Website Redesign Market Research for Higher Education Institutions

website market research higher educationIf you work for a college or university, a website redesign can feel like an overwhelming and daunting task right? How do I even get started? What do we need to keep? What do we need to change? All common questions you're likely asking yourself right now.

Wouldn't it be great if you had data which pointed you down the right path? What if you could be handed data which gave you the knowledge, power, and confidence to know the decisions you made for your website redesign reflected what your users want. Who could argue with this?

A market research study can provide all of this and more for your college or university. In this blog post, we'll discuss a few different market research options you can pursue to lay a foundation for the website redesign at your higher educational institution.

Using market research before you embark on a website redesign ensures you are receiving feedback from the most relevant audiences: your users.

It all starts with an online survey.

Phase 1: Online Survey

An online survey is the most cost-effective way to collect feedback. It provides high-quality data quickly. The sample pool would be made up of several stakeholder audiences and website users at your college or university.

Separate pools of invitations would be created to survey prospective students, military veterans, current students, alumni, parents or family, and faculty or staff. The online survey typically lasts between 5 and 7 minutes and includes 20 to 25 questions. If response rates fall below expectations, follow-up phone calls can be placed.

The intent of the online survey would be to measure usage, perceptions, needs, and behaviors on the website for the key stakeholder audiences. Questions and wording can be customized to ensure the script applies to each audience. Results can be analyzed and the segments can be compared across one another. User personas and user journeys would be created for each audience based on the online survey data.

Google Analytics data is insightful but it focuses to much on the "what". Custom market research data acquired for surveys helps colleges and universities understand the "why". Why did users click here? Why did users drop out there? Why did users spend over a minute on this page? Here is some more information on matching custom market research with user experience (UX) data.

The online survey would be the first step of the market research Phase I study for a website redesign. The online survey uses a question at the end of the survey to ask respondents if they would be interested in participating in follow-up market research for your institution. Those who are interested will serve as a feeder to assist with recruitment for the follow-up in-depth qualitative portion of the project.

This process flips the qualitative before quantitative approach on its head but offers several cost-saving opportunities for colleges and universities. This process has been used for several other higher education institutions in Central New York and Upstate New York by Drive Research.

It also provides the opportunity for teams to dig deeper and explore responses from the online survey. The survey research would be broken down into 4 key components: (1) kickoff and objective definition, (2) set up, survey design and testing, (3) soft-launch and full fieldwork, and (4) analysis and reporting.

At the conclusion of the online survey, the higher education market research firm will deliver a comprehensive PowerPoint report with executive summary, infographics, recommendations, and question-by- question results. These findings would be fully explored in the Phase II follow-up market research.

The quantitative before qualitative approach offers many benefits. One of which is saving time and money in recruiting for focus groups or interviews.

Phase 2A: Focus Groups

For this Option A, Drive Research recommends conducting 2 focus groups on-site at your higher education institution. These 2 groups can be held consecutively one weekday evening (5:30 PM and 7:30 PM) in a conference room or classroom setting. A total of 14 participants would be recruited for each group along with 2 unpaid alternative stand-by participants to seat 8 to 12 for each group.

One group would be with current students and another group with be with inquiry students. These are the 2 most relevant audiences for users of websites. Holding the groups at the college or university is the most cost-effective and convenient option for the qualitative market research. It also creates a benefit to show-off the campus setting to the prospective students group.

Participants would be pre-recruited through the online survey (Phase 1). Interest in the focus groups will be acquired through these email invitations so follow-up phone calls can be placed to confirm participation. Once confirmed, participants would be mailed a letter with more information and FAQs about the focus groups. This letter has shown to significantly improve attendance over emails. Participants would receive a confirmation call 48 hours prior to the focus groups and a reminder text message the day of the focus groups. Participants will be paid $75 as a thank you for their feedback.

To further save on cost, colleges or universities are welcome to invite a video production student to record the focus groups. This has been utilized at other institutions who have pursued this website redesign market research. Drive Research will digitally record the audio for the focus groups at no additional charge.

The moderator would develop a guide to organize the discussion with students. The guide will include live showings of the website, scenarios, and pointed questions to address the objectives at-hand. Participants would also be required to fill out a participation packet as part of the focus group discussion.

At the conclusion of the focus groups, Drive Research will send a topline focus groups summary to the higher education institution with key themes and takeaways within 24 hours of the conclusion of the focus groups. Again, Drive Research would also prepare a comprehensive PowerPoint report with executive summary of themes, infographics, and recommendations. These findings will tie together with other core objectives of the Phase 1 scope. Similar to the ending of Phase 1, the market research company will visit with the higher education institution to debrief on the findings and evaluate next steps.

Colleges and universities often immediately jump to focus groups as a form of qualitative research. User experience (UX) interviews allow more 1-on-1 time to explore and offer more flexibility to obtain feedback from several audiences separately and without group bias.

Phase 2B: User Experience (UX) In-Depth Interviews (IDIs)

For this Option B, Drive Research recommends conducting a series of 15 user experience (UX) in-depth interviews (IDIs). These interviews would be split up among key stakeholder audiences for the college including prospective students, military veterans, current students, alumni, parents or family, and faculty or staff.

Interviews would be pre-scheduled through email and telephone calls to confirm participation. Each interview would last approximately 20 to 25 minutes. The interviews will be conducted by telephone through screen sharing technologies like Join.Me.

Each interview would be conducted with a Research-Analyst or higher-level moderator. The interviewer would provide the interviewee a code to share screens so the interviewer can share the higher education institution's website during the interview. Interview participants would need to have access to a PC at the time of the interview.

An interview guide would be developed with specific scenarios to walk participants through live during the discussion. These UX interviews are the best way to provide live in-the-moment feedback as users browse websites.

The interviewer would be able to probe on specific paths and actions users take on the website. The benefit of 1-on- 1 UX research interviews is 15 users will share 20 to 25 minutes of feedback for a total over 6 hours of feedback. This creates a larger pool of feedback than what can be acquired from 2 focus groups of 8 to 12 participants sharing time. Interviews can also be more evenly distributed across all stakeholder audiences. Participants would be offered $50 as a thank you for their feedback.

At the conclusion of the UX phone interviews, Drive Research would also prepare a comprehensive PowerPoint report with executive summary of themes, infographics, and recommendations. These findings will tie together with other core objectives of the Phase 1 scope. Information collected in this process can also be used to inform the next phase of the website redesign project.

Interested in Website Redesign Market Research for Higher Education?

Drive Research is a higher education market research company located in Syracuse, NY. We work with colleges and universities across the country to assist with their market research needs. These website market research studies provide our clients a wealth of data to help guide next steps in website redesign.

Contact us at 315.303.2040 or email us at

User Experience (UX)