- UK Independent Schools
Summer is the perfect time to review your website; to explore what has worked, find out why and improve. Think about your school website as a garden. If left unattended, weeds grow and flowers wilt! Regular maintenance is key to ongoing engagement with your audience. In this blog, Finalsite Production Manager, Kealan Duffy, shares 10 things you can do to your website to make an impact during the next academic year.
1. Optimise website navigation
Navigating your school website with ease is key to a positive user experience. Try stepping into the shoes of your audience and review the navigation experience from their point of view. Is it easy for prospective parents to find an admissions enquiry form? Do current parents have to click through multiple drop-down menus before finding the school calendar? You want to make sure that the navigation can quickly guide your users to relevant content. Ask another colleague who doesn’t work on the school website for a fresh pair of eyes. Draw insights from analytics and visitor surveys and if you want to really get stuck in, try using a heat mapping tool to get a deep understanding of how your visitors are using your website.
For examples of school websites that have clearly defined navigation paths, take a look at Tonbridge School's hamburger menu which prioritises the schools most important sections (look for the three horizontal lines placed at the top, right-hand corner of the website). The Canford School website is another stellar example, offering three clearly defined paths for prospective parents, current families and members of the general public, ensuring that visitors looking to hire a wedding venue don't end up on the school calendar!
2. Refine content
With any luck, you’ll have been able to share the workload and have had multiple contributors making updates to the content on your school website. If this is the case, it’s important for your brand that there is a consistent tone of voice across your website (other than the pages that embrace the different voices of user-generated content). Looking through your website can be time-consuming so it helps to prioritise the pages that are important to your key target audience. Your highest-traffic pages are a good place to start. When you begin to review your content, ask yourself the following question:
Is the content succinct, easy to follow and relevant?
- Keep sentences to one or two points
- Reduce large pieces of text into smaller 'chunks' that are easier for readers to process and remember.
- Make sure the language you use is aligned with your school's brand
- Don't forget to keep key messages, testimonials and biographies up-to-date
- Testimonials, biographies are still accurate
- Avoid jargon and abbreviations that new visitors will be unfamiliar with.
- To make it easier for visitors to find what they are looking for on your school website, use the terms your audience will be searching for.
- Keep images and other visual elements consistent. (Take a look at The Fettes College school website and you'll notice how the visual patterns are repeated.)
- Use the same format for buttons, tables and spacing.
3. Add video and photography
Shorter attention spans mean that it's more important than ever to use photos and videos. Although your homepage is very important; remember that not all visitors will arrive at your website from your homepage. Your visitors might be coming from a link on social media, a google search, or from an email. If they have clicked on a link to a landing page promoting your open day, for example, it’s possible that they may not encounter the homepage at all!
Make sure the pages you are directing your audience to have a strong visual impact; rich quality video and images that bring out the school's personality. The Royal Hospital School website has a strong visual presence which is maintained throughout the site. Each page either has an engaging video, image or infographic.
4. Review calls to action
The information on your school website has a purpose to drive a specific goal, whether it’s to gain more students, recruit new staff or increase donations to an annual fund. On every page of your website, you should be clear about what you want your audience to do next and provide users with a relevant call-to-action (CTA).
Some common calls-to-action for prospective families are:
- Arrange a visit
- Request a prospectus
- Read the blog
- Book a tour
Review the following success of your CTAs:
- Are they helping you achieve your goals?
- Are they aimed at your target audience?
- Are they clearly signposted?
CTAs are crucial bridges to your website and admissions goals, so make sure they stand out or risk losing your visitors! Test your CTAs, does the phone number work? Is the form easy to fill-in? Take a look at the homepage CTAs on Leysin American School in Switzerland school website, they cater for prospective families at various stages of admissions funnel from enquiry to application.
5. Tell new stories
Storytelling helps to break down complex ideas and make them more memorable. Testimonials and case studies are ideal for sharing experiences from your school community. Use social media feeds to include authentic, user-generated content within your school website. Is there a story being told using vast amounts of copy that would be more memorable and easier to digest as an infographic?
The St Dunstan’s College school website does a splendid job of telling their school's story; the homepage video shares the stories of students and their different passions and unique school life journeys. They also have an ‘Our Stories’ page, with stories told by juniors, senior and sixth form students, offering new families a glimpse into student life.
6. Maintain topical & dynamic content
Maintaining topical content means to update content that changes regularly on your website such as news stories, blogs, social media feeds and calendar information.
During the summer holidays, you can still create engaging content. Take a look at this great example from an independent, boarding and day school in the U.S, Peddie School. They share their light-hearted side by publishing an article about staff pets, (rest assured, the article is not about animals and pupil favouritism!). This is a great way for visitors to see a different side of the school’s personality.
If you have an events calendar feed on your homepage consider showing alternative content over the summer. Use this opportunity to get a head start on some of the highlights of the autumn term events schedule!
Review and update your social media and take a look at which channels are getting the highest engagement. Make your busy term-time schedule more manageable by creating your topical content over the summer while the corridors are quiet! Using Finalsite’s Posts module, you can easily create articles now that can be published at a later date.
7. Personalise key user journeys
If you’re ready to add a new tool to your school marketing kit, personalisation is definitely worth considering. Personalisation is about giving the visitor a customised experience based on:
- Demographics (e.g. location)
- Behaviour (e.g. pages they visit)
- Context (e.g. the device they are using)
Using this information, it’s possible to tailor content for different visitors.
Chadwick School uses a design feature to personalise their user’s experience based on programmes they are interested in. They have a ‘My Chadwick Journey’ page that allows you to fill in information about yourself and interest to personalise your content. It builds a custom journey and you don’t have to read content that is not relevant to you.
Using Finalsite’s website personalisation tool, schools can tailor the website experience based on a visitor’s language and/or location. You can personalise content, headlines, CTAs, images and much more.
8. Improve accessibility
Digital accessibility is about ensuring your website can be used by as many people as possible. Improving your site’s accessibility can help:
- Engage the full potential of your audience
- Provide a more usable, inclusive experience
- Meet compliance with WCAG 2.0 and E.U regulations
The Trinity-Pawling school website has been designed for accessibility. It has a motion video on their homepage with a pause button to stop if it’s causing any problems to visitor’s vision or if they find it distracting. The text is large, readable and has a gradient behind the images. In addition, if you’re unable to use a mouse, you can use the tab key to navigate. Digital Accessibility awareness is an increasing area of interest in the UK and worldwide. At Finalsite we are developing our standards to meet the highest levels of compliance worldwide.
9. Design a new promotional feature
You might not be thinking about a website redesign but it doesn’t mean that your website has to stay as it is. If you have updated your marketing strategy or have new initiatives on the horizon, you can develop new pages within your current design to strengthen its promotion. A great example of a key promotional feature page appears on the Dulwich College website. They created a specific page to celebrate their 400th anniversary and included their special events program, a timeline and relevant news and videos.
10. Develop opportunities for your community
The final tip is to develop opportunities for your community to get involved in. Once these opportunities have been developed you can set up a new page for your community and encourage incentive visits. Explore the Canford Community page on the Canford School website to see how they engage the wider community by promoting events, community-led groups and sharing news and updates about alumni.
Take time to identify your biggest challenges and to understand the needs of your target audience, then draw on some of the above ideas for improvements. Some of them might be small; changing a few pages or refining content. There may be more significant changes to undertake or new projects to move forward with, such as designing a promotional page or introducing personalisation for the new academic year. Either way, there are many things you can do to create a fresh new impact for the new school year.
“Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.”
As UK Production Manager at Finalsite, Kealan oversees the designers and developers in our UK office to deliver innovative and engaging websites to clients across the globe. He has a strong passion for audience-driven web design and has been working closely with schools since 2009 to understand their needs and lead the creative direction of their projects.
- Web Design