For Vanguard University, an enviable location on the California coast lends itself to some pretty impressive imagery, but this site is so much more than just beautiful photography. It's a modern, immersive website experience that guides its varied visitors down clear paths to information and conversion.
A Discovery Project Rooted in UX
For Linsey Carbone, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications for the school, the site represents a true partnership with the Finalsite design and deployment team that kicked the project off on the right foot with a two day, on-site strategic consulting project that included fifteen focus groups with stakeholders from every constituency.
In these sessions, participants had opportunities to express frustrations, goals, requests, and suggestions for Vanguard's new website. Constituents were asked to describe how they'd like to navigate the web, what a new website needed to do for them, and much more.
Overall, users found the old site to be confusing, academic programs were inconsistent, the site had gotten too large, there were too many calendars and no one knew where to turn for the information they needed.
Knowing these shortcomings, Linsey and the design team were able to start with a clean slate for their Best in Class project and design a new site architecture built for action with a design that reflected the school's unique personality and mission. One of Finalsite's top designers, Julianne Hamilton, made the trip from Baltimore and shared, "Visiting the school onsite, I saw it's bright, sunny, California energy for myself and knew the design needed to reflect that."
Organizing the Site for Multiple Audiences
With undergraduate, graduate and professional programs, Vanguard faced the challenge that most colleges and universities do: how do I personalize the site experience when we have so much going on, and students might be interested in more than one thing? The answer: site sections for each audience that offer a clear path to conversion. When users arrive at the homepage, they are directed to click on one of three site sections for undergraduates, graduates and professional programs,and are led to internal pages that feel more like a site-within-a-site that share relevant information and value props for each area.
Designer Julianne said, "Having clear goals for the new site helped us reach a solution that was not only interesting visually, but strategic, 'fixing' the funnels for a variety of applicants."
Colorful calls-to-action to inquire, visit or apply direct users to take the next step at the bottom of each page, clearly guiding them down the right path. Senior Director of Marketing and Communications Linsey shared, "Thanks to Finalsite, we now have site architecture that actually enhances our value proposition, which is a big win for us as a Marketing Department.
Finalsite's front-end designer Lindsey Noble's vision brought this site architecture to life. She added, "Building such an innovative design at the university level was impressive and effective. Our team planned, designed and built a 'tool-box' of reusable assets that Vanguard implemented throughout their site to maintain consistency, while simultaneously highlighting each path a higher-ed student could take. Because of the multilevel dimension of their academics - from application to giving back - the organization of their site and their ability to compose pages within that structure was imperative. Vanguard wove a beautiful and dynamic thread throughout the entire site at every level. It was really exciting to see all of the pieces come together!"
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An Eye Towards Giving
Engaging donors was a main goal of the school's advancement program, and their new Giving section with a custom header brings visitors to a colorful, photo-rich site section that inspires. "Stories of Giving" run along the right side of the page, connecting the school's centrally-placed strategic priorities with students and mission. Clear calls-to-action to "Give Now" guide donors to the next step.
Alumni are pivotal to the Vanguard community, and their custom microsite boosts engagement with invitations to upcoming events, attractive photo slideshows, and clear ways that alumni can get involved in events on campus and off.
An Awesome Campus Tour
We can't overstate how beautiful this seaside campus is, with Santa Barbara-style architecture, and their campus tour doesn't disappoint. Using You Visit, visitors are taken on an incredible, VR-style walk around the campus, with 360 degree views of campus building, dorms, and outdoor spaces. Vanguard doesn't just leave visitors there, however. Colorful calls-to-action to "Register Now," "Schedule a Visit," or "Apply Online" stand out at the top of the screen, again guiding prospective students towards the logical next step.
Social Media Mashups to Share Information in One Place
After learning in the on-site focus group sessions that social media is the single biggest source of campus news for current students, Linsey and the Finalsite team set out to incorporate Finalsite social media mashups onto key pages, with #WeAreVU pulling in posts from Instagram and Twitter. And, knowing that prospective students visit social media to get a sense of the school's culture and community, mashups play prominently on the undergraduate pages, especially in the Student Life section.
Organized Portals for the School Community
The school knew that a majority of its site visitors would be prospective students, but they also needed to provide an amazing experience for their current community, who used the site to access everything from current news and important forms to course schedules and transcripts. Finalsite's Portals for Employees, Students and Parents make that information available behind a login screen. Web Content Manager Rachel Lee shared, "From the user perspective, the segmented portals have been a big win!"
Support + Training= Success
When Finalsite creates a site, we know that it's essential that the school be "taught to fish" before handing over the reigns. Vanguard's team knew this, and invested early in training key site admins and ensuring that the site's launch and kickoff for the 2017-2018 school year would be a success. Linsey shared, "Finalsite's customer support is extraordinary – even after hours the Finalsite team manages to go above and beyond, removing roadblocks and facilitating strong user adoption for our organization."
This project was a success thanks to the school's ongoing commitment to making their site a best-in-class experience in every way, and to partnering with Finalsite beyond launch. Linsey remarked that the school is glad they chose us as a vendor, saying, "Even before we had made our selection, Finalsite impressed us by approaching the project as a partner, not just a vendor. Finalsite offered all the necessary elements from competitive pricing, a stable and secure platform, a strong design team, ample flexibility, but ultimately, it was personalized attention coupled with a robust list of intensely satisfied clients that sealed the deal."
We're thrilled Vanguard University is part of the Finalsite family and look forward to many years of collaboration and success.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hadley is Finalsite's marketing and communication manager and is a former independent school teacher, fundraiser and marketing director with a passion for cooking, travel, and spending time outdoors with her growing family. She founded and produces the FinalsiteFM podcast network and enjoys meeting Finalsite clients from around the world.