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What Makes a Good School Website: Best Practices to Follow

by Siv Rauv

05 May 2020

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When parents walk into a school, first impressions count.

Imagine what it would be like for a parent visiting your school reception office for the first time.

What if finding the office is a maze. The school grounds are messy and unkempt. The reception area is chaotic and disorganised. There is no one to greet them so they wonder around looking for help. And when they do find help, they are then made to wait for an hour past the time for their scheduled meeting.

This is not the experience you want to deliver. The same can be said for your website.

Your website is an extension of your school. It cannot be a maze of chaotic and disorganised information.

It must be compelling and engaging for parents; visually attractive, uncluttered and easy to navigate - whether they are in the initial stages of research or have made their decision and want to fill in an enrolment form for their child or children.

First impressions count. So do subsequent impressions.

This is a channel that can promote your school 24/7, on any device and any location, so put your best foot forward.

In this post, we run through best practices for creating a compelling and engaging website for your own school. We’ll also explore how to go beyond creating a passive, informational only website.

Start with your audience

When you’re redesigning your website, start by holding interviews and running focus groups with parents and staff. Extend it to other audiences if possible, such as students and alumni.

Beyond gathering insights for the website, it can help you create a new brand and creative strategy that better resonates with your audience than your current strategy.

Aim to uncover:

  • Information about the website
    • What do your site users look for most often (common use cases)?
    • How well does it align with your school’s mission and brand?
    • What do they like about it?
    • What are the pain points?
    • What information is missing?
    • How well is their own or their child’s educational experience represented on the website?
    • What actions do they wish they could perform?
    • What ideas for improvements do you have, both structure/layout and content?
  • Information about your school
    • What are the key factors that convinced them to choose your school?
    • Strengths/advantages of the school (from their perspective).
    • Weaknesses/disadvantages (from their perspective).
    • What they believe the school’s mission is.
    • How well is their own or their child’s educational experience represented by the school?

You might find for example, that as most parents work full-time, there is a need for more information about after school programs or summer holiday programs on the website. Or they might be keen to see what you’re doing around fundraising and community support. You never know until you ask!

Put user experience first

Navigation and layout

Armed with this information and your existing website, you should have a good idea of what information you want to include on your new website.

Put user experience first. The standard rule of thumb is that you want the visitor to find what they need within 3 clicks from landing on the homepage. 

Think about the different use cases for visiting your website – how will your audience navigate the website to find the information they need and/or perform the task required.

Generally, most prospective parents will want to:

  • Find information to learn more about the different aspects of the school.
  • Engage with content such as watching a video about life as a first grader.
  • Stay informed with the school such as signing up to a newsletter.
  • Understand how to visit the school to see if it is a good fit for their child.
  • Apply to enrol their child. 

Think about:

  • What you want users to do on a page, and what their next steps should be. Be strategic about placement of buttons and CTAs.
  • The sidebars, footers and navigation menus.
  • Simple layouts, whitespace (the white space between text and objects); anything to make it easier on the eyes.
  • Limiting clickable buttons and unnecessary images.
  • Using a conversational tone.

Tip: What information you can make interactive to make it easier to access and engaging for your audience? For example, introducing an interactive event calendar, with the ability for the audience to hover over to find out information and to download the event into personal calendars. Another example is the staff directly, rather than a long page or document that is difficult to navigate, provide a filterable and searchable directory, where parents simply enter in a name, title, department, campus or other detail and it dynamically displays relevant contact details.

Visuals

Your website needs to become the digital destination and representation of your school - what it stands for and what it can offer students.

The best way to do this is through visuals, whether through video or photos.

It’s one thing to say you have well equipped rooms with state-of-the-art technology, it’s another thing to show you have state of the art technology (and that students are using it to enhance their learning).

Showcase everything from your beautiful campus grounds, fields and buildings, to student life. 

Take St Margarets Anglican School for Girls. Their website homepage does a wonderful job of showcasing their rich history of preparing young women for further education and for life.

Not only do they visually showcase how they provide their students with the broadest range of experiences to choose from, they first show historical black and white photos of students of the past, then contrast it with videos of present students engaging in the same activity, emphasising their long legacy of empowering young women in a range of activities.

St Margaret

Learn more about the St Margaret's Anglican School for Girls website success story here.

Think about:

  • Choosing full bleed images (images that go to the edges of the page) for greater impact
  • Tapping into your database of professional photos
  • Using photos taken by students, parents and/or staff to provide an authentic look at school life. For example, you might want to embed an Instagram feed with photos tagged with your school hashtag.
  • Create branding videos showcasing the school, the Principal, key staff members, students and parents. 

Tip: The same image renders differently on different devices. If you choose a full-bleed background (images fill the page to the edges of the browser), the image will be cropped differently on mobile than on desktop, because desktop devices are generally viewed in landscape mode vs. portrait mode on mobile devices. If most of your visitors access your website through desktop, choose an image that’s landscape-oriented, or one that can be cropped in a variety of ways. Keep in mind, this is something your vendor’s designers should pick up on and inform you of!

Further reading: [Blog Post] Website Design Trends

Highlight your strengths

Sometimes parents search for your school’s name in the search engine (a brand search). Other times, they will find your website via an unbranded search term such as ‘schools near me’.

So, you not only need to answer the what, who and where, but also the why.

Given the primary audience for your website are prospective parents, ask yourself why would a parent choose your school? Think about why they would want to chose your school over and above another?

Highlight why it is different to other schools in the area that would attract the same type of parent.

What will convince them that your school will deliver the best educational experience for their child.

Think about:

  • Sharing stories and anecdotes to help you build a connection with your audience and position your school as relatable and authentic.
  • Sharing testimonials from parents, students, alumni and staff. Where possible, we recommend delivering it through video. Feature real quotes and insights for each year and images from classrooms. 
  • Sharing successes relating to information on the school itself, such as milestones and community programs. Highlight student achievements, from school results to  interesting school statistics. 

Tip: To help assist with authenticity and relatability, you might want to address challenges or pain points on your website, especially if you can turn a negative into a positive. For example, if your school has previously received negative press about a bullying incidence with students, you would not mention this on your website, however, you might want to create a page relating to your bullying policy and the programs you have in place to prevent it, reinforcing the fact that this will not be tolerated and you take the health and wellbeing of the students under your care seriously.

Capture information to keep their interest

As with most other services, people research multiple solutions to solve their problems.

Parents of prospective students will spend time and effort deciding which school is the best fit for their child.

They’ll want information relating to their child’s school life, general school updates, opportunities to visit the school, upcoming events, seminars and other information to keep them interested in the school.

Make sure you’re top of mind by capturing their details so you can provide them with follow up information. At minimum, you want their email address.

Think about:

  • Adding a pop up or overlay over select pages requesting their email address to receive school information.
  • Asking for their child’s grade of entry and year of entry so you can send them more personalised information.
  • Segmenting information you send (If you have the resources and/or technology available,) e.g. having a sign up for the newsletter CTA on the news page and a sign up for enrolment updates on the enrolment's information page.
  • Delivering custom content, such as the Principal’s blog posts or an article with tips and hints. 

Book tours online

The next step in the engagement process is encouraging prospective parents to visit the school.

Whether it is a school group, open morning, showcase evening, ‘school in action’ or other tour, these sessions are a key opportunity for parents to explore what the school has to offer firsthand.

Traditionally, this is done via booking an appointment on the phone. Information would need to be captured over the phone by administration staff, which can be time consuming as they must ensure details are correctly entered. Given the sheer number of parents booking tours every year, this leads up to a lot of time and resources by administration staff processing requests.

Free up your staff’s time and make it as easy as possible for parents to book tours, by providing an online form for parents to quickly fill in with all their own details.

Furthermore, it enables you to introduce workflows to automate the follow up process!

Think about:

  • What details you need to capture, such as the number of people who will attend, grade of entry, year of entry and so on.
  • Giving parents the ability to fill in one form and choose the tour(s) they want, instead of filling in multiple forms, which can be tedious for busy parents.
  • Ensuring the form is integrated to your existing systems staff do not need to double handle information.
  • Sending a follow up email directly after the form is submitted, and a reminder email prior to the visit. This should include links to download the event into their personal calendars.
  • Sending a follow up email after the tour, prompting them to enrol and linking them to the enrolment form.
  • Linking the form to a workflow component. This means once a form is filled out, the appropriate staff member(s) will receive a notification to perform the follow up action(s). 

Tip: If the parents cannot physically visit the school, they should be redirected to either a pre-recorded virtual tour video and/or be shown the school virtually by a staff member via a live demonstration at a scheduled date and time.

Enrol online 

Increase data quality, speed up processing time and simplify administration by automating your online enrolment process using online forms and workflows.

This saves countless hours for your admissions and enrolments team, as schools need to capture several pages worth of information from parents and then go on to process online enrolment and application forms.

As with other forms, the accompanying workflows can also notify the appropriate people who handle enrolments and admissions, once online forms are submitted. Moreover, it can automatically go through a workflow process – once it is approved by one person or team, it can keep flowing onto another person or multiple people to perform the required action on their part.

Think about:

  • Setting up workflow automation for online enrolment approvals, as well as notifications such as notifying parents to accept the offer and enabling them to accept via digital signature.
  • Directing the form to different staff members, depending on what information was provided e.g. campus, school year and so on.
  • What supporting documentation they should provide to speed up the enrolment process for staff members, such as baptism certificates for religious schools.
  • Enabling parents to provide and submit payments online via a secure payment gateway.
  • Integrating the form to your student management system to reduce manual input errors, while saving several hours for administration staff to enter the information.
  • Looking at reporting to gain insights into enrolments for year-on-year analysis, such as number of enrolments, year level and so on. 

Easy management

A compelling and engaging website goes a long way in reinforcing your brand and encouraging parents to choose your school over another in the area.

In the same vein, an outdated website can present your brand in poor light and dissuade parents from choosing your school. If your website is outdated, it can lead them to believe other information provided to them and their children might be outdated as well.

Your website must be reliable and relevant.

Think about:

  • Governance. Who is responsible for managing and/or updating the website? It might be one person such as your Web Coordinator or it might be staff from various departments.
  • Ease-of-use. Traditionally websites are managed by the technology department. While they are technology experts, they are not experts on promoting or communicating about the school. Choose a content management system that enables your non-technical users, whether it be your marketing and communications team, campus coordinator or other staff member responsible for content, to update the website, without need technical input.
  • Web accessibility. Choose a content management system with built-in functionality that ensures your website remains AA compliant. That is, there should be no barriers that prevent interaction with, or access to, websites by people with disabilities. For example, the content editor might show error messages when a text colour is chosen that doesn’t meet accessibility guidelines.
  • Content strategy. Collect information for the website, from upcoming events to new stories and anecdotes, on a regular and consistent basis. That is, make it a routine habit, for the person supplying the information such as office staff or department heads, to provide information.
  • Website maintenance. Routinely perform a maintenance check of your website, from updating outdated content to fixing broken web links and download links.
  • Website optimisation. Unfortunately, a lot of organisations consider it ‘done’ once the website goes live. Monitor your website’s performance via metrics such as average monthly daily visitors, bounce rates, time on site, top performing search ranking keywords and form fill outs. 

Further reading: [Blog post] Future Proof Your Website Development

Next steps

Remember a good website needs to be useful, relevant and well designed for your target audience be successful. The key part of this sentence is 'for your target audience'. You can deliver a beautifully designed website, but if it isn't focused on moving your target audience through the journey towards the end goal, then you've wasted your time and effort.

If you can invest time in understanding your audience, reviewing website best practices, putting in place a website redesign strategy, planning a great design alongside your website vendor or agency, you can create a user-friendly, engaging and intelligent website that drives real business values for your school.

Website Redesign Playbook

If you're ready to design your new website, we recommend you read the Website Redesign Playbook for deeper insights into effectively planning and launching your website.

The website consulting team at Elcom have distilled years of hands on experience and knowledge into this guide. It details the 7 key stages of a website redesign and what you actually need to know. It also comes with a comprehensive checklist to help you get started on designing your own successful website.

Download the Website Redesign Playbook.

Elcom for Schools

Elcom has a long history of collaborating with schools to deliver compelling website, portal and intranet solutions that meet their evolving digital needs.

Elcom is trusted by many of the leaders in education including the Ascham School, The King's School, Geelong Grammar School, Saint Ignatius’ College Riverview, Sydney Church of England Grammar School, Moriah College, St Margaret’s Anglican Girls School and many more.

To see what Elcom can do for your school and to see a demo of the Elcom platform in action, book a consultation with one of our education experts here.

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