Just like the office of your school or school district, school websites are a hub of activity. The experience your website provides matters—to your visitors and to you. It’s natural for your school to put a priority on physical upkeep—and we’re not just talking about current calendars and updated school news.
Is it hard to imagine welcoming visitors, including prospective students and families, to your front office if the whole area were in disarray? While school websites may be designed with good intentions, written with heart, and managed as much as possible, they may be in disarray and not visitor friendly. Your school website may be outdated, all over the place in terms of readability, and a pain for your school staff to manage.
Here are 10 principles you should be practicing along with all those other school website management to-do’s.
#1. Watch Your Words
Words matter to communicate information in various ways. Words help establish strong communicative relationships with your school community. There are three core principles to keep in mind regarding words on your website. First, use brief and to-the-point sentences to send your messages effectively. Second, thoughtfully format your text. Third, remember to engage your audience. Let’s look at each point:
Consider the value of short sentences.
When sentences are brief, the message is clear. Your school website’s Home page should not be wordy. Clean, simple, welcoming Home pages help direct traffic. Your site visitors can look at the categories offered and head where they need to go. A Home page with concise communication helps your school community find the information it seeks. You have 10 to 20 seconds to capture and keep your website audience’s attention; wordiness will not drive visitors deeper into your school website.
Watching your words on your website shows you value their time. Keep your homepage sentences “short and sweet.”
Thoughtfully format your text.
Unless your site visitor is vetting your school as the place to enroll their children, most visitors to your school website might not stay long. They are likely in a hurry looking for something they’re interested in or need. One way to engage them is to ensure you take the time to format your text properly. Your text must not only read well but look nice on the page too. Font, size, location on the page all matters. We also recommend using no more than two different fonts on your website to keep it consistent and professional.
Engage your audience.
Take a tip from school marketers, and use calls-to-action (CTAs) to immediately engage your school website’s audience. Deliberate, active language effectively uses this approach. Here are a few examples:
- View this month’s photo gallery.
- Watch the video from our assembly.
- Read the full story.
- Sign up.
- Join us.
CTAs help engage your visitors, driving them deeper into your school website.
#2. Incorporate the Power of Pictures
Images matter as much as (if not more than) words. Imagery is a powerful, deep way to communicate with your school community. Using imagery on your school website is important, easy, and effective in school public relations and marketing.
The pictures you use on your school website will communicate a story to your school community. What story will you share?
Consider Paramus School District, one of School Webmasters’ clients. The photos included on their Home page and subsequent pages convey positive stories about their school environment.
For more examples of how School Webmasters uses images to create phenomenal school websites, check out our school website portfolios.
#3. Network Properly
Your school website not only offers direct connections through text and images, it also connects your community by successfully incorporating links. Links included on your website should be short, offer supportive and relevant content, and be accessible.
Keep links short.
When your school website includes a link, be sure to avoid hyperlinks that are longer than one line. Including a link is one way to clean up a page and keep content short. For example, instead of including all your policies and handbooks as pages on a website, simply link to the documents.
Offer supportive and relevant content.
If your school recently held an assembly with special guests, consider sharing supplementary links to related content. Your school community will appreciate it. Supportive and relevant content can also include community links to local businesses or other entities that support your school or that your community would find useful.
Ensure your school website is accessible for all.
Is your school website in compliance with ADA guidelines? If your website is accessible, you still need to be careful that the pages to which you link are also accessible. Include descriptive alt tags with your links, and never use the phrase “click here.” Learn more about ADA guidelines from the World Wide Web Consortium.
#4. Show Your Visitors You Value Their Time
Each visitor to your school website hopes to find something valuable. When you design your website in an organized manner, visitors can navigate smoothly and not feel they are being given some type of run around. Be sure to perform regular quality control checks to identify broken or misdirected links and old, outdated information.
In the case of emergencies, your school website should communicate whatever information is available directly to your site visitors. Communication is truly the key. When follow-up information is shared on your school website, it’s helpful to provide a thread of content for your visitors.
#5. Use Web Analytics
These days, nearly everything we do on the web can be measured. Take the time to be educated in web analytics. Understanding more about the visitors to your school websites helps you improve what you offer them. User behavior can help you identify what aspects of your school website receive the most attention and what does not. It also can help determine when to schedule content updates. Successful school websites are never static. Understanding that what worked in the past may not work now is a step in the right direction to providing your community with a useful school website.
#6. Don’t Worry about Extending Content below the Browser Pane
When adding or updating content to your school website, you may be tempted to try to cram it all in “above the fold” (i.e. the bottom of the browser pane). Do not succumb to such an outdated sentiment! Remember, scrolling is typical online behavior, and your visitors will not hesitate to read on or scroll further if you’ve given them good reason to do so. Just be sure to regularly evaluate your website content for navigation ease and readability.
#7. Take Time to Manage Your School Website
To properly manage your school website, it will need a regular, delegated portion of your time. This can be difficult as core duties and responsibilities of educators and administrators leave little time to do so. Many school websites are set up without enough support to keep it current. In fact, the biggest challenge websites face is not the set-up but the upkeep, so you must have a strategic plan for ultimate success.
#8. Use Your Calendar
Visitors to your school’s website expect it to be current. Planned, scheduled updates must be a priority. Plan ahead. Consult with those involved in your website management so you can provide regular updates. In the case of your school website, collaboration and preparation are extremely valuable. School websites should not just showcase events and information tied to the past but also current events on campus.
#9. Realistically Examine Your School Website’s Effective Nature
If your school is concerned with enrollment, then SEO should be on your radar. In fact, every page on your school website should be SEO-friendly. Not all visitors to your website will enter through the front door (that is, your Home page). When content is high quality and targets the needs of the school community, your pages will help drive traffic deeper into your website.
#10. Be Open to New Ideas
Working hard alludes to getting the job done right. When your school website symbolizes all that is good about your school, it is a good thing. Keep the following in mind when determining the time and effort you invest in your school website:
Don’t try to do it all yourself.
Get an extra set of eyes to watch for errors, check for issues as updates to your website are made. Problems often surface as your website goes live even if they didn’t show themselves in the staging phases. Check links, images, and texts prior to publishing as well as subsequently. Also, consider what your school community might want to know rather than what you want them to know.
Try new things.
School websites are great because they can always be changed. If something isn’t working, evaluate and incorporate lessons learned into planned updates. It can be difficult to determine what needs fixing without testing things out. Be structured, intentional, and willing to measure your community’s response to everything in your website. Be ready to learn from what doesn’t work as well as what does.
School websites can be hard to keep current. Your staff may likely be already overwhelmed with their core responsibilities. When managing your school website feels impossible, School Webmasters can help.
School Webmasters handles all updates, changes, additions, and improvements to your school’s website. We perform regular quality control checks and even send out reminders to designated staff members in order to gather the information and write content that will keep your site up-to-date.
Your IT, teaching, and administrative staffs usually have their hands full with core responsibilities, and expecting them to be designers, writers, and managers of the site’s content can be unrealistic.
Let School Webmasters handle your school website management and provide you with the skill sets you need without overburdening an already busy staff.
Emily Boyle, Website Content Specialist