Top 10 must-have web CMS features for higher education institutions

Content that connects is at the heart of every digital experience, and students expect to have seamless content experiences across several channels on all their devices, anywhere in the world.

For higher education institutions, a powerful Web Content Management System (CMS)—or rather, a digital engagement or experience platform that goes beyond traditional CMS capabilities—is vital.

Your higher education digital engagement platform needs to extend beyond website content management, providing acomprehensive and personalized digital experience for students, faculty, and staff.

The strategic approach to choosing your CMS and DXP platform

Choosing the right CMS or digital engagement platform for your university or college takes more than ticking off features from a list.

A better approach is to be more strategic, looking at your goals for the next five years and then ensuring that your CMS/digital engagement platform has the features you’ll need to achieve them.

Aside from the features we list below, we believe the right CMS and digital engagement platform for your higher education institution should offer a good level of support, feature enhancements and bug fixes, documentation, and training—all usually included in a proprietary CMS platform.

There are plenty of solutions out there, but the higher education sector faces specific challenges compared to the commercial one, and choosing a CMS and digital engagement platform designed for higher education will yield advantages.

Here are our top 10 features to look for when it’s time to find the right CMS and digital engagement platform for your higher education institution.

1. User-friendliness

A user-friendly CMS is critical to keeping your team happy and creating fantastic content. Your platform should allow for easy content creation, editing, and publishing, taking a little heat off your IT teams.

  • In-context editing: A familiar WYSIWYG in-context editor will allow your content creators to make on-the-fly visual edits right on the page. It needs to cater to varying technical skills within your team, from novice content editors to advanced web developers.
  • Publishing: Your CMS and digital engagement platform should also offer options to publish immediately or have it scheduled for later, as well as expiration options, so stale content doesn’t end up crowding your live site.
    Editors are more likely to update content when it’s quick and easy to do so, which helps you maintain content accuracy and promote brand consistency.
  • Flexible hierarchical structure:  No structure is permanent, so editors should also be able to see and organize pages in a tree hierarchy and easily update and change the navigation menu.

2. Media management

Your users will need access to a central location to store and manage digital assets like images, videos, and files, making it easy to reuse them anywhere.

Users should be able to search or browse assets and automatically or manually create variants of an asset (for example, a cropped version of an image for a profile page) without having to re-upload a new version.

3. Search

You’ll also want to look for robust search functionality, which is incredibly important for Gen Z. They don’t expect to ‘navigate’ to the correct information; they expect to find it directly from the search bar.

Your new platform should provide advanced search features that provide relevant, fast, accurate, filterable, and customizable results. 

4. Governance

When content can easily spiral out of control, it’s vital to have the proper governance in place. We strongly believe many issues can be avoided by setting up a solid governance model right from the start.

What does this translate to?

  • Accessibility: This is a non-negotiable aspect of higher education websites and digital content. Your platform should have built-in accessibility features, including support for ALT text, proper heading structure, and keyboard navigation.
  • Content reuse: Modular content that you can either duplicate or ‘mirror’ gives flexibility to your team, so they can create it, then share and publish it in several formats and locations across the website. You should also be able to reuse modules like staff profiles, calendar events, course information, news items, media items, and individual pieces of content throughout your site, without duplicating them.
  • Collaboration workflows: You should also be able to manage a workflow for the various content stages, like drafting, reviewing, approving/rejecting, publishing, and archiving. This ensures content is cycled to the right people at the correct times.
  • User roles and permissions: Your platform should let you manage who has access to what, and how content is shared and reused, with a customizable user rights and roles model so you can empower the right people in the right way.
  • Version control: You should be able to lock content while it’s being edited or return to earlier versions if mistakes happen, with a robust versioning functionality.
  • Broken links: A broken links checker makes

5. Personalization

Gen Z students are used to having a highly personalized user experience and expect it when they visit your website. Your content editors should be able to apply content rules based on a visitor's location, behavior, device, or search terms, making it more relevant and personal to them.

6. Scalability and flexibility

As your university or college grows, so will the amount of content you have on your website.

Your CMS and digital engagement platform should be able to scale and handle more significant volumes and traffic without compromising performance.

You should also be able to manage multiple sites from a single platform, streamlining the content management process and making it easier to maintain brand consistency across all areas.

You’ll also want it to ‘play nice’ with your other university systems, supporting third-party API integration so you can maintain your source of truth.

7. Multilingual websites

You should be able to connect with prospective international students in their language, so your CMS needs to support multilingual sites—and offer a simple way to integrate the translation process.

8. Reports and analytics

Meaningful reports and analytics tools (that connect to Google Analytics) help track visitor behavior and engagement, which can help you see how your website is performing and which parts need improvement.

A dashboard can give you insights into the status of content and users so you can stay on track with content-related tasks and handle day-to-day maintenance and governance responsibilities.

9. State-of-the-art security

Security is a critical objective for higher education institutions, and your chosen solution has a strong security culture that can safeguard your installation and data against potential threats.

You should be able to configure and control aspects of the product relative to authorized access, privacy, consent, and security policies, all managed in a highly secure enterprise-level data center and network architecture with strong safeguards.

These should include infrastructure security, DDoS mitigation, data encryption, monitoring and logging, identity and access control, and penetration testing.

10. Higher education user community

Some solution providers have created a strong higher education user community among their clients. This can be a collaborative, supportive, and valuable resource, whether for troubleshooting technical issues or seeking guidance on optimizing the use of the CMS and digital engagement platform.

Have questions about how CMS and digital engagement features will align with your strategic goals? Reach out to us; we’d love to chat about it.