If your school website isn’t making the grade now, don’t worry. We’ve got the tips to help your site get an A+.
Here at WP Hero, we provide content updates and monthly management for a fair amount of school websites. Over time, we’ve seen what works and what doesn’t, which prompted us to share what makes a great school website for all those school website owners out there.
Wait, Do We Still Need a School Website? (Or, “Isn’t there an app for that?”)
Great question, and I’m surprised you waited this long to ask! It’s true that users are flocking to mobile devices over laptops & desktops and the margin isn’t even close. Those in the primary school through college age demographic are even more likely to be using mobile devices because they’d rather eat the cafeteria’s cardboard pizza than get caught using Mom & Dad’s antique computers. But, you DO still need a school website. Why? The answer lies in our first element commonly found in the best school websites:
1. Audience Segmentation
Keep Your Audience in Mind
It’s true that an app will serve existing students well based on it’s “push notifications” capability. You are the initiator. It doesn’t matter if your students are Snapchatting or your parents are watching clips from the latest episode of Game of Thrones, everyone is going to see your messages. So why not just use an app then?
Simply, prospective students and parents will not have your app until they have a well established relationship with your school. Why would they? Until then, they are initiating contact with your school (a ‘pull’ instead of a ‘push’). They are going to do their research (their “homework” if you will ) by using your website.
As the owner of a school website, you need to balance those users who are already a part of your community as well as those who have not yet joined you, but may in the future. Your audience segmentation doesn’t quite end there though. Let’s look at all the segments now along with their likely interests:
- Existing Students & Their Parents – Interested in class schedules, locations, events, the school newspaper, and their grades.
- Potential Students & Their Parents – Interested in the academic performance of the school, extra curriculars offered, fees, and the admissions process.
- Alumni – While this may not be a relevant or appropriate segment for a primary school website (can I get a shout out for my fellow 5th grade alumni class of ’88? ), it is essential for Colleges and High Schools. Alumni are interested in keeping track of their fellow alumni, alumni-only events, and may want to be aware of donation & volunteering opportunities.
Don’t neglect the alumni section. Studies show that parents of prospective students will look for an alumni section first because it provides the ‘social proof’ of successful outcomes your school has provided for others.
- Donors – Running a private school? Donors will be interested in understanding your funding needs, how funds are used and want an easy way to submit donations or provide their contact information for a follow-up.
All of these segments of users want different things from your school website. The best school websites will satisfy all of them.
2. Responsive Design
Chances are, you’ve heard the terms ‘Responsive Design’ or ‘Adaptive Design’ by now. Responsive design automatically reformats and resizes the website to fit the viewable area of the device being used.
As with every other kind of website, responsive design is a vital quality of a modern and efficient school website. Students, teachers and parents are often on the go. We all are. Your website should be simple to navigate without any horizontal scrolling whether it’s being viewed on Juan’s iPhone, Susan’s tablet, or Dan’s laptop.
If your school website doesn’t render well on mobile devices, user’s won’t keep coming back. You won’t make Google happy either. Ever since a recent Google algorithm change referred to as ‘mobilegeddon’, Google will penalize your website in its rankings if it scrolls horizontally.
Despite this important trend, not all web designers design websites in a mobile-first manner, so choose your design agency carefully. That being said, there are many quality agencies out there who will. One such agency we can recommend is Talent10.
3. Engaging News & Events
Reading, Writing & Relevance
I like to say, “The only thing worse than no school website at all is an out-of-date one.” Still highlighting your Spelling Bee champion from 2011? While successfully spelling “scherenschnitte” was an impressive feat, leaving that stale content on your site is now likely sending bad signals to your users.
The best school websites are always up to date with current news and events that are of interest to all segments of the website audience. This keeps your users coming back for more.
- A Lively School Calendar:
A good school website will have a helpful and uncluttered calendar that shows all the important events throughout the academic year. The calendar is a highly dynamic part of the website. It needs to be up to date at all times with the latest events.
Consider this: A well-designed school calendar will not only help students and staff keep track of important events, but also show prospective parents and donors that the school administration is actively engaged in organizing important workshops, seminars, extra-curricular activities.
- Relevant News:
News articles are yet another dynamic section of a winning school site. Make sure to include multiple news items that are relevant to the audience segments we’ve already covered. The news should always be fresh.
News and events are linked together like gym class and smelly socks. They can be managed in tandem since the items can be featured on both during their lifecycle. A student body election coming up? It can be on the calendar until the voting day, and then the results can be featured on the news section. If the school administration arranged an intriguing seminar, it would be featured on the calendar until the day of the seminar. After that, a brilliant story on the seminar can be published in the news section and it should disappear from the calendar.
But how can you keep up with all of this? Keeping a vibrant, lively school website sound challenging? That’s because it can be. This brings us to our next essential element…
4. A Proactive Management Schedule
- Content Management
An essential tool of the best school websites is a Content Management System (CMS). A CMS makes it easier to change your website without having the coding chops or the gray t-shirt of a Mark Zuckerberg. One of the most popular CMS systems is WordPress, which now powers over 25% of the websites in the world. 16 million websites can’t be wrong.
Once you have the right tool, you need a process. A schedule can be defined to ensure routine inspection of the website content. The idea is to identify obsolete or otherwise irrelevant information and have a regular prompting to get new events, news, or staff information updated.
Put 1 person in charge of website content. Whether it’s their primary role or a secondary one, this person will be responsible to follow the schedule. They can also be an advocate for reminding others in the school to submit content to them. As an added benefit, if this person acts in an editorial role, you are guaranteed to have content on the site share the same ‘voice’ and writing style.
- Site Management
What goes in the background of a school website will ultimately affect what happens at the front-end. While CMS systems like WordPress can make updating your website easier, there are still technical hurdles to overcome when it comes to upgrading code or fixing that frustrating layout that just isn’t working.
If you don’t keep the software up to date with the latest updates, you could be inviting hacking, slower performance, or display rendering problems to appear which will frustrate website visitors. Therefore, your proactive website management schedule needs to include the technical updates to software, plugins, and themes.
While you could hire a full-time person or a web agency to do website management for you, another good option is a friendly managed service like WP Hero. Here at WP Hero, we make updating content, fixing a problem, or upgrading software painless so you can spend your time on other things, like enriching the young minds of tomorrow. To get started, we even offer your first task free without a credit card.
5. Social Media
Sharing is Caring
Great schools recognize that they are building a community of students, parents, staff and alumni. They also recognize that their website is an important mechanism to promote their school to the outside world. Great school websites foster this community building and marketing by making it easy to share content over social media. One plugin that makes this super easy is the Monarch social sharing plugin from Elegant Themes. You can see it in action on this very page at the left or bottom, depending on your device.
Social media ‘follow’ icons should be placed prominently in your header or footer to make it easy for website visitors to connect with you on an ongoing basis.
Consider embedding photos or posts from Instagram, Facebook or Twitter directly in your website using a plugin to avoid added, redundant work. Connecting your website to your social media channels keeps your messaging synchronized and consistent.
Running a school is a tremendous responsibility and a significant amount of work. While on a different scale, running an amazing school website will require a similar intentional, concentrated effort. Incorporate these 5 elements and your school website can be the perfect communication platform and marketing tool.
Disclosure: From time to time, our blog posts will contain affiliate links for services we actually use and recommend. This means if you click on the link and purchase something, we will receive an affiliate commission.
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