One-Stop Higher Ed: An Online Portal Built to Boost Programs

Executive Summary

Pace University

The Challenge

Pace University set out to grow its online program offerings and attract a broader student population. The university needed a new enterprise website to serve as a central hub for these efforts, guiding prospective applicants to information about the online degrees and certificates that were right for them.

The Solution

Pace selected All Campus to manage marketing and enrollment including a thoughtful, comprehensive approach to the enterprise website. All Campus put extensive skills, resources and experience to work on creating an online portal that showed off Pace’s wide range of online programs while functioning smoothly.

Several teams at All Campus contributed:

  • Digital designers collaborated closely with Pace stakeholders to ensure the site met their needs and fit the university’s brand.
  • Front-end developers helped create search features that would lead prospective students to details on individual programs.
  • SEO specialists provided recommendations for incorporating keywords and links between the new site and existing Pace properties.

The Results

The new online.pace.edu went live in March 2020, providing a one-stop destination for prospective students interested in learning more about Pace’s programs. By incorporating feedback from faculty members and administrators, All Campus designers ensured that the portal represented the strengths and the culture of the university. While this enterprise site draws a growing amount of web traffic, it also established an online infrastructure that made the processes of launching additional online programs more efficient.

Site Traffic - Separate Domains vs. online.pace.edu
Pace Online

The All Campus Boost

  • The new site at online.pace.edu offered a customized appearance and functions based on Pace’s unique needs, laying the foundation for a long-term, productive partnership with All Campus.
  • The program finder feature encouraged deeper interactions with the enterprise site, drawing a majority of clicks from site visitors and helping them find their way to information about specific degrees and certificates.
  • Our SEO strategy ensured that online.pace.edu appeared prominently in search results for a variety of relevant keywords, becoming established as the top authority for information about online education at Pace.
  • With a central portal in place, All Campus seamlessly launched marketing and enrollment efforts for more online programs in fields like data science and cybersecurity.

Introduction: A Great Partnership Demands a Really Spectacular Website

When All Campus first paired with Pace University in summer 2018 to launch an online MS in Information Technology, it was the start of a beautiful partnership. After achieving consistent success with the MSIT program, Pace envisioned a central hub for all their online programs. All Campus was the clear choice for making that hub — online.pace.edu — a reality.

The enterprise site was an ambitious undertaking with some unique design and user experience obstacles along the way. Fortunately, All Campus has the people, processes and technology to make an awesome-looking, high-performance online hub that fits seamlessly into a university’s brand. Here’s how:


The Challenge: An Enterprise Site Custom-Built for Higher Education

By 2020, All Campus managed marketing and enrollment services for seven of Pace’s online graduate and undergraduate programs in fields ranging from business to literacy. The digital design team built an online presence for each of these programs, creating custom websites across four different subdomains. But complications emerged when All Campus committed to manage all of Pace’s online offerings going forward.

“As we entered into this agreement we felt it wasn’t scalable to continue to launch individual programs on individual subdomains and approached the idea of a dedicated site for all online programs that All Campus would manage,” said All Campus Vice President of Creative Design Steven Robinson.

Making that one-stop portal for all the university’s online degrees and certificates would require addressing several key issues:

Design Challenges

  • Plan the structure and navigation for a highly scalable site, appropriate for both for the current set of online programs managed by All Campus and the incoming waves of additional programs that would launch between 2019 and 2021.
  • Ensure the site could support programs that Pace would continue managing in-house by linking out to their respective web properties.
  • Efficiently route prospects to their program of choice, whether that meant staying on the All Campus-managed site or visiting a web property managed by one of Pace’s departments.
  • Earn the stamp of approval for the design’s appearance, functionality and accessibility from a diverse range of stakeholders at the university including administrators, program directors, webmasters, developers, marketers and communications leaders.

Designing a Partnership’s Future

Collaboration and communication were critical from the start as All Campus set out to create a highly user-friendly site that would welcome and guide prospective students as they researched the next step in their education. The design team met with stakeholders from more than 50 programs to ensure that the final result would meet the needs of everyone from faculty and program directors to Pace’s marketing and communications team. Those discussions informed the portal’s structure, appearance and language.

Figure 1: Mapping a structure for the new site.
Pace Online Sitemap

All Campus designers assembled a high-fidelity mockup to show how they would incorporate Pace’s style guidelines into the proposed site while previewing its navigation and structure.

“The mockup was an important component of the process to get buy-in from the different stakeholders from Pace,” said All Campus Senior Digital Designer Noel Robinos. “It was also a great way to present design ideas and get pre-development feedback.”

That sneak peek went a long way toward ensuring that the portal would not just meet Pace’s functional needs, but become a compelling resource for prospective students looking for the next step in their education. The team garnered valuable responses to their work that led to revisions like incorporating more images that emphasize Pace’s New York location and adding icons to clearly indicate which programs are available on campus.

Obtaining the university’s go-ahead for the overall design at this early stage forged a productive relationship that would carry on throughout the rest of the development process. All Campus maintained open lines of communication and stayed flexible in order to achieve a look and feel that would become a prominent expression of Pace’s online identity.

Figure 2: A detailed mockup offers a peek at what the website will ultimately look like and can generate great ideas.
Pace Online

But just making a site that looked great wasn’t good enough. The portal brought together extensive content for many different programs, targeting audiences at various points in their education and careers in a wide range of fields. All Campus had to make it as easy as possible for prospects to find relevant information, while still indicating the full breadth of Pace’s online program offerings.

The design team and front-end developers at All Campus teamed up to simplify site navigation by implementing:

  • A program finder that enables searches by the degree type, program type, school and number of required credits
  • A drill down search that narrows results from a general area of interest to program type and finally a focused list of relevant programs
Figure 3: Nuanced search features result in a website that’s user-friendly and engaging, even with a sprawling range of programs to explore.

 

Laying Out the Virtual Welcome Mat

All Campus officially launched the enterprise site at online.pace.edu in March 2020, migrating content from all the online programs we managed and ensuring that we linked out to online programs still managed by Pace.

In turn, Pace redirected the properties still under their own management and implemented linking recommendations from our SEO specialists. Those links served to indicate that the new site was the central authority for online Pace programs, which is highly valuable for helping the page appear high on the search engine result pages for multiple keywords.

One of the biggest long-term benefits from having the enterprise site is offering a hub of information for external sites to link back to. These links signal to Google that the website is a respected authority, which improves its position in search rankings. In turn, that higher ranking leads to even more site visitors and greater opportunities for conversions.

Figure 4: In both the desktop and mobile experiences, the search features tend to draw the most attention from visitors.
Pace Online

There’s nothing All Campus designers love more than testing their work and gathering data, so they were soon able to see their strategies paying off. Heatmaps tracked the areas that visitors tended to click or tap most often, demonstrating that highly visible and reliable search features kept them on track toward the pages for programs. Prospective student are more likely to click on the search fields than other areas of the portal, with those interactions potentially deepening and extending their engagement with the content:

  • The drill down search feature on the homepage received more than 67% of the clicks from desktop users and more than 82% of clicks from visitors on mobile devices.
  • On the program finder page, the search filter section got the most attention from users with more than 40% of clicks on desktop and about 25.5% of mobile clicks.
Figure 5: The heatmap for the program finder viewed on a desktop shows users drawn to the search filter.
Pace Online

The People Love online.pace.edu, But Does Google?

The All Campus approach always puts people first, so we make our creative decisions with user experience at the top of our priority list. However, unless Google’s algorithms like our work, those users won’t be able to find it in the first place.

By ensuring that one site would rank prominently in search results as the go-to authority for all online education at Pace University, we created new opportunities to engage prospective students. That means more chances to hit our conversion goals by encouraging site visitors to take the next, crucial step of filling out a form and requesting more information.

The portal ranks highly in search results for the broad, branded keyword searches that are most likely to result in conversions. When we had individual program sites, our strategies for branded keywords had to be narrowly directed at a specific field (e.g. “pace msit,” “pace security masters”).

As we moved content to online.pace.edu, we preserved the high rankings for those branded concentration searches, but could also now rank for broader keywords. Developing these links on related sites, all pointing to online.pace.edu, improved rankings for highly relevant phrases while the portal’s own authority spread “link equity” to other Pace program pages, enhancing their rankings as well:

  • “pace university online” brings an average of 200 searches per month
  • “pace graduate masters” and “pace online masters” each attract an average of 150 monthly searches
  • The standalone MSIT page had ranked around #12 for “online MSIT,” but exercising the portal’s authority and redirecting traffic from the the older site resulted in a #3 ranking for this vital keyword by February 2021

When programs are spread out among several individual microsites, they’re only likely to get backlinks from websites that are directly related to a specific area of study. But, with a huge assortment of disciplines and programs all in one place, we’re able to capture a much greater breadth of keywords without sacrificing how well we rank for narrower searches. By creating the online.pace.edu site, we’ve built a domain that will amplify the reach of all of Pace’s online programs, resulting in greater search authority for the whole array of sites branching off from the pace.edu root directory.


Conclusion: Going Big is Just the Beginning

A robust, centralized portal is just the first step to attract a broader range of online students while deepening the relationship between All Campus and Pace University. We now have the infrastructure in place that will allow our designers, marketing and enrollment teams to launch new programs in areas like data science and cybersecurity more efficiently. Plus, we can count on the portal site’s authority to draw web traffic, informing a growing audience about all the degrees and certificates they have to choose from. Our SEO specialists will continue to find opportunities to build additional links from high-quality sources.

“Serving Pace students is a team effort, and All Campus really stepped up by creating an enterprise site that encompasses our full range of online graduate and undergraduate offerings,” said O’Riley.

As a university, Pace prides itself on teaching students practical concepts and skills that advance their careers. With online.pace.edu up and running, we can connect more prospective students with the programs that will make a difference in their lives. And it all starts with web design that draws visitors in and helps them find exactly the information that they need.


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