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10 Lessons from Avon Old Farms School's New Blog
Mia Major

Getting your school's blog off the ground is no easy feat. It takes an immense amount of planning and strategy: Who will contribute? How often will we post? How long should the posts be? What will be the required format? What will we write about? How will we promote it? What happens if no one is reading it?

The list of questions to get started is enough to send any already-overwhelmed private school marketer running in the opposite direction. And, with plenty of other forms of content taking charge in the digital space, like videos and podcasts, the decades-old "blog" can seem the most out-dated of the bunch.

But not for Avon Old Farms School. The AOF blog, which just launched in July using the new Finalsite Posts module, is a school blog of epic proportions that breathes new life into the world of school blogging. Although The AOF blog is still in its infancy, there are plenty of lessons schools can take away.

AOF Blog Header

1. It's never too early or too late to start a blog.

Avon Old Farms School is certainly one that we acknowledge as an innovator in the digital space. With a platinum award-winning site, a killer social media strategy, a video marketing strategy, and some seriously gorgeous e-newsletters, it's no surprise that they added a blog to their line-up of amazing content.

That being said, jumping into the school blog game in 2017 can be intimidating when you've already seen school blogs that have been around since 2012 or earlier. But, The AOF blog proves it's never too early or too late to start...and well, if you are going to show up late, it is best to make a grand entrance.

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2. The blog experience matters.

The first thing you'll notice when you land on the AOF blog is the well-thought structure of the page. The top of the blog includes a feature story, as well as a link to subscribe.

Top of AOF Blog

Scroll down, and you'll notice a right-hand column of "trending topics," and a panel of the bottom where visitors can select a blog, a blog category, or search for a keyword.

This user experience is similar to one you'd see on Buzzfeed, The New York Times, or even here on The Finalsite Blog. With a variety of stories, images, and access points to discover a blog of interest to the user, The AOF blog has a no-fail set-up in place to engage new and returning visitors.

AOF search and categories

There is also quite an attention to detail on each blog post. Each post includes at least one image, and standard architecture for the use of text and photos.

How does The AOF blog maintain its consistency? Each contributor received a two-page guide for writing and styling the blogs from Associate Director of Marketing and Communications Kristen Kerwin. Bravo.

3. Link to pages, not pop-ups.

With both news stories and blogs, schools often opt to link to a page pop rather than an internal page. While this is the easier route (and in some cases certainly does provide a better user experience) linking to a blog page gives you a direct link to share in newsletters and on social media, offers a complete user experience and improves your performance in search.

AOF Blog Post

4. Custom images improve blog presentation.

Something as simple as creating a template for your blog images and thumbnails can improve the look of your blog. On the AOF blog, each thumbnail is the exact same size and marked with the type of blog it is — Feature or Profile.

AOF Custom images

This also enhances the user experience because as you sort through the blog categories — Admission, Alumni, etc. — you can see which type of stories appear in that category.

5. Use social sharing buttons.

Social sharing buttons are a quick and easy way to increase awareness about your blog. The AOF blog makes the strategic move to post social sharing buttons at the bottom of each blog post. I stress the buttons' location, because a website visitor is more likely to share a blog after they've read it.

6. Humanizing the blog author personalizes the post.

This is the first school blog I've come across that actually puts a spotlight on who the blog author is. Adding a headshot, name, and short bio to the end of the blog post is a nice way to highlight members of your community, and promote your faculty. This would be especially effective in the case of student and alumni-sourced content.

Plus, your writers are more likely to share the content on their personal accounts when they're given credit!

AOF Blog - Author Bios

7. Make the subscription form short and easy-to-find.

When you're going to have an active blog, it's important to give your future, current, and former families the option to have that content delivered to their inbox. It's an easy way to get contact information from prospective families who aren't ready to inquire yet,engage with current families, and re-engage alumni.

The AOF blog makes subscribing easy. You can subscribe by clicking the large CTA in the top right hand corner of the blog landing page. Or, when you're reading a blog, the subscribe form is embedded in the right hand column. Additionally, the form is only four fields — an ideal number for high conversion rates!

AOF Blog subscribe

8. Share a variety of content.

School news and a school blog are two completely different entities, and it's your job to determine where the line is drawn. In most cases, a blog has feature stories, tips, ideas, profiles, and other forms of inspirational content. On the other hand, your school news section should share stories about recent and upcoming events. Typically, blog content is evergreen — meaning it can be posted again and again over time without losing relevance — whereas news content becomes dated. Length also plays a role here, as blogs tend to be more than 500 words.

This is a general rule of thumb that The AOF blog follows well. Their blog has stories like " You're Off to Boarding School for the First Time! Shake Off the Jitters With This Advice" and "The Successful Boarding School Experience: 8 Steps to Developing Your Routine," whereas their news section has stories like Nick Bonino '07 & The Stanley Cup Return to AOF on August 20.

The blog also features articles on why choose a boarding school or an all-boys school, which helps in their organic rankings for these keywords. On the AOF website, news content remains in the news section and blog content remains in the blog — making the lines clearly drawn in the sand.

9. Promote your blog on social media to earn more traffic.

A blog wouldn't be successful if it no one ever saw it. For AOF, it makes sense to take prompting their blog to social media, where they already have a dedicated following. Each blog post gets promoted using a custom graphic that includes an image, AOF brand colors, the blog title, and a brief teaser in the text. With up to 80 likes per post, and numerous shares, this strategy is quickly becoming a way for AOF to reach new audiences on social media, and drive new traffic to their website.

10. Use Finalsite Posts.

Selecting the right platform for your blog is just as important as the content that fills it. While many schools opt to host their blog on a site like Wordpress for its simplicity, this choice can actually be detrimental to search performance, as research shows that posting content on two competing domains can do more harm than good.

The AOF Blog is powered by Finalsite Posts, our new dynamic content module that offers an ideal content sharing platform for news, blogs, teacher pages — and virtually anything. (We used it for our FinalsiteU agenda!)

Some noteworthy Posts features you may have seen on The AOF blog include:

  • Filtering content by category
  • Keyword search
  • Social sharing buttons
  • Thumbnails with ALT text
  • Custom URLs

For tips on setting up your blog in Posts, read this step-by-step best practice blog from Posts' Product Manager Daisey Fahringer.

click here to listen to apply yourself podcast episode 20


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 specialises 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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