A good school website typically has one target audience in mind because it enables you determine the best user experience for your website. Many schools focus on two target audiences -prospects and current families. For instance, a website focusing on prospective students should have different content, calls-to-action, and navigation than one focusing on current parents — and vice versa.A good user experience on your website includes clear messaging, content available in just a few clicks, user pathways for easier navigation, fast load times, and mobile optimization. And, the foundation of a great user experience is a functional and logical navigation.
While schools and designers can predict what makes a good UX, sometimes it takes time to truly develop the best experience for all audiences. This is something that Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart knows well.
After redesigning their website in 2016, and introducing new portals and a new LMS to their community, the communications team sought feedback. It was important to the school to hear how well the average user was adjusting to the new site, so they surveyed current parents and faculty/staff to receive honest feedback and suggestions they could use to make their new site even better. The survey included questions like: What is your primary method for viewing communications from the school? What would you like to receive more information about from the school? When you visit the school website, what are the top three reasons for your visit?
Joanna R. Dugan, the school's Communications Associate, recently shared how the school used feedback from the survey to improve their site in three distinct ways:
1) They Added Utility Bar With Calls-To-Actions For Easier Navigation
Almost every website you come across, you'll find a traditional navigation that organizes content in a top-level navigation (including Admissions, Academics, Athletics, etc.), with relevant content on lower-level subpages in each section.
However, in some cases, schools want to make it easier for website visitors to find the most important pages. In this case, they can use a utility bar. A utility bar is typically placed at the very top of your website, and includes quicklinks, login information, a search button, and a few key calls to action.
By adding a utility bar at the very top of your website, you're able to bring these important pages right in front of your visitor, highlight an important school event, or even allow your visitors to search for specific keywords on your site.
"We decided to identify the information that parents thought was being buried on internal pages," said Joanna. "This exercise led us to what we felt was the best solution: the addition of a utility bar, which is complete with a quicklinks dropdown, easy access to our portals and LMS (myAcademy) and call-to-action buttons for admission and development."
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2) They Made Improvements to Their Responsive Design
While the school went responsive in 2016, their survey indicated roughly 54% of their parents were now using a smartphone as their primary method for viewing communications from the school; while an additional 5% use an iPad. Based on this feedback, they were able to make updates to their navigation with a sticky navigation/menu, new display for their homepage videos, and made viewing content easier with interactive hover and click through features.
They even introduced the new mobile-friendly interface on social media with this interactive video using screen recording on an iPad:
"Responsive design matters and the experience for parents, prospective families and any other visitor needs to be fluid and user-friendly," said Joanna. "This is paramount for us especially in the highly competitive marketplace in which we exist."
3) They Incorporated Video as Part Of Their Digital Storytelling
It isn't a surprise just how important video is for communicating your brand story, mission and message. Yet, finding a way to strategically incorporate it into your UX, without bogging down site load time and losing interest, can be tricky.
Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart successfully does both with their new interactive book, The Courageous Book of Compassionate and Creative Boys, that outlines the school's mission through engaging videos. This interactive book is a perfect example of how well you can get creative using video.
It was important to find a compelling way to bring in the school's mission and values into these videos. Joanna elaborated how the heart of their campus is the William E. Simon Chapel Library, a popular space for the boys to spend their time reading and searching for the hand-selected books they find the most interest in. This fact alone sparked the vision of an interactive themed book with videos as various "chapters" highlighting what teachers, students, parents, and alumni thought best about the school and how the phrase "gentleman scholar" resonated with them.
"In today's super competitive marketplace the ability for a school to find their authentic voice is vital," said Joanna. "What we found was our own unique voice - we are a boys school, not by tradition, but by intention and design."
"We also wanted to capture the journey and unique stages of a boy's development from kindergarten to eighth grade while emphasizing our programs, Learning Principles for Boys and Portrait of a Princeton Academy Graduate," said Joanna. "We had a lot of fun putting these videos together as a new way to tell our story and control our unique and distinctive brand."
The five chapters cultivate the school's digital story through interviews with students, faculty, staff, parents, and alumni. The videos cover multiple topics like the mission and goals behind the school, the level of opportunity and involvement the students have, how the boys learn and interact with other students and faculty, and how they make the transition to secondary school.
Since videos up to 2 minutes long get the most engagement, Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart has improved its UX through this interactive book with short, organized videos around the school's story that are easy to follow and intriguing to watch.
Redesigning your website might mean some changes for your visitors. Therefore, it is important to consider the feedback of your users to see how you can shape a better UX on your website.
"The bottomline is that parents and consumers don't have the patience for bad design and user interface, so we wanted to be sure to deliver on that front and couldn't imagine a better partner than Finalsite to achieve the results we are looking for," said Joanna. "The response has been fantastic; parents love the new features and appreciate the ease with which they can navigate our site, and were also really grateful that we listened to feedback and responded with demonstrable solutions."
How do your marketing strategies compare? Want to be on our Featured Friday blogs? E-mail us at email@example.com and share your success with social media, the Finalsite platform, admissions, crowdfunding, or content marketing!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephanie brings a fresh new marketing perspective with her background in social media, communications, and radio broadcasting. She is a co-producer for the FinalsiteFM podcast network and is passionate about helping schools stay ahead of their marketing goals by tracking new trends and developments. She is also a practicing singer/songwriter and loves to expand her creativity in DIY projects.