For modern universities, almost everything is paperless and online. Students can browse for classes, homework can be submitted and graded, and exciting college events can be announced and hosted online, whether through your university website or a specific online portal.
One consistent aspect of your university’s internet activities is online registrations. If you’re on the web design or marketing team for a university, you understand the importance of a compelling and well-designed registration form.
All types of audiences who engage with your university online are familiar with using online forms, whether they’re a prospective student applying to your school or an alumnus donating a gift.
However, not every online form that’s started is finished. Whether the questions took too long to answer or the user simply got distracted with other online content, a poorly designed form can be enough to drive away even your most passionate registrants.
We at Kanopi are tech consultants and have helped numerous universities build out engaging and intuitive college websites. Using our web page design and user experience expertise, we’ve compiled a couple of tips to take your university forms to the next level and increase online registrations. But first, we’ll quickly go over why forms are so important and how your university might use them.
Why are online forms important for colleges and universities?
As mentioned earlier, almost every audience who interacts with your college online fills out forms. Online forms are not just used to register students, staff, alumni, and others for your university offerings. They’re also the most valuable place to gain critical insights and gather essential data on your various audiences.
What can you do with this data? AccuData says, “Data marketing adds specificity and efficiency to your strategy that you wouldn’t be able to access otherwise.”
For example, a recruitment event registration form captures information like names, contact information, and possible majors for your institution’s future potential students. Without an effective form, you’d have difficulty communicating with them before the event and following up afterward. Recruiting students is much easier when you have the correct data on hand.
Here are some other common scenarios where your university will likely need online forms:
- Campus events for current students: The wonderful part about joining a university with an active campus life is the various events offered! From cultural events where you taste different food to performances done by the comedy club, you will probably use forms to gain an estimated headcount.
- Alumni fundraising events: Your alumni are some of the most valuable people to your institution. Because they experienced your offerings before and took advantage of the opportunities provided, they know what your university means to them and how worthwhile it is. Inviting them to fundraising events they have to register for, like galas or auctions, is a great way to bring alumni together and raise a good bit of money.
- Online donation forms: Related to fundraising events, you’ll likely have donation forms for supporters to make a gift. In reference to the donor journey, post your online donation form clearly on your university website with prominent links and buttons sending supporters to the right page.
- Virtual tours: Sometimes prospective students want to learn more about your university but do not have the time nor the money to visit in person. Virtual tours have become super popular and can either be a pre-recorded video or a livestream done in real-time!
Online forms are essential for universities for a couple of reasons. They’re the catalyst to having people engage directly with your offerings. They’re also valuable opportunities to collect data and know more about your various audiences. This can then optimize your marketing efforts and help you create targeted and more personalized content to connect with each of your supporters, alumni, prospective and current students, and more!
However, not all online forms are the same, and it’s easier said than done to ensure your supporters complete your form 100% of the time. Read on to explore our top tips when it comes to improving your university online form strategy.
3 Ways Universities Can Create Strong Online Registration Forms
Imagine a prospective student is browsing through your website to learn more about your school. They click through different pages to look at the classes you offer and the types of events you host.
They decide that they want to attend a recruiting event and talk to someone about possibly applying. After a couple of minutes of looking around your site, they end up at your event calendar and find an online virtual webinar where prospective students can ask questions and learn more about attending.
However, the form to register for the webinar has over 15 questions. You also can’t quite figure out who is hosting the webinar and on what platform it’ll take place. After attempting a couple of questions, they end up exiting the page and never going back. What happened?
A couple of things went wrong here, which we’ll address in our top tips to creating strong online registration forms at your university.
1. Create a streamlined registration experience.
The great thing about the internet is its sheer convenience. Instead of driving to a restaurant and sitting down to order food, we can now simply open up one of 10 food delivery apps and have it sent straight to our front doors. You should also mimic this convenience in your online registration experience!
In our previous example, the user had to click multiple pages to find the event calendar page and the correct online form. This breaks up the registration process and can even cause users to click away for good. You only have 7 seconds to capture user attention and help them find the content they’re looking for.
To create a streamlined registration experience, we recommend including clear calls-to-actions across your entire site to the relevant forms. You should also have all significant events and experiences hosted on your main navigation menu for easy access. Here are some other tips that can help you keep that registration process as convenient as possible:
- Embed the form within your website so that you don’t send users to a third-party page.
- Only ask for the essential information to keep the form short. In fact, according to the results from the 2019 E-Expectations® Trend Report, which surveyed 900 students, 47% of seniors, 34% of juniors, and 38% of sophomores said they would abandon a form if they considered it too long.
- Understand what registrants are willing to share. Don’t ask questions that your registrants are wary of answering or that are useless to your university. Avoid form roadblocks by using research to assist in your choice of questions. For instance, you might find that students are more likely to share an email address than a cell phone number.
As soon as someone lands on your website, the steps it takes to fill out their desired forms should be as minimal as possible. Streamlining your online registration experience is essential if you want to increase sign-ups, so make sure to follow these tips.
Read Next: How to Create Forms Students Will Complete
2. Make use of the rest of the registration page.
When someone is filling out an online form, it is usually to sign-up for an event, an online experience, or even apply to a school. The online form likely lives on your university website on a dedicated page.
But what about the rest of the registration page? How can you leverage this space to your advantage and even increase your chances of more registrations?
In our example, the prospective student had trouble figuring out who exactly was hosting the webinar and the platforms needed to participate. This lack of information can be enough to turn away even the most passionate and excited registrants.
To make the most of the rest of your registration page, make sure it has all of the essential information on the experience. For an online webinar’s registration, you might include the date, topic, time, platform, and other details. For a more comprehensive alumni event, your registration page should display the dress code, event type, date, and a tentative schedule of activities.
Along with hosting important details of the experience, your registration page should also be branded effectively to your school. Using your content management system (CMS), adjust the colors, embed your logo, and use pictures of your students and alumni in action to connect users deeper with your university brand.
We recommend investing in a CMS with wide customizability that allows for this type of personalized and valuable content. If you’re unhappy with your own CMS, Drupal and WordPress are popular options for schools because of their ease of use and expandability.
3. Ensure the form is accessible and compliant.
Having accessible and compliant online web content isn’t just helpful advice for your registration forms; it's necessary to creating a successful and engaging university website.
Taking insight from Kanopi’s article on demystifying accessibility and compliance, here are some quick definitions:
- Web accessibility describes ensuring that anyone can access your website despite ability or needs.
- Web compliance describes how your site complies with specific laws and regulations like the American’s With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
To summarize, an inaccessible and non-compliant website and form wouldn’t just turn away potential prospects, but it could even leave you at risk for compliance charges and legal issues. Without full accessibility and compliance, you also promote an unsafe and unfair environment to those who may have disabilities or just read forms in different languages.
Here are some quick tips to ensure your web accessibility and compliance:
- Make sure all of your content can be read easily by following color contrast standards. Most text should have a contrast ratio of 4.5:1.
- Use labels with voice commands to focus on the fields that need to be completed for those with reading or visual impairments.
- Make sure your forms have large clickable buttons and areas for those with limited dexterity.
- Ensure users can translate your form to all major languages.
- To make forms as inclusive as possible, make sure the first name and last name fields can accommodate as few as two characters, and no top limit on character count. Also allow for spaces and hyphens, as some names are made up to two words.
- If a gender field is required, don’t limit it to only “male” and “female.” Add other options as well, such as “Prefer not to answer”.
These items not only allow more people to register for your university’s offerings but increases the accessibility and convenience of your entire website. More people can start engaging with your offerings, leaving you with more opportunities to recruit students, make fundraising asks to alumni, and offer exciting events to your community.
Your university has a hundred different engagements and events lined up, whether it’s in-person, on campus, or online. This also means that tons of students, prospects, parents, and alumni are all heading to your online registration forms and signing up. Use this article to improve your university online form strategy and watch those registrations skyrocket. Good luck!
About the Author: Anne Stefanyk
As Founder and CEO of Kanopi Studios, Anne helps create clarity around project needs, and turns client conversations into actionable outcomes. She enjoys helping clients identify their problems, and then empowering the Kanopi team to execute great solutions. Anne is an advocate for open source and co-organizes the BayArea Drupal Camp.