Best Practices FAQ
Why is website accessibility important for your school website?
ADA website compliance is required for any school that receives federal funds. And those schools who do not receive federal funds would be wise to make sure theirs is an ADA compliant website as well. If the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) receives a complaint that your site is not accessible, you will be required to complete the following steps:
- Create a plan for how you will bring your school websites to WCAG 2.0 A/AA technical standards.
- Designate a web accessibility coordinator to manage the processes involved in getting your website compliant.
- Develop a school or district web accessibility policy (formal sample, friendly sample). You are also required to post your web accessibility standards on your website and provide a way for users to notify you if they have web accessibility issues (via the website, which is what we recommend, or an e-mail address or phone number).
- Conduct an audit of your school websites to determine what non-compliant issues are present. Start with an online accessibility checker, but you will need to include manual auditing as well.
- Develop a plan and timeframe for how you will resolve issues.
School website accessibility is important, and it is the law for most schools (and the right thing to do for all schools). There are 16 different categories to which you must conform for an ADA compliant school website. Learn more about ADA compliance on our FAQ page.
The good news is that if you are a client of School Webmasters we will manage the website compliance for you. The only area where you, as the school, must comply, is in creating compliant attachments (PDFs, Word Docs, etc.) and including captions in your videos. But, we even provide ADA compliance training for your staff for this. If you need help with remediation, we can help in this area as well. Your website ADA compliance is included in our regular services, as part of the web design and management. If you need to know more, give us a call at 888-750-4556.
What is "school choice" and how can it affect your school?
School choice is a movement that allows public education funds (taxes) to follow students to schools or services that parents feel will best fit the needs of their children. School choice options include public schools, private schools, charter schools, home schools, magnet schools, virtual schools, cyber charters, home schooling, and online schools. Some of the ways that the funds might be distributed are through school vouchers, education savings accounts (ESAs), tax-credit scholarships, tax credits or deductions for educational expenses. These opportunities vary from state to state.
There are supporters and opponents of school choice, but we’ll leave that discussion for others. But, if school choice is made available to parents, either in your state or region, and you are fearful that it might adversely affect your school’s enrollment, there are steps you can take to mitigate any challenges and possibly help your school become the school of choice. So, fear not. Be proactive so parents choose your school over other options. That means you must market your school and communicate your differentiators and successes, implement strategic communications and demonstrate transparency, and make school public relations a priority to create a strong brand image and reputation. If you need assistance, we recommend getting started with our Marketing Your School toolkit. And, begin with turning your school website into your communications hub and integrate school social media as a primary strategy. Subscribe to our blog and get tips and tricks twice a month to move you in the right direction in becoming a school of choice!
How do successful school administrators market their schools?
Wise administrators recognize that school marketing is a big part of their role as the school’s leader. Whether he or she is called a superintendent, director, or CEO it is the leadership that matters. Effective school leadership includes building a reputation for your school that attracts the most qualified teachers and students whose needs your school excels at meeting. That means marketing your school in a strategic manner. School marketing strategies include using school public relations to your advantage. It means implementing a school marketing plan throughout the year. It means having a robust, story filled website that tells your student stories and shouts their successes from the rooftops. It means integrating social media effectively and consistently.
It’s not rocket science, but putting marketing strategies for schools in place is essential if you want your school to stand out from the rest and to have loyal parent advocates. If you need help with any of these areas after you’ve checked out these linked resources, we hope you’ll give us a chance to help you put it all together in an affordable and successful manner. Become the next rock star school administrator and watch your student success rise to the top right along with you!
What are the best practices for developing school website content?
Website copy and the tone it conveys is critical to site visitor engagement. Your website copywriting is your school’s voice and the word choice, style, and content, along with the school web design, is the first impression people get of your school. Don’t neglect the important aspects of the best website copywriting.
- Tone. Be positive and conversational. Avoid educational jargon and terms that parents may not be familiar with. Avoid third person and passive voice. Be friendly and inviting. It should be a one-to-one conversation.
- Audience focused. Make sure each page’s content is focused on the needs of your audience. What is it they are looking for? What questions should you answer? How quickly can you provide the answers they seek? Nothing should be more than three clicks to find.
- Professional. Proof, proof, proof. Have your content checked for grammar, punctuation, and readability? Create or adopt a style guide and make sure all contributors follow those guidelines consistently. The standards for school website content are high, as they should be for educators.
What is important in maintaining the best school websites?
The primary goal is to meet your audience needs (for schools that is typically parents). And, depending on the age and interest of their child, those needs will change. For example, as soon as parents enroll their child, they no longer have the same needs they did when they used your main office or district website to tell them about your school’s values, school boundaries, and showed them how to enroll.
Now they care about the activities and events that will affect their child’s daily life (and theirs). At this point the school-level website becomes critical (and some seldom return to the district website). Parents now want to know how to contact their child’s teacher, school, coach, or counselor. They want to have easy access to calendars, early release days, testing dates, deadlines, and any other event that will affect their schedules. They are also interested in stories about the successes and challenges at their child’s school. And, hopefully, some of those stories are examples of how the staff and administration care about the students in their charge. They will be looking to your school website to meet these needs.
As you can imagine, parents of elementary students can have very different needs than those of high school parents. But, effective website management for your school websites can go a long way in satisfying all those needs. A good school website will be current, will include real stories about actual students and staff, and will be easy to reach (which means it needs to be a responsive website so parents can access it from their phones). For a few more tips about websites for schools to improve school communication, consider these articles:
What's the difference between CMS & school website management services?
Content Management System (CMS) is a software or platform that allows schools and individuals to create and manage digital website content.You are familiar with this type of editing software if you’ve ever used Word or any other text editing program. The software allows those who are not familiar with coding to create content easily and quickly. Using CMS for collaborative authoring of websites is the most common website management method.
CMS benefits are that anyone can add content. Unfortunately, that is also the disadvantage. Creating a document is one thing, but website management is a strategic plan. It involves web design and management, copywriting, public relations, website accessibility, quality control, and branding. It is difficult to have everyone who has access to edit the site focus on the same communication goals, follow the same style guide, use the same level of website best practices when there are a wide variety of people doing daily updates. It’s expensive to get everyone trained in accessibility, grammar, visual layout, software, public relations, and all that goes into your website’s purpose. It is about much more than just a software program, no matter how cool the software. Your school website is your face to the public and often the first impression that parents will have of what your school has to offer. With all the school choice parents have today, it is important that your school impression is a positive one.
But, even schools that cannot afford a dedicated webmaster can still get the best of both worlds. By using a professional website management team to complete your website updates, post content, do quality control, maintain website accessibility, and assure that your school website remains professional, informative, and engaging, you end up saving money and time and end up with a better product. You have two options: 1) Create a website management process that takes all the vital steps into consideration and monitor those processes to assure success or, 2) Hire partners who will manage the website process for you.
The obviously biased solution that we recommend is to hire School Webmasters to work behind the scenes making sure your website is the dynamic communications tool it should be. But, for those of you who cannot, or choose not to use our services, check out our blog post on DIY website management for your school. If you need a school website company that will have your back, we hope you’ll let us prove to you that you can now afford school website services of the highest quality.
What's the difference between a school website template and a site built from scratch?
When it comes to website solutions for schools, school templates are the common solution. The primary reason for selecting a school website template is that we’ve already developed the structure and layout of your school’s website. The main benefit is that the cost is often lower because it saves development time. Typically a well-designed website template will be intuitive, visually appealing, and ADA accessible. The limitations are in the design changes we can make to customize the layout. Depending on your budget and your design preferences, you might very well be able to select a low-cost template that will be perfect for your needs.
We offer several levels of templates. Our Level I designs (requiring little customization), our Level II designs (allow for design changes), and our fully-customized websites include lots of bells and whistles or about anything you can dream up. These fully-customized school websites are popular for those schools who want to stand out from the crowd. So, feel free to get a quote. No high pressure here, so feel free to kick a few tires.
What should you include on your public website?
Best practices for public school websites include three phases. The first is design and navigational structure. The second is content, which is influenced by your site’s purpose. The third phase, after you’ve completed the development, is website management.
- Design. Two primary considerations are now considered required elements of public school website design. The first is utilizing responsive design (mobile friendly) and the second is making sure your website is ADA accessible. You will want to integrate both of these elements as part of your overall website development planning. A public school website design needs to be simple, keeping top level navigation concise and intuitive. Nothing should be more than three clicks deep in your navigational structure. Think neat and uncluttered. For more detailed information, visit our design trends blog post.
- Content. Some basics include using a friendly, inviting, and conversational tone. Avoid passive voice. Don’t use education jargon. You are having a one-to-one conversation, not writing a thesis. Keep your audience needs in mind. Use bullet points to make your message concise and easy to review. Be generous with your use of white space around your blocks of text. For more tips, visit our school website copywriting, choose your words wisely, and effective communications blogs.
- Website management. It’s not enough to build a great site; you need to keep it that way. The best public school websites have a management system in place that includes staff trained in ADA compliance so that the site remains accessible, regular quality control reviews on your school site, and monthly reminders sent out to your content providers (those in the trenches who live the news) to keep the information coming. Train everyone involved, not only in the process for adding or submitting content, but on the district style guide. They should also have a thorough understand of the mission and goals for your communication strategies so that their content supports the overall communication goals of the school.
Far too many K12 school websites tend to be non-strategic, and that is their failing. No other corporation or business would be haphazard in their marketing and communications approaches, and schools should use that same wisdom with their website and social media planning. These blog posts might give you further ideas to incorporate: 3 simple principles, school-level websites, summer website cleanup. If you haven’t already done so, don’t forget to subscribe to our blog for more monthly tips.
How are high school websites different from district websites?
All school websites should serve the needs of their specific audience, for schools that is usually the parents of students in age-specific groups. This means that effective school websites should be focused on those parent or student needs. A high school website is especially high profile. Sometimes much more so than a district website because the audience is often very engaged in the daily activities at the high school. This includes parents, students, and friends of those students. There are also a wide variety of interests to cover, everything from athletics to arts to academics to social activities. Parents and students expect to be able to go to the high school site and find what they need quickly. They are also likely to be using a mobile device to do so. That means it should be a mobile-friendly, responsive school website with intuitive navigation, updated calendars, and be fast loading for quick access. The mobile view should be designed for convenience and skip the slow downloading images in favor of information. The best high school website is also going to be an ADA compliant website.
School website designs can be a streamlined high school website template or an elaborate and elegant customized design. But, whatever design you select, intuitive navigation is essential and nothing should be more than three clicks away or your site visitors will quickly become frustrated. If your high school website is part of a unified district, make sure the navigational architecture is the same structure as the main office or district website to maintain consistency and avoid confusion. Your school webpages content should have an inviting, conversational tone. Avoid educational jargon and write as if the conversation is one to one. Keep your site current and informative, telling your stories and sharing your successes. Highlight your students and staff, recognize challenges and how you plan to overcome those challenges. If you do this, you’ll soon earn the trust and support of your school website audience(s). Always put your site visitors needs first, and you’ll develop one of the best high school websites around.
What constitutes the best elementary school websites?
The best primary school websites will focus on the needs of their audience. That audience is parents. It isn’t hard to figure out what their needs are, but if in doubt, use a survey to find out and then incorporate the information you gather. Typically though, we see common needs, and if you meet those needs, your elementary school website will be considered the best by the parents who rely on it. That means, to become one of the most effective school websites, incorporate the following:
- Keep it current. Parents will bookmark and use your elementary school website if they can count on it to provide them with current information. Is the calendar interactive so they can add it to their phone’s calendar to quickly check today’s busy schedule? Are reminders of early release days or late start days posted prominently for parents to see? Do you use your website as your personal media outlet and include the stories behind the scheduled events (and why you scheduled them in the first place)? Oh, and don’t forget that good school websites have enrollment information on the site and provide lots of easy to access information for those kindergarten parents along with enrollment deadlines.
- Give them proof. We all want to believe in our child’s school. We want to know that the teachers care, the administration is doing a great job, and that successes are happening. They won’t know that if you don’t show them and your school’s website is the place to make that happen. You need to tell your school’s stories. Talk about the successes. Describe the challenges and how you plan to overcome them. Be communicative, transparent, and proud of what is happening at your school. Share!
- Make it convenient. This means easy access (like an easy to remember URL and encouraging parents to bookmark your school web page). It also means making sure your school web design is responsive, which means it is mobile friendly. Most parents are accessing your site from their phone or tablet these days, so make it easy to navigate. A mobile friendly version will exclude large images in favor of fast load times, yet still provide parents with the information they need. And finally, make sure the navigation is intuitive and streamlined. Nothing should be more than three clicks away.
- Keep it inviting. Your school website content is a one-to-one conversation with your audience. Avoid education jargon, typos or grammar mistakes, and a condescending tone. Keep it informal and friendly. It’s okay to use contractions since that is the way we talk. But, avoid passive voice!
Recommendations for design elements are the same as with any school website. It should be attractive, professional, and reflect your school’s brand. That means that a great primary school website design would likely be more “fun” than a district website, often with primary colors and photos of grade level children. But, maintain a clean, professional look with the generous use of white space. Avoid silly fonts (particularly Comic Sans since it is vastly overused). If your elementary school is part of a district, be sure the navigational structure matches that of the main office or district site to provide parents consistency and ease of use. Keep your home page uncluttered and maintain your color scheme throughout the site (don’t randomly add additional colors that are not part of the site style). Typically use no more than 2-4 colors. Simple, especially at an elementary school level, is the most effective and provides the best experience.
Take the time. Great elementary school websites provide many additional benefits, including increased enrollment and enthused parent advocates. It will be worth the effort.