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4 School Website Homepage Hacks to Improve Performance
Mia Major

As a marketer (or admission director, or webmaster), when you manage your school website, your job is to outrank the competition and build a website that engages users, while upping inquiries and enrollment.

Loomis Chaffee SEO-Friendly Footer

Needless to say, high bounce rates and poor performance in search are a school marketer's worst nightmare. And sometimes, the efforts it takes to combat poor performance can be slightly intimidating.

However, some of the changes are easy — and they get you off the ground running with minimal time and effort. Here are four simple website updates you can make to your school website's homepage to improve the user experience, and performance in search.

1. Use Plaintext in the Places that Matter

It's a time where there is a strong focus on digital storytelling — more photos, more videos, more content. And while your school's story is the heartbeat of a successful marketing campaign — what is it worth if prospective families can't find you?

Good use of plain text, accompanied by your school's digital content, can improve its performance in search because of the importance of Google's NAP+W score. In short, consistent plain text across your school's website and directories like Yellowpages.com ensure that Google sees your school's website as legitimate, improving its search ranking.

Plaintext should be in the following locations on your school's website:

The footer: Rather than use your school's logo in the footer, opt for using plain text. By nature, its purpose is to include the contact information for your school. So don't get fancy. Include your schools full, official name, address, and phone number — and any other important details or contact information.

The Canadian Academy Footer

The header: Whether you choose to write your school's name in plain text, add a brief description below it, or add ALT text to your image logo, your school's name should be incorporated in the first panel of your homepage in plain text.

Holton-Arms Achool Text in Header

As ALT text for images: Adding ALT (alternate) text for images can be cumbersome, especially when you're uploading dozens of photos to your website. However, ALT text is critical. You can add it to any image you upload in Composer here:

CMS ALT Text


Free SEO Worksheet

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2. Craft a Better Homepage Title Tag + Meta-Description

Too often, schools make their homepage title tag simply their school name — or their school's name plus the word "Home." And while that is, of course, descriptive of who you are (and where a visitor is on the site), it isn't really helping you.

83% of all school searches start with an unbranded search — meaning that they are not searching for your school's name, but rather, searching for general, local terms like "best private schools near me," or "catholic schools in Atlanta."

So — think about which terms a prospective family would use when they're looking for your school. Are you a Catholic School in Boston? Are you an all-girls boarding school in California?

Use this term in conjunction with your school's name for the perfect page title tag. Remember that Google search truncates page titles that exceed 55 characters, so play around with some different combinations.

For example, St. John's Preparatory School shortens their school name to include more important SEO-friendly details here:

St. John's Prep SEO

Want to do a quick check of what your Homepage title tag is? It also displays in the tab of your browser. If your school's title tag says something like School Name + Home or Home | School Name, you should not hesitate to make this quick and easy fix,

St. John's Title Tag

Your homepage meta-description is also important.

Allowing you 155 characters before becoming truncated, you have the opportunity to define who you are in a bit more detail. The goal of the meta-description is to drive qualified site traffic. It can be simple, or it can be compelling.

Here is a great example of a compelling meta-description from Baylor School:

Baylor School SEO

Equally as effective, this is a great example of a simple meta-description from Westover School:

Westover School SEO

Here's how to update your Homepage Title Tag and Meta Description on Composer:

The Mead School SEO

And on Page Manager:

SEO Settings in Page Manager

We recommend adding search engine optimized title tags to all website pages. But, if you don't have time or resources for that, we can help.

3. Write a short description of who you are and who you serve.

This one is so simple, but often forgotten on school websites. Simply adding a statement like "A Catholic Preparatory School Serving Grades K-12 in Tampa, Florida" can improve site performance for one main reason: you're not making it hard for visitors to find out if they're in the right place. This kind of statement works great in a header or footer, and should always be in plain text. Typically, you'd want this description to be the same, or similar, to your meta-description.

CCDS Text in Header

This is especially important for branded search queries — searches that include your school's name. Whether a family heard about your school through Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM) or saw a digital or print ad — you've prompted them to learn more about your school. But, making it difficult to find out who and where you serve results in a bad website experience — and high bounce rates.

Plus, these kind of plain text keywords are great for SEO!

4. Size videos and images for the web.

Bottom line: page load speed affects your school website's traffic. While most users will wait 6-10 seconds for a page to load, keep in mind that, in general, page abandonment increases as load time increases.

The most common cause for slow load times is large photos and videos embedded or used on your homepage (and throughout pages on your site).

Here are a few tips for ensuring your images and videos are optimized for the web:

Export images at the size they will be displayed on your website. Focus on image size and getting your dimensions right. Uploading a 7000 pixel-wide photo for a 200 pixel-wide thumbnail isn't necessary, and bogs down site speed. While it is an extra step to resize images imported from cameras, I like to create Photoshop templates that already have the sizes for each area on the site I update images. That way, the settings are already there, and I simply have to drag, drop, and save! Compressor.io is a great tool to use to compress images once they are resized.

Be sure all images for web are 72dpi. While in print having 300dpi improves the quality of images, this will not make a difference on the web.

Find an image optimizer tool that doesn't hurt the quality of your images. I like to use ImageOptim, a free tool that shrinks down image size without harming image quality. However, it is only available on Mac.

Be sure all photographs on your site are a JPEG. Only use PNG files when uploading a graphic. Since they are higher quality, they'll bog down site time if you end up using a PNG file for photographs. A pro tip from the Support Team: use the tool TinyPNG to optimize your PNG images when they are absolutely necessary. Just drag and drop the image into the site, and they'll reduce the size by half or more.

For video, download our Quick Guide for Optimizing Video for the Web for a variety of tips and tricks for improving site speed.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mia Major

As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, Mia plans and executes a variety of inbound marketing and digital content strategies. As a former TV and news reporter, freelance cinematographer and certified inbound marketer, Mia specializes in helping schools find new ways to share their stories online through web design, social media, copywriting, photography and videography. She is the author of numerous blogs, and Finalsite's popular eBook, The Website Redesign Playbook.

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