Deans out, social, smartphones and story telling in - ten years of studying business school websites

Ten years ago, CarringtonCrisp ran its first study of business school websites, WebWorks.  Much has changed, not just the name of the study.

As we prepare to start the next round of the study, now called GenerationWeb, it seemed an appropriate time to look back, as well as forward. 

The first study concluded, ‘Don’t put the Dean on the home page’.  The school home page, then the most likely landing page for a new site visitor, could be compared to the most expensive piece of real estate in a city and yet a school had to build a mixed use development and still turn a healthy profit.  A photo of a greying, white man, did little to entice a visitor to delve further in to a site nor much to differentiate one school from another.  Today, most schools leave the Dean off the home page.

The first study, perhaps ahead of its time, also concluded that ‘Content is just as important as design, and possibly more so’.  Progress on this issue has been less rapid than moving Deans from home pages.

Content has improved, but too many schools still lead with bland messaging that suggests their school is big, a leader, global, sustainable, entrepreneurial and a host of other words that are rarely backed up by much evidence.  Where schools are getting it right they are using story telling, with their research, their students, their alumni and much more, to bring to life their brand.

Increasingly, those messages are not left to the website, but appear on social media and the messages are created by the students, the staff and the alumni rather than the marketing team.  Most importantly, this user-generated content has an authentic feel, making it more powerful than the corporate voice.  The current GenerationWeb study found that 48% of prospective students search for information about business schools on social media.

Perhaps the other most significant change is where prospective students access school websites.  Just five years ago only 5% of those considering a business degree were using their smartphone to access a website; today numbers are nearer 60% and in some parts of the world higher still.  Schools without a strong mobile presence and a strong social presence will put themselves at a disadvantage when trying to attract new students.

To take part in the next round of the GenerationWeb study and get a critical review of your school’s digital presence alongside a report on global student use of the web, contact us at or call us on +44 (0)20 7229 7373. 

Over the next few weeks read further stories about how digital communication is changing and changing the way business schools attract students.