They’re your experts. The heart of your academic programs. But faculty can throw a wrench into your school’s prospects if they’re tasked with writing web content.
“Scholarly language doesn’t sync up with the internal monologue prospective students are having,” offers Nicole Smith, associate creative director at Collegis Education. “It’s just not as conversational or as top-of-mind.”
The truth is that overly scholarly web content can drive away prospective students. It’s dense. It’s excessive. And it can go over the heads of visitors of your website for a number of reasons.
Keep reading to learn why taking a more user-friendly approach to writing your web content is a win-win for all.
Understanding today’s digital reading behaviors
Consuming content online is very different from other types of reading. It’s not like reading a textbook. It’s even different from reading a print newspaper.
In fact, many would assert that when it comes to reading online, users aren’t actually “reading” at all. This action would be better described as browsing or scanning. These selective reading habits come as a result of users having shorter attention spans when reading online.
Screen-based reading typically involves one-time reading and non-linear reading. Readers spot keywords as they scan the page for their content of interest and jump around the page as desired. This leads to users typically absorbing the main ideas rather than the finer details.
Once you understand the content consumption behaviors of today’s prospective students, you can then make improvements to your website that cater to these users. If you avoid adapting to these changes, you run the risk of turning students away.
Catering to your audience
Many of today’s college students are digital natives. They’ve grown up surrounded by technology, and it’s shaped how they consume content.
Nearly every member of Gen Z (born mid 1990s through the 2010s) has a smartphone – this is how they access information. And they’re not alone – mobile device traffic now accounts for more than half of the world’s web access.
But for Gen Z in particular, mobile devices are exceptionally critical. One study reported they spend an average of 4 hours and 15 minutes on their devices each day. And they crave transparency in the content they consume.
“Students today want authentic information. They don’t want to have to weed through academic nomenclature, formal language, or marketing lingo,” Smith explains. “They want real content that supports the real concerns and aspirations they have about earning a college degree.”
Also consider the user experience. Dense web content is hard to navigate on a desktop — and it’s even more difficult on the constricting size of a mobile device. This further supports the importance of cutting through the content clutter and bringing forth the most essential and relevant information they’re seeking.
The hazards of complex content
Did you know that Ernest Hemingway wrote at a fourth-grade reading level? Jane Austin’s simple prose is ranked at fifth grade readability. And F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work only barely reaches eighth grade reading levels.
This is not to say their work was shallow or overly simplistic. But these greats mastered the art of accessible writing.
And this is critical, because the average reading level is lower than you might expect. The average American has the readability level of a seventh or eighth grader. It’s a good rule of thumb to aim for an eighth grade readability level when writing for the general public.
“Scholarly language is denser and tends to leverage a higher grade-level than incoming students are using in their daily lives,” Smith explains. “Despite it often containing compelling nuggets of information, it takes more effort to digest.”
Collegiate web pages — such as program pages and course descriptions — are often written by faculty. And while they are certainly experts in their respective subjects, they tend to write in an academic style that can be difficult to process by the public.
According to Smith, it’s easy for institutions to be in such proximity to the content they’re putting on the website that they don’t step back and see it clearly from the user’s perspective. “This leads to content that isn’t edited or consolidated for the student and it can be difficult to sift through.”
Insert faculty into the process by ensuring they provide foundational information at the start, while allowing web content writers to edit and construct content in a way that’s engaging and easy for your audience to digest.
The advantages of simple writing
It’s basic logic – the simpler your content is, the more widely it’s comprehended. You want your message to resonate with as many readers as possible, so don’t turn any away with complex or intimidating language.
One good indicator of quality content is “fluency,” or the ability for the reader to get through the writing quickly, without being slowed down by intensive vocabulary. It’s about reducing friction for your audience.
The idea of fluency in content is that your audience will inevitably consume and retain more information when it’s easy to digest. They’re not getting hung up on excessive vocabulary or overly wordy prose.
Start by identifying the key messages you want to get across to your reader. Make sure those statements are prominent on the page and not hidden in a web of detailed information. Once you’ve caught the eye of a prospective student and influenced them to ask for more information, you’ll have an opportunity to relay more complex details via follow-up communication.
The bottom line is this: The simpler your messaging is, the faster your readers will process the content; and the faster they process the content, the more of it they can consume.
Keep it simple
Prospective students want quick access to the information they’re seeking online – there’s no need to disguise it with overly complex language. Instead, find a balance by engaging your subject matter experts early on and streamlining that information into something engaging and relevant to this generation of prospective students.
And keep in mind that the content is just one part of the equation. Learn more about what today’s incoming students are seeking online in our article, “6 Things Gen Z Students Expect From Your College Website.”