluable tool for understanding the needs and behaviors of specific audiences—they are also extremely helpful to inform your brand strategy and website development. At the most basic level, personas allow you to personalize or target your marketing for different segments of your audience by giving you the ability to have a relevant “set of eyes” in which to look through when making content strategy decisions.

Persona example Kelly Riggs - High School student/athlete seeking a degree in communications and sports broadcasting

What Are Your Students Looking For?

In order to build out an effective student persona, you must gain insight from the student’s perspective. What are they going to your site to look for? Why do they want to interact?  What will solve their problem? These questions help create depth to the experience. Most likely, they’re coming to your organization for answers or knowledge. They’re looking for trustworthy experts to reassure them. They’re looking for accurate information. They’re looking for a conversation that develops into a relationship. They seek to get an emotive sense of the experience of your school. And they come back multiple times, often with a differing mindset, as they go through the emotional/rational roller coaster ride one experiences when selecting their ultimate school of choice. Developing different personas based on these considerations will allow you to speak directly to your audience and truly connect their experience to your school, all with empathy grounded from their perspective.

Not All Personas Are Created Equal

Selecting the right personas for your organization is no easy task. It is a multidimensional deep dive including gleaning insights from the analytics of your site, ethno- and demographic research, and external forces that impact their daily life to build an accurate picture of the audience with which you are connecting. Reviewing this data can uncover trends about how people find and consume your content and what they are actually looking for. They provide a deeper level of understanding behind the motivations of your audience. By discovering these insights, you have the opportunity to define a meaningful content and design strategy for your website.Define a meaningful content and design strategy

Making It About the User

It’s not about you. It’s not about how your school is organized. Student-centered websites are designed to provide meaningful information to students at all steps on their journey — from overall awareness, to consideration, intent to choose, and to those students currently enrolled at your school — based on their perspective and need. Keeping user behaviors front and center during the web design process provides structure & consistency in the outline of your site- and keeps the brand experience cohesive.

Today’s higher education audiences are driven by a ‘web-first’ mindset when it comes to seeking solutions. Make sure you are covering their needs by providing answers to their questions, needs and desires and they will come to you … precisely because you speak to them.