Design Decisions: “Apply Now” button

Last week Wayne State was mentioned the in the Chronicle of Higher Education for our increased traffic to the admissions application from wayne.edu. I wanted to break down a little more about what we did and why.

We work very closely with the admissions office and talk regularly with some of the students who field the calls to our general phone number. This is something we do on a regular basis with any site we oversee, it is important for us to identify problems we can solve on the web before they get to a person and waste resource time. Something that came up was the question about application deadlines, prospective students would call and simply ask when they had to apply by. Wayne State has a rolling admissions schedule so a student can apply and get accepted at any time but each semester has a cut off date. In addition, since the schools/colleges/departments control the content on their websites the level of information can vary. We decided to tackle this challenge on the homepage.

First Try

We decided to play with a few options of adding the due date to the homepage. This would not only solve the prospective student issue but also give the visitor a sense of urgency if they were considering applying. What we came up with is shown on the right. It was a great first step but we got some great initial feedback, the graduate programs all have their own deadlines so we couldn’t publish just one date. We were okay at the time with just publishing the next upcoming semester for graduate.

Refinement

After seeing the page day in and day out for a few weeks we started to notice some redundancy with the “Application” and “Apply” labeling being right on top of each other. So we started to refine the style to put a little more emphasis on the upcoming semester and less on the actual due date.

We also noticed the “Giving” menu item was seriously getting overlooked. Although it was much larger the type and positioning didn’t look like it was clickable. Here is the break down of the click throughs year over year.

The 52% decrease had us worried so we knew we had to at least bring the link back up to it’s normal state. It gave us a chilling reminder that with A/B testing it is important to change only one thing at a time. Otherwise you don’t know what outside consequence you might have.

Current Design

The current design was meant to focus on the upcoming semester they would be applying for which leads to the apply wording visually. We also moved the “Giving” link back up to see if it made any difference. You can see the currently live design on the right. The results so far have been really good. The “Giving” menu item returned back to its normal click through rate. And overall we were seeing a 30% increase in the number of click throughs from the original design.

A breakdown of the clicks from Sept 13 – Dec 21, 2010 to Dec 22 – March 31, 2011 can be seen below. This is the previous 100 days and the 100 days before that.

Year over year increase

This change had us excited, it meant we were on the right path to entice visitors to take action and we had a way to track it. Looking deeper in to our analytics though we realized we were on to something even larger. Below is the year over year stats for the “Apply” link and the new style. It is a little harder because the single link was now split into two but what we found was in the same time period a year prior the “Apply” click through rate actually decreased 17%. What that means is from the previous year we were able to increase the click through rate by an astonishing 62%.

Below you can see a break down of the year over year change:

Looking to the future

We are now starting to plan our next revision of the “Apply Now” buttons to see if we can push that increase even further. Our next step is to clean up the information a little bit to make it even clearer. Here is an overview of the options we came up with. The left most image is the original version for reference, the second is the current and the rest are new.

We realized both undergrad and graduate admissions promote the same semester at the same time so we don’t need to display that label twice. Since we are combining the labels we probably need to remove the separator line so they can be in the same context. We still haven’t decided 100% on which to implement but we will be testing them when we do.

Lessons Learned

Making changes isn’t always going to improve results and improving one result isn’t necessarily going to impact the entire system. We learned that it is important to stick to one change at a time, measure and refine. Not all changes will be earth shattering and you have to accept you may be impacting the user experience for the wrong reason.

We also learned gathering proper results takes time, at least a month to see a clear picture. It may be tough to put up with the opinions of a few people if they don’t like what you are trying but in the end it is all about how it resonates with the end user. They are the only one that matters.

Lastly we learned it is important to try something, there are always opportunities for growth and far too often we hear “let’s tackle that in the next redesign”. Decide on a micro goal, figure out a way to measure it and implement. It is better to have tried and failed than to have never tried in the first place.