Your school website is your face to the public. It’s your chance to create a favorable first impression. So it’s imperative that you know going into your website development who you want to attract and what impression you want to give. No matter what population you represent, it’s important to incorporate best web practices into your school website. And as every good website developer knows, the number one rule is to Keep It Clean and Simple.
Simple, Clean Graphics
Does your school serve an active, energetic lot of preschoolers? Are you a STEM-focused school? A college preparatory school? An alternative high school? Start the website planning process by thinking about the profile of the students and families you want to attract, and then move forward from there. The pictures you use on your website matter, and so do the colors you choose. Keep it simple. Keep it clean
Use Your Own Photos
It’s always best to use your own good quality photos rather than stock photos. But beware the temptation to use too many pictures on one page. Hey, you’re excited about your school—and rightfully so—just remember that you want to keep your Home page clean and simple. You want to pack a positive punch in that first impression. Most of the time, one prominently featured high-quality photo representing your students and school on your Home page is just right.
Use Pleasing, Representational Colors
A preschool might incorporate mostly primary or whimsical, bright colors on their website, while a college preparatory school will go for a more mature look—like navy blue or burgundy and gold. Obviously, you want to use your school colors on your school website. But keep in mind that color preferences morph and change over time, just like fashion and interior design. Remember that avocado green, harvest gold, and burnt orange everybody loved in the 1970s? Maybe not so much today, right? It’s important to update your school colors with tasteful shades or hues of your colors with a spin towards today’s trends. Your school colors can always be blue and orange, but they don’t have to be the same blue and orange of decades and generations gone by. Your school website is an easy, and affordable place to update your look and make a small, yet important, change.
With more than 15 years of school website experience, School Webmasters knows exactly what pages your school or school district websites need. We have the expertise to create a site that is simple to navigate making everything easy to find. This means that the top navigation on your school website’s Home page should provide a simple “map” of your school. Begin with an introduction to your school, and work your way through the most important aspects of the school day, ending with an invitation to contact you with questions or for more information.
We generally recommend that every school website contain the following pages:
- About Us
- Our School
- Our Teachers & Staff
- PTO/Site Council
- Awards & Recognitions
- Before/After School Program
- Clubs & Activities
- English as a Second Language
- Special Education
- Helpful Resources
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Our Community
- Web Links
- Website Accessibility
- Contact Us
When your navigation is set up similarly to our example above, most site visitors can quickly and easily find everything they’re looking for. However, it’s nice to have a place where you can quickly link specific sets of site visitors to information they often need. For a school website, visitors usually fall into four main categories—students, parents, employees, and community members. Additionally, there are people who are looking for reasons to move into your school boundaries, or if they already live within your boundaries, they might want to know more about the schools their children will have the opportunity to attend.
To connect your visitors to the information they want, we suggest curating “quick links” into categories geared to these groups of site visitors. It’s especially nice to make the quick links accessible from every page on your website.
A Simple Welcome
I’m amazed by how frequently I see school websites that don’t immediately tell you where they are located and what grades they serve. After 30 years of using the internet and visiting websites, it seems like including such basic information right up front would be a given; after all, just because you know where your school is, doesn’t mean everyone else does! Remember, it’s quite probable that there is another school (if not many other schools) with the same name as yours, and you want to be sure people know they’re on the right website as soon as they land on it.
Here’s an interesting case in point. I did a Google search for “Mountain View High School,” the Arizona high school nearest me. The search returned three other Mountain View High Schools on the first page—one in El Paso, Texas, one in Stafford, Virginia, and one in Loveland, Colorado. Even more interesting/irritating is that to find out the location of each one, I had to scroll to the bottom of each of these sites just to find out. To figure out what grades they served would have taken much more time than I cared to spend.
A Message from the Principal
After introducing your school by location and the grades you serve, a friendly, welcoming message from the principal adds a nice touch to your school’s Home page. Keep it short but friendly as you give a more in-depth introduction to your school and it’s personality and goals. Every school has a mission and mission-specific goals; make sure your principal’s message sets the tone for accomplishing them.
Home page real estate is premium. Make the space easy on the eyes. Cut the clutter, and don’t make your visitors scroll down too far for information. You may be thinking that you must have your information and announcements on the Home page so they don’t get missed or lost deep in the website. So, how do we solve this problem? At School Webmasters, we came up with a solution many years ago that serves our clients well. We suggest putting a news “teaser” on the Home page that links to the rest of the story on the News page. We call this the “What’s New” section, and use it to post eye-catching, current announcements front and center on the website’s Home page, all while keeping the page clean and attractive. Clients that initially rejected this suggestion often come back to us after they find they don’t have a good place to put a super-important announcement on the Home page. The “What’s New” block is a great way to feature frequently changing information while also keeping your Home page current and looking great year after year.
Along with important notifications and news items, it’s also necessary to create some space on the coveted Home page for upcoming calendar events. A calendar widget is the perfect way to compactly display a specified number of upcoming events on the Home page that seamlessly links visitors to more information and the full calendar on the website’s Calendar page.
Don’t forget about your social media pages. You’ll want to use your website to promote and link to your social pages and vice versa. Use your school website’s Home page and the website header or the footer to display social media icon links on every page of your website.
You can also showcase your social media pages on your Home page by using the streaming feed widgets various platforms offer. Facebook and Twitter both offer ADA-compliant widgets that will fit in just about any place on your Home page. You can place them in the sidebar or the main page area, anywhere that creates a balanced effect and where there is adequate surrounding white space to prevent crowding the page.
Resist the Urge to Crowd More onto the Home Page
The temptation can be strong to add more and more to the Home page. The fear of something not being seen is real. We hear you. But trust us when we tell you that by keeping your Home page simple, clean, and professional-looking, you give a phenomenal first impression. You’ll relax your site viewers and keep them there longer. Ultimately, you want them to find everything they’re looking for with just a click or two. A Home page that presents as a point of chaos at first sight is never effective. Too much visual input creates uneasiness, speeds up the visitor’s heart rate, and causes frustration, ultimately ending in abandonment. That’s not what you want. Make your Home page a nice place to invite your visitors to stay awhile, relax, and read up on the great things about your school. Or maybe just create a space where they can quickly find the information they’re seeking and go happily on their way. Both create a pleasant user experience—one your site users will appreciate and respect you for.
Contact School Webmasters
Come on over and check out some of the websites we’ve created at School Webmasters. We’re happy to discuss how these ideas can benefit your school or how we can help you create a professional and effective school website. Please feel free to call us at (888) 750-4556, or send us an email. We look forward to hearing from you.
Posted by Judy Bittner, Project Management Director, School Webmasters