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How to Create Prominent Personas for Your Higher Education Website

July 24, 2018

What Are Personas? 

User personas are examples of the real people who engage with your website. Unlike traditional target audience segmentation, they provide greater depth and context by focusing on one character who embodies the predominant qualities of the larger group.

Developing user personas (or ideal customer profiles) and documenting the typical user flow will help you to develop a content map that corresponds to the journey of your personas--ultimately creating a better user experience overall.

Typically, persona research includes:

  • Background and Demographic Information - Who are they?
  • Psychographics - What do they value? What are their goals? 
  • Marketing Specifics - Where do they search for information?     
  • What do they want from your site?
  • Purchasing Influencers - When are they likely to purchase?      
  • What are their current beliefs, problems & common objections?

Marketing to College Students in an Age of Information Overload

The higher ed market landscape is overloaded with information but what does the data tell us? According to the New American College Survey, students have to locate and weigh an enormous amount of information to select an institution and program that fits their needs.

It is not surprising that 63% of recently-enrolled and prospective students say they have often felt lost when researching college or financial aid options.

College websites (63%) and online search engines (59%) were the most popular sources of information that prospective and recently-enrolled students used to learn about colleges, but some students faced difficulty locating important information. Forty-three percent of students using college websites had trouble finding how much a college costs, and 42 percent had trouble finding information about financial aid and scholarships.

Lack of information or misinformation can hinder a student’s decision to apply and ultimately enroll. Since students are likely to use institutional resources to get more information during their college search, institutions must do a better job at giving students clear information, including price of attendance. When students search for a college, it is clear that they use multiple sources of information to make the decision about where to attend.

While it’s encouraging that the majority (57 percent) of students say they found just the right amount of helpful information to make their college decisions, there are still many students who either say they didn’t find enough information or that they found a lot of information that wasn’t very helpful.

Targeted User Personas for the Best UX

Based on the research and the market landscape data, it is common that in higher ed we can group the targeted groups into primary and secondary personas. A primary persona is the main target and is chosen based off of the highest amount of goals met. A secondary persona is almost entirely satisfied with all of the primary’s needs minus one or two. 

Examples of Primary Personas in Higher Ed (and Their FAQs)

  • Prospective Students are looking to visit a site where they can put themselves in a student’s shoes. They want to paint a picture of the anticipated student experience:  What campus activities are going on? What’s on the menu at the dining hall? What courses would I be taking?
  • Prospective Parents are looking to see if where their child will be in a great environment where they will thrive. They often view it as an investment: How do I go about finding information on financial aid? Are their scholarship opportunities? Does the campus help with finding internships or job placements?
  • Admitted Students are looking for upcoming news and events regarding them starting their college career. Common questions include: When is orientation? What can I pick classes? Where will I be living? How do I get involved on campus?
  • Alumni/Community are primarily looking to stay engaged with their alma mater. They want to know what’s new and up and coming:Are there any reunions? Any big changes on campus? How can I give back to the campus community?

Secondary Personas

  • Current Students/Faculty are primarily looking for calendar information such as dates and events. A lot of current students will use an intranet/portal where professors will post grades and assignments or look for library resources for their research. Faculty will want to know where to find this type of content to send their students to the right place. 

After the profiles and customer journeys are mapped out, you now have a complete understanding of your users; their needs and wants, motivations and influences as well as any pain points or challenges they face. With the time and effort you put into the research and building out these personas, you will have a great reference (with data to support it!) that will reflect a successful website targeting your audience groups and giving them the best overall user experience possible.

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