What Grade Does Your Public School Website Get?

what grade does your school website get

If your school website were to get a grade, how would it fare? Does it come out on top in the various subject areas like communications, customer service, marketing, branding, telling your school’s stories, or highlighting your successes? Find out how to bring up those grades and move to the top of your class. 

The purpose of public school websites

Let’s begin with the an introductory lesson. Do you know what purpose k12 school websites need to serve? If your answer is that it is a legal requirement, you are correct, but it is much more, and if you fail to learn and apply the tips that follow, you will miss out on the benefits that the best public school websites enjoy. So, begin here:

  • Get Found – optimize it for your local search, which is relatively easy to do. Just be sure you include the names of the towns you serve. Sounds simple, but you would be surprised to learn how many school websites we see that don’t include the name of their town or state on their website. They will include just their name, which is the same as possibly hundreds of other schools throughout the U.S. If you serve several town or cities, be sure you reference them so that they are included in your keyword searches.
  • Build Trust – The website is likely the first impression you will make. It needs to build trust. That means not only should the words you use build confidence that your school is doing a great job, but even the website itself needs to build trust. That includes consistent navigation, accuracy in links and information, well-written content with no careless typos or grammar errors, and it MUST be current and informative.
  • Educate – Does your website content help parents see how your school, your mission, your teachers, and your educational goals will help their child succeed? Do you provide examples so they can envision their own child’s success because they are given proof in your stories of other students’ achievements? Does your site give them examples of how your school has solved other students’ challenges? Your classes encourage, engage, and challenge. Your teachers are talented, gifted, and caring, and students relate to them and strive to live up to the faith their teachers have in them. Do your stories show it?
  • Nurture – Does your website feed your visitors? They are looking for reasons to trust you. They are looking for information that provides solutions and solves problems. That is what you need to provide. There are many ways to do this effectively, including telling stories of success, keeping calendar information current, and providing parents with the background information about why you are making the decisions you are making. When done right, you nurture your shareholders in myriad ways, and your school reputation is the benefactor.
  • Convert – A public school website converts when it helps students, parents, and staff become advocates and ambassadors. This happens over time and requires consistency among all forms of contact they have with your school, including how parents interact with the front office staff, how students interact with teachers, and how clearly and how often information is disseminated to the community. Your messaging and branding, when consistent, builds confidence and earns loyal, enthusiastic proponents of your school. 

The most common reference to website conversion is called the “call to action.” This means that you provide a clear way for your site visitors to act on their needs. In a public school’s case, it would including being able to enroll a student (or at least find out how to enroll). It would be to get answers to questions and solutions to problems like accessing daily calendar events and school menus, paying online for lunches, learning how to contact their child’s teacher, checking on graduation requirements, etc. It can also include finding evidence of what your school has to offer, student success stories, testimonials from teachers and parents, and learning more about what your school’s mission is and how you achieve those goals.

Ease of use

The next lesson to improve your school website’s grade would be to assure that is fully accessible, both from an ADA accessibility perspective, but also to assure that it is mobile friendly on any device whether a desktop, a tablet, or a smartphone. 

  • Responsive design means that your school website is easy to navigate regardless of the device or browser. It also means that your mobile friendly design needs to be intuitive and easy to navigate and fast loading. Find out what a responsive website is and why it matters.
  • Public schools are required by federal law to comply with website accessibility standards. For more information, check out Is Your School’s Website ADA Complaint, or our Website Accessibility Tips article. Then, get any of the staff who update the website trained on what it takes to keep your website accessible. This includes attached documents that are posted—like PDFs, Word or Google docs, Excel files, and video captions. If you need some help with training your staff on this, we can help.

Website management

The final lesson would be to implement a strategic website management process. Having effective K12 websites requires far more than building a website once and turning people loose in the CMS and hoping for the best. Your school website is the public image of your school and your first impression in most cases. So, what people see when they go there matters, and it needs to be maintained and managed well. Here is the strategy we use, and you can implement something similar within your own district (or, you can just hire us, and of course, we like that option best).

  • Keeping your public school website current is a must! This becomes challenging when everyone is busy doing what they were hired to do—educate students. So, the trick is that you need to get others involved and enthused by helping them understand the value of an effective website and to understand your communication goals. Get some great tips on our keeping the website current article. Reward the behavior you want to encourage, engage others and schedule their participation in contributing news and information, send out regular reminders to your busy staff, and provide examples to emulate.
  • Create a style guide and make sure anyone who writes content for or adds content to the website follows that guide. Judy, our lead copywriter shares a great article about creating a styleguide for website content, so check it out.
  • Schedule regular website reviews, what we call quality control checks, to keep links active, correct errors (typos, grammar, layout issues), and check for accessibility issues to keep your website compliant.
  • Keep all of your school-level websites up to date. Don’t assume that if you put all your focus on a district-level website that you’re earning an “A” for your public school website. Recognize that once parents enroll their child, they are likely to use the school website as their go-to resource from that point on. That means, if only the district website is current and informative, it does your primary target audience no good. Their needs have changed, once enrolled, and now they want to know what is happening in their child’s world. So, keep that school site filled with news, events, stories, goals, and successes. Make sure they can access menus, calendars, and upcoming events right from their child’s school website, even if it just means you are linking to your district office website for those district-wide functions.

School Choice – Public schools can make the grade

Parents have lots of choices these days. As a public school, it is now imperative that you arm parents with the kinds of information that will help them make the best choice for their children. You can no longer assume that you are the only game in town or that parents will know how great you are. The media isn’t always kind; always looking for the attention seeking, scandalous headlines means your upbeat accomplishments get overlooked. 

It’s your job to keep students enrolled and parents engaged by effectively stating your case. Your public school website, working in conjunction with your social media platforms, are the perfect mediums for this. It’s more than just gathering data or measuring school performance. You need to show evidence of your success through actual stories of real people, and your school website is the place for that to begin.

  • Make a plan, yes a marketing plan, for how you are going to communicate your goals, initiatives, rationale, and successes on a regular basis. Involve as many people as possible.
  • Provide background. Explain the “why” for a change or new implementation. Nearly every decision that is made at a public school is backed by clearly planned reasoning for the choice. Even a simple field trip or class project has significant strategy behind it. But, public schools fail to explain that reasoning, so the public fills in the gaps (and those gaps are often not only incorrect but negative and disruptive). All of that drama can be avoided with better communication. When parents and community members understand the rationale behind a school’s decisions, you can turn adversaries into advocates—or at least earn their respect. That is what transparency is all about.
  • Reward those who participate in your communication initiatives. That means at the next staff meeting, you’ll recognize the teacher who provides a good success story for the website. Thank the secretary who makes you aware of a teacher’s touching classroom success. Send out a note of thanks to those with good ideas and a willingness to help you implement them. What you acknowledge shows what you value and is what others will want to emulate. So, be generous with your appreciation and recognition.

It all boils down to communication. That is the primary purpose of your school’s website. Ignoring that reality is something you will do at your own peril, and you’ll be making everyone’s job much more difficult in the process. Put yourself in the shoes of your parents and students and start there. What are their concerns, and what solutions does your school provide? Say it and then show it, and your public school will get top marks. Your public school will quickly get the reputation for the school of choice in your area. It is worth the effort.

How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook

Bonnie Leedy, CEO, School Webmasters, LLC.