The famous XKCD “University Website” comic has made the rounds of higher education web professionals for quite some time, even spurring this amusing .eduGuru post suggesting schools redesign their websites based on the calendar.
We thought we’d revisit the comic in the light of a recent survey we conducted. Hundreds of students from Cornell University, University of Rhode Island, Towson University, and McDaniel College told us how they really felt about their university’s website.
The total survey included questions about everything from how users learn about the social scene at their college to their preferences on how they’d like to receive news about campus events. In this post, we’ll take on XKCD by focusing on just one question.
We asked: “What are the most useful features of your school’s website?” Here are the replies.
Note: students could check all that apply.
1. Academic information
No surprise here—70% of students said that academic information was one of the useful features of their school’s website. Details about departments, majors and programs, and academic requirements should all be readily accessible. And, yes, XKCD, the academic calendar should be easy to find, too!
2. Events calendar
Our favorite comic indicates that schools want to showcase “event promotions,” but that visitors could care less. Our survey indicates differently. Rather, 54% of students said the events calendar was one of the most useful features of their school’s website. Making your school’s calendar a prominent feature of your website helps alums, current students, and prospective students know what’s happening on campus at any given time. Take that, XKCD.
3. Student and faculty directory
XKCD got this one right. It’s tied with events calendars, with 54% of students finding a student and faculty directory useful. Can your site’s visitors easily access this directory?
34% of respondents think news is a useful feature of their school’s website. Now, we didn’t narrow our question down to the XKCD category of “alumni in the news,” but we’d suggest publishing only very important news on your homepage to keep many of your visitors happy without alienating the rest.
XKCD pinpointed a “useable campus map” as something people go looking for on a school’s website, but in our survey, only 33% of students indicated that the campus map was a useful feature. Now, our survey was not limited to new students, and we’d imagine this number would increase for that narrower audience. We’d certainly suggest keeping your map easy to find for visitors and parents, but don’t worry about devoting major real estate to it on your homepage.
6. Athletics information
XKCD left “athletics” off the diagram, and turns out, a lot of students left that off their list, too. Only 18% of students indicated that athletics information was a useful feature. Watch out for devoting too much space to your sports teams.
The total survey included questions about everything from how users learn about the social scene at their college to their preferences on how they’d like to receive news about campus events. In this post, we’ll take on XKCD by focusing on our survey question 5. We’ll go deeper into the answers on this question here than we do in our report, so you’re in the right place. While we of course enjoy the comic depiction of totally useless school websites, it turns out that the comic isn’t always right. How does our data align with your school’s priorities for its website?