A glossy website is part and parcel of the school offering nowadays. MARIE CAHALANE checks out how to enhance your website, drive visitor numbers and analyse the data you capture to effectively improve your online presence
Your school’s website is like the icing on a cake: do it right and it immediately makes what lies beneath all the more flavoursome.
Your website is multi-layered and must convey your school’s ethos and curriculum in order to appeal to prospective students while at the same time working as a resource and communication hub for current parents and students.
Every school is different, and so is every website, but there are certain ingredients which, when combined, create something with added UMPHH! Certain features that can drive visitor numbers and certain measures to make the most of what you have.
There are obvious (and not so obvious) features that set a site apart
Back to basics
It’s simple; a great website drives visitor numbers and gives your school a competitive edge. But what are the hallmarks of a great website?
There are obvious (and not so obvious) features that set a site apart. Richard Huthwaite, marketing manager at Primary Site, suggests news feeds, calendars that sync to parents’ personal calendars, animation, responsive design, clever navigation and video content.
For Laura Sutton, marketing co-ordinator at e4education, a quality site must enable stakeholders to find and access the information they need “…in a user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing way,” and must also “…showcase the school’s values, facilities and unique selling points.” For extra sparkle and an immersive experience she stresses the importance of an image-centric home page.
So, while attractive features draw people to the site, what keeps them coming back?
Are you talking to me?
The main challenge, in Richard’s eyes, is tailoring the school’s site to a variety of user journeys. “School websites have to work that bit harder because they are performing for different audiences – from staff to current and prospective parents and students – and seeking to meet their different needs.”
So, while attractive features draw people to the site, what keeps them coming back? Laura recommends strategy informed by audience analysis, so you know who ‘they’ are, “…what their challenges are and what answers they will be looking for when visiting your website. Put yourself into your audience’s shoes, think of a destination, (e.g. the calendar) and measure how many clicks it takes to get there. Was it easy to find?”
Gerard Corr, web designer at School Web Design, builds on this reminding us that the site is aimed at parents who are always on the go so keeping it simple is key. “Parents want to go straight in and lift information so a site that provides them with their own section, tailored to their needs in terms of information and resources, is going to be more attractive.”
Breaking the ice
How do you boost interaction and engagement on the school website? Our experts were all in agreement – keep it up to date! “It’s keeping news, fixtures and calendars up-to-date,” Gerard observes, “then link these to other areas, for example social media accounts or email newsletters, so that parents don’t have to go to the website, the website almost comes to them.”
Social media is a great way of connecting with your audience; by promoting your website’s content on social platforms, posting pieces of interest
Having the most recent information, Richard says, is an incentive to check back, read the latest news, events or seek out photographs or term dates. “It’s an opportunity for parents to interact with the school and understand what their children have been learning in the classroom and what they are likely to come home and talk about.”
There are two main drivers for Laura. The first is an up-to-date site. The second calls for student involvement – getting them to write news and post blogs. It’s a great skill-builder for one thing and, as Laura says, “This not only gives them a sense of ownership but also encourage parents to interact with the website and posts on the various external social platforms.”
More than a social platform
Social media is a great way of connecting with your audience; by promoting your website’s content on social platforms, posting pieces of interest – news, term dates, photographs – parents are made aware of your site’s resources and will click-through for more. Social media engages parents and opens up new channels of communication.
Social media can be daunting for schools but, as Gerard points out, “Just because you’re not on Facebook, for example, doesn’t mean parents aren’t discussing you. Being on social media allows you to be part of the conversation.”
Tried and tested
There’s no better way to ensure continued success than knowing what you are doing is correct. Analyse the data collected by your content management system (CMS), by social media – by your school’s online footprint. It’s about knowing what your audience is interested in and making the most of it.
Many CMS use similar programs and, as Gerard points out, they all look at basics statistics in order to, “ascertain what people are viewing and use this as a guide future content instead of focusing on static information pages that nobody goes on.” Sometimes, though, it’s as easy as speaking with the parents who use your site, asking them what they feel is lacking, where you can improve and what they find useful and then acting accordingly, of course.