CET Academic Programs: High School & Pre-College Division
CET Academic Programs is a study abroad organization that has been running educational programs abroad for college students since 1982. In 2017, they launched a new high school and pre-college programs division, necessitating a website redesign to incorporate these programs into their website.
Project duration: 4 weeks
Who was involved: me (project lead), Director of Technology, Director of Marketing, Director of High School & Pre-College Division.
Incomplete information: these programs had never been run before and we were working with very rough sketches of what the programs would look like.
Long-term growth: with a rapidly expanding portfolio of programs, our design needed to work with any number of countries or programs, along with a potential gap year division happening in the future.
Short time frame: only 4 weeks to launch during a busy time in our team's schedule. When we switched servers to start our work we discovered our Wordpress plug-in was depreciating some of our short codes which made any edits take longer than we had originally planned.
Discover how much overlap in content the two divisions have. Parse out what information can be replicated, what needs to be built from scratch.
Determine the audience of who would be looking at the pages. Would these pages be written for parents or students? From this, we needed to identify the key objectives of these users.
Explore how people talk about high school and pre-college programs. What type of key words and language is used?
I brainstormed with the new head of the division to discuss what, from her perspective, the purpose of the website was, potential challenges, as well as CET’s positioning in the field.
Then I ran a detailed analysis of the existing website through Google Analytics. In particular, I looked at SEO, content information, demographic information, keywords, site performance, page flow, and search rankings.
This was followed by a competitive analysis of study abroad organizations that had both college and high school divisions. I wanted to look at how they handled site architecture as well as the terms they used. I also looked at search rankings for various high school and pre-college programs abroad.
We needed to maintain brand consistency but at the same time achieve a clear separation of the two divisions since high school students couldn't go on college programs and vice-versa.
Special attention paid to highlight the integral elements of the company: Academic excellence, history in the field, and health & safety
The site needed a new menu. The number of program countries CET operates in has grown significantly since the website was last designed and the drop down “Programs” menu was too long. This would be a good spot to separate out the divisions and help people orient themselves on the site.
When it came to site architecture we decided on a middle ground. We would need to leverage our history in the field and our name recognition to win over parents, but the two divisions had significant differences in content, thus eliminating the option of fully integrating their programs into our college pages.
While our program pages would be separate, we would rewrite our About Us section and FAQ section to be inclusive of both divisions.
Google Analytics data: much of our program traffic came from universities study abroad offices' websites linking to our pages. Since many of our college students land directly on specific program pages with prior knowledge of the program from campus brochures, faculty, or study abroad office staff, their behavior would differ from our high school audience, many of which would reach us directly from internet searches.
Insights from Testing
It's not obvious what CET does immediately from the homepage. All someone has to go off of is "Academic Programs" but that could be a number of things. Need to clearly state that these are study abroad programs.
There is a "landing page" of sorts for high school and pre-college pages but not a matching one for college programs. That's confusing, especially when seen on the menu.
No contact information on the high school program section itself. Users should be able to satisfy most of their questions without venturing into other parts of the website and who to contact is likely going to be one of them. The high school division staff were added into the Admissions & Application page.
After looking at our SEO it was apparent that we needed some keyword heavy paragraphs added into various pages. For example, the programs overview page got a paragraph at the bottom about why studying abroad in high school is important.
The final concept was informed by the user testing done on earlier iterations.
We added the phrase "Let study abroad change your life. Starting now." to make it obvious that we were a study abroad organization, and the buttons allowed us one more portal for people to enter into their respective division overview pages.
We created a college "homepage" of sorts with college-specific information on it. Program countries, scholarship information, program features. More importantly, it mirrored our High School Pre-College homepage so they each had a matching page in our menu and better mirrored each other.
We built out more High School & Pre-College resources directly into their overview page. While the information is repeated in our About Us and Your Questions Answered sections, we felt it was important to give people a complete picture of who we were and what resources we offered without them needing to leave the High School & Pre-College "space" of the website.
What went Well
New menu: it helped with overall site migration and helped create a clear separation of the two divisions.
The new homepage: it's a good landing page for visitors and because it contains less "stuff" than our previous homepage design, it loads faster which was an issue in our previous version.
What Could Have Gone Bettre
More feedback from users especially early on. We don't have the resources to reach high school students and their parents directly so we relied on informal connections such as coworkers who were parents or coworkers who them themselves had done a high school study abroad program.
We needed to better think through how our Your Questions Answered posts would be divided amongst the two divisions. There is a lot of useful information in there, but only some of it is useful for high school students. We ended up created a separate High School & Pre-College category in the end, as well as modifying the other entries to make it college and/or high school specific. This will be a big point of focus for our new website relaunch next year.