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Video drives deeper dives into college websites

How colleges can funnel visits from home page to admissions and other key web pages
University Business, July 2015
Karine Joly: Used correctly and purposely on the home page, videos are a fantastic opportunity to capture attention long enough to draw visitors into calls to action.
Karine Joly: Used correctly and purposely on the home page, videos are a fantastic opportunity to capture attention long enough to draw visitors into calls to action.

Who watches online videos today? Maybe a better question is, who doesn’t? According to surveys from the Pew Research Center, 63 percent of adults watch videos while 75 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds do it on their smartphone.

Video is an engaging, emotional and effective way to communicate and influence. So it was just a matter of time until video got prime real estate on a school’s home page. A few higher ed teams have embraced this trend in website design. Slideshows and “big hero image” banners on the home page have made way for soundless, autoplay video loops.

Video captures attention, no matter how subtle the movements depicted. It will make you stop—for at least a few seconds—to see what’s next.

The element that powers the seamless integration of video was introduced with HTML5, and has been supported by desktop browsers since 2011.

Stewart Foss, eduStyle founder and a recognized expert in higher education web design trends, says mobile browsers don’t support autoplay. The reason? Bandwidth can be costly for mobile users on a metered data plan.

Used correctly and purposely on the home page, videos are a fantastic opportunity to capture attention long enough to draw visitors into calls to action.

Emotional element

At George Fox University in Oregon, home page video offers an engaging and dynamic visual tour of the school. “It’s an attempt to engage users’ emotions,” says Rob Felton, director of marketing communications. By engaging a prospective student emotionally right from the start, the George Fox team thought video would lead to more productive web conversions on the admissions page. It appears they were right.

Overall user feedback has been positive since the video feature launched in October 2014.

In an online survey, 71 percent of the respondents said they like the video. Comments included, “The video gives me a better look at what George Fox is really like” and “This video felt like a virtual tour, and it also made me feel as if I was a student here.”

Improved traffic

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln also features video on its home page. “We want prospective students to watch our video and then continue to the admissions site,” says Ryan Dee, senior web designer/developer. In this case, the video is an excerpt from the university recruitment TV spot.

Video was added to Chapman University’s home page last year to better spread the school’s messages. “It’s one thing to say we are known for arts and entertainment, science and technology, and civic engagement, and another thing entirely to prove it,” says David May, director of web and interactive marketing. Chapman, located in Southern California, features several videos in a carousel visitors can browse at their own pace.

The impact on traffic was immediate. “The average time spent on the home page went up 15 percent and the bounce rate decreased by 10 percent in February 2014, as compared to January 2014,” says May. Moreover, these visually engaging stories funneled new traffic from Chapman’s home page to its undergraduate application information page. While 1 percent of visitors came from the home page in February 2013, 11 percent did in February 2014.

Georgia State University added video to its home page in January 2015. “The downtown Atlanta campus is in the heart of a constantly moving city, and without equal representation on the website, a good bit of the vibrancy, energy and adventure would be lost on visitors,” says Cody Benson, director of digital strategy at Georgia State. Some videos are used to illustrate specific stories.

“On average, a video-highlighted article gets four times the traffic it would if it contained only an image,” says Benson. See a YouTube video showcase of all the homepages mentioned in this column at http://UBmag.me/he-videos.

Karine Joly is the web editor behind www.collegewebeditor.com, a blog about higher ed web marketing, public relations and technologies. She is also the founder of www.higheredexperts.com.

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