Take a few moments and think of every fascinating school website you’ve ever visited. You can perhaps make a shortlist right off the top of your head. At first, they may appear only to share one thing: they are all school websites!
But there is more. Every great school website follows best practices in its design and development, including a user-friendly interface, appealing layout, harmonious font and color combination, navigability, and more. All these features help to create a long-lasting impression on potential students.
But here’s the catch: best web design and development practices continuously change. Moreover, there are a broad array of different trends and styles. Choosing the most effective one would only be a matter of taste.
On the other hand, in today’s incredibly visual and saturated online world, providing users with a satisfying experience is the key to surviving in the competition.
Now the million-dollar questions are, what do the most successful school websites have in common? And how can you improve your user experience according to the market-proven practices?
In this article, we will break down some of the best web design and development methods and tactics and explain the impact and importance of having a captivating and functional design. Let’s begin.
Firstly, they provide a thorough database containing all the necessary information to guide and inform prospective students, parents, and staff.
Secondly, they showcase the school’s achievements, offerings, and capabilities. This objective is significant because it creates a sense of pride and shared identity among those who join the school.
What Is a School Website?
The phrase is pretty much self-explanatory. A school website is created, designed, and maintained by a school. School websites serve two primary purposes.
It disseminates information and creates and solidifies common bonds among students who share an educational space in both online and offline environments.
What Goes on the School Website?
When creating a school website, you must make an important decision concerning what content you will include. Besides the content, the information structure and arrangement of the content are crucial.
The point is, after the first impression and fascination with the school website design, students and their parents expect to receive certain information to help them make informed decisions.
The following are the central components that are usually integrated into the school website design:
The first thing to include on the website is the general info about the school, including telephone number, address, driving directions, and perhaps an interactive campus map. And remember to mention the school district and attendance area.
The next part is adding context to distinguish your educational institution from others. This part may include the school’s historical background, a mission statement, and perhaps notable awards to help showcase your flourishing community.
Administration and Faculty Information
You must also provide information about the student-teacher ratio, administration and faculty members’ contact info, and class schedules. Including office hours also helps prospective students and parents schedule their visits at a convenient time.
Policies and Regulations
All schools have specific policies to preserve their values and optimize their educational environment. The school website is the best place to inform prospective students about your school policies before signing up.
School policy information and procedures may include a dress code policy, graduation requirements, attendance policy, and behavior expectations (bullying and fighting policy).
School guidelines define expectations, keep students safe, and ensure they receive a high-quality education.
Calendar of Events
The calendar shows upcoming events for current students, prospective families, staff, teachers, and alumni. It helps everyone to be aware of the school’s happenings and attend important events such as carnivals and festivals, school plays, art contests, field trips, and family feasts.
Regularly update the calendars by adding new happenings to keep the events calendar relevant.
Some schools only use the calendar to notify students of deadlines and exam dates. Although it is crucial to provide this information, you may also add a few creative ideas for fun events to encourage community involvement.
Another way to increase student engagement is adding a newsfeed section to the website. Newsfeeds are excellent channels to relay important information about special school events, report on class trips, or publish short articles. You may even consider posting articles written and edited by students.
Extracurricular activities are great opportunities for students to participate in group work and learn to collaborate.
If you host special groups, clubs, and organizations that hold extracurricular activities, you can provide information about their activities, vision, and purpose. Voluntary activities under administration supervision can present a way to discover and develop various talents and capacities among students.
Encouraging parent involvement in school events is equally important. You can organize volunteer opportunities, PTA meetings, community enrichment events, and fundraising activities. This way, parents can participate in the education process and learn about the joy and challenges along the way.
Students, teachers, and staff require access to every valuable resource that the school website can offer. Regularly check the important links to ensure they still work and resources are available.
You can include course materials, introductory videos, reference lists, or lesson plan ideas to prepare students for their upcoming semester.
What Do the Best School Websites Have in Common?
Apart from the components mentioned above, there are a few qualities that successful school websites have in common. The specific features that create such qualities differ based on the client’s services and audience behavior. Nevertheless, they help you plan out a clear roadmap and find your business priorities. Let’s review some of the key elements.
Every school website serves a clear purpose. It offers easy access to helpful information and resources that teachers, parents, and prospective and existing students need. Many factors play a part in website functionality, including Content Management Systems (CMS), clear navigation, and database solutions.
Functionality may translate into various features, including course documents, updated calendars, enrollment forms, staff applications, instructive blog posts, etc. Providing a comprehensive package on the school website will save your team time and energy handling each process in person.
Gone are the days when desktop users consumed the lion’s share of online traffic. Nowadays, most of your audience uses mobile devices to view your web content. Website accessibility is, therefore, a must-have part of web development. The most important thing to consider is adjusting the website content for smartphone users.
Recent studies show that as of August 2022, 62.06% of all website traffic comes from mobile devices, which is expected to only increase in the foreseeable future. To start, use Google’s responsiveness testing tool to evaluate your website. Simply type in the full URL of the web page, and you will have the results in less than a minute.
Usability is another central aspect of creating a successful school website. The tricky part is that usefulness is subjective. It differs for each industry, business, and audience persona. We always encourage clients to consider thorough market research and competitor analysis to understand their shared audience better.
But there is also a more general structure to ensure website usability. Web developers define usability in five features: availability, clarity, credibility, learnability, and relevance to the people who actually use it. In short, the objective is to ensure enrolled students can consume the content without facing any obstacles.
Many ideas and debates exist on the most intuitive navigation structure to maximize user experience. But there is no question that navigability is a key feature in any website development, including school websites and college websites.
One way to understand the significance of navigational effectiveness is to see it from a practical perspective. Extensive research on online user behavior suggests that the average attention span of Gen Z is about eight seconds. So, the main objective here is to provide students with the information they need as quickly as possible.
Make a list of frequent needs your new students might have. It may be signing up for a course, finding the events calendar, or searching for the school’s address and opening hours. Make sure there is an active link to the relevant page for each need on the homepage or website’s main menu.
Comprehensive FAQ Page
Many educational organizations underestimate the power of creating a separate page covering Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). The FAQ page is a great feature to include on school websites. It lets prospective parents and students find relevant information on different topics, such as the school’s discipline policies, enrollment requirements, and expenses.
There are a few factors to consider while creating the FAQ page. First, the tone and word choice should be consistent, concise, and friendly. Moreover, many students and parents may experience anxiety before making important decisions like choosing the right place for education. So, be sure to address all their concerns patiently.
High Page Loading Speed
We mentioned earlier that today’s online users have a shorter attention span; they may not have the patience to wait more than a few seconds for a web page to load. You can use Pingdom Tools and PageSpeed Insights to analyze the load speed of your websites.
If results are unfavorable, there are many ways to optimize loading speed. For instance, you can try page caching, image compression, using a content delivery network (CDN), or optimizing JS and CSS files. Besides improving user experience, site speed is a decisive factor for search engines to rank your website higher in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
Surely, an elegant design can encourage a visitor to stay on your website for a few seconds, but ultimately, you must offer quality content. There are many options: text-based content, video, podcast, infographics, etc. But, the most critical factor is maintaining a consistent voice in every content on your website.
User-generated content is a brilliant idea for a school website. Ask students and teachers to share their experiences in blog posts, videos, or podcasts. It’s a great way to engage students and provide an inside look at the unique feelings and concerns that may also resonate with prospective students.
Be sure to clarify your value propositions and optimize calls-to-action, paragraphs, lists, news, headlines, blogs, and other content components. And, to provide a more fulfilling experience for those visitors who just scan your content, make sure to add a lot of high-quality photography!
Web developers like to think of websites as living creatures. The website’s health depends on many factors, but above all, it is the privacy and security of data. Safe and secure website hosting is essential for every school.
In the online world, we are witnessing an increasing number of cyber-attacks on websites. The education industry and school websites have not been immune to these security breaches. Every student, parent, staff, and faculty member needs reassurance that their private information is safe on your website.
To improve the users’ online security
- ask your website provider to look through all potential weaknesses and loopholes;
- keep software and plugins updated;
- add HTTPS and SSL certificates;
- use strong and secure passwords for administration access—and recommend users do the same; and
- most importantly, use a secure web host.
How To Design a School Website
Creating a school website requires a perfect balance between functionality and beauty. Underestimating either aspect negatively impacts the lead conversion. So, offering quality content, navigability, and accessibility is as essential as a sleek and eye-appealing graphic design. Here’s what the web design process looks like:
Devising a Fail-Proof Strategy
Many variables exist in today’s online marketing, but one thing never changes: no business can survive without a robust strategy. Educational organizations, institutions, and schools are no exception.
Setting SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals is the first step for website development. Take your time researching the market, and devise a strategy based on the gaps and opportunities you find.
Using Visual Elements
We are naturally observant creatures who use visual cues to make sense of our surrounding environment. That’s why the so-called ‘first impression’ plays a significant role in website design.
Remember that it only takes about 50 milliseconds for viewers to decide whether they want to stay on your site or leave. So, make sure every visual element, including colors, images, and content layout, are used to reflect the school spirit.
Making the Website Search-Engine-Friendly
Google has a lot on its plate! As of 2022, there are over 1.98 billion websites online. And over the years, Google has developed complex ranking algorithms to ensure search results are best matched with the users’ intentions. Standing on top of Google’s search result page may be challenging, but market-proven SEO practices can make it happen.
Keep in mind that ranking high on the SERPS indicates the trustworthiness and credibility of a brand. This is a must-have resource for every school and educational institution. Plus, search engine optimization can attract more visitors and increase leads.
Adding a Personal Touch
Website creation may start with premade templates, but it doesn’t end there. Best school websites always include a personal context that highlights the school’s mission and vision. Use professional, strong, and determined language to let your website visitors imagine their future at your school.
Moreover, the education industry, like every other business, needs branding. Branding translates into various practices. For starters, use a tailor-made logo, and create a harmonious relationship between the school’s logo, web design, and content layout. Image consistency is central to successful branding.
Your website is a representation of your school’s image. Moreover, an attractive and well-designed website means you care about your students’ experience and indicates your brand’s reliability and trustworthiness.
Take the time to evaluate your site’s performance based on metrics such as functionality, devise-responsiveness, navigability, high page loading speed, and content quality.
For a more objective assessment, ask students and viewers to give their feedback and suggestions on aspects that require improvement. And remember that being ‘relatively good’ isn’t good enough. Your school and your students deserve the ‘best’ website.
We have good news for you if you need help figuring out where to start. Start here at School Webmasters. We offer a comprehensive school marketing solution, from web design to social media management, website maintenance, logo and design services, and more.