- General Best Practices
1. STOP suffering alone.
We’re all in it together and Finalsite is your partner. If you’re in deployment, lean on your Project Manager. After the site launches, reach out to support or your Client Success Manager. Our support team consistently gets perfect and near-perfect scores on tickets. And go to our workshops, FinalsiteU and our webinars -- and ask questions! Lots of frustrations come from simply not knowing what’s available.
2. START looking at your Google Analytics.
You want to understand what people are noticing and get them to notice the things you want them to notice. Attend a webinar or download a recording of one of our experts talking about what to look for.
3. KEEP looking at your site.
Sounds silly but am I right? Periodically look at the stuff you don’t really feel the need to look at (because people are looking at it)! It’s like that pile of papers or clothes you stop noticing after a while until some guests turn up. And, like the pile, often you can fix things right away, like an outdated state or a missing directory entry.
4. START celebrating the voices of your school.
Everything that’s special starts with the people at your school. And try to present them online in an inviting way. This homepage feature on the Hill School website does a nice job of featuring community profiles in a uniquely staggered layout:
5. KEEP saying who you are and who you serve in as few words as possible.
Shorten it, and then iterate again to say it even more succinctly. Then find a place to include it at the top, particularly if your school’s name is shared by others.
La Salle College High School’s tagline is excellent: “Pennsylvania’s leading Catholic Day School for Boys, Grades 9-12.”
6. START getting creative with layouts.
It’s awesome to see how our schools leverage the power of Finalsite’s CMS, Composer, to create original layouts that help avoid deep sites with complicated navigation. Multiple columns and grids is a snap.
Here’s a bird’s eye view of a page in the admissions area of the Crofton House website, which they created using 1, 2, and 3 column content elements.
7. START using feedback forms.
Paragon School combined a page pop and large CTA to a form to gather feedback after their new site launched. Simple idea but sends the right message.
8. KEEP rethinking how you share your mission.
Beaverton School District did a nice job of conveying what they value and who they are in a simple graphical presentation.
9. KEEP reminding yourself that people will often skip the homepage in a Google Search.
I know, I know. We all forget it, but someone searching “St. Mary’s School tuition” is going to go straight to that page, bypassing all that well-crafted content and highly-curated photography.
10. START using animation here and there.
It’s cool, and a lot easier to implement these days. But use it with a purpose. Brentwood School’s opening salvo at the top of homepage is a nice presentation but the one that brings it home is the “Start Curious. Stay Curious. Go Anywhere” that opens sequentially when you scroll to the bottom.
11. START thinking and re-thinking your news page.
Most school websites have “news,” and oftentimes it’s featured on the homepage. But there are some really nice layout options these days for bringing that news to life and also making it more approachable for your users.
12. STOP avoiding your blog.
Some of our clients really have nailed it, and it’s cool to see. I’ve also talked to many a client who are bummed out by their blog -- stay with it! You don’t need to post every day, and the content will come in handy many times over as you tag and re-use it throughout your site. Here’s a great one from The Quaker School at Horsham -- large hero photos that associate with the post, and nice presentation of other blog posts below.
13. KEEP respecting the importance of typography.
Long gone are the days of Arial and Times New Roman. Some beautiful, web-friendly typefaces not only enhance the design but are critical for maintaining the brand. Here’s some great type from St. Dunstan’s in the UK in the middle of their homepage.
14. KEEP being clever with photography.
Sometimes a creative approach can have a bigger impact than highly orchestrated professional shots. A Better Chance used past and present shots to create a compelling visual that augments how it communicates its mission as an organization.
15. KEEP rethinking how to relay your mission and values.
Let’s face it —they can be a pretty big snoozer. Crean Lutheran High School does a really nice job presenting its mission and values interactively with well-designed roll-overs.
16. STOP being unrealistic with timeline.
This goes both ways: too fast and too slow. When you invest in Finalsite, we know it costs money and we want you to maximize your investment. Let our project managers do their job and guide you through a tried-and-true process and timelines that work. Likewise, too much time is almost as bad — you wind up living with your old website longer than you need to and in practice wind up procrastinating more (even if you’re the exception, not everyone you count on is!)
17. START looking for sweet drone shots.
Drones were all the rage and have settled into the same world as QR codes, which is to say: they have their time and place. This drone shot for Shanghai American School is stunning.
18. START sharing elements, and saving time.
Composer allows you to reuse content and elements across your site. Take advantage of this incredible feature! A little bit of planning will go a long way.
19. KEEP being an expert on your school.
We know school websites, you know your school. We can do our best to make sure you are distinct online but only in so far as you can convey your brand, message and value proposition clearly and in a way that does not fall into the generic lines we see so often.
20. KEEP listening to Red and his team.
Red Abbott is the most well-versed expert in the industry in Google, site search, paid advertising, social media management and the like. Attend all his webinars and those of Finalsite’s Consulting Services team, which includes Tracy Tigchelaar, a senior marketing strategist who oversees Finalsite Advantage 2.0, too.
21. STOP forgetting that most people don’t live in your world.
Acronyms, even “school” words like “Advancement”, and clever club and program names will stump your prospect and keep them from understanding what are likely important distinctions at your school. Keep it clear and simple up front.
22. KEEP collapsing pages.
Along the same vein of item 6, take those deep sub sections that are 4 or 5 layers deep and see if you can build out one page to include it all. Salisbury School’s college advising page does a great job of this.
23. STOP having an empty calendar.
Or make sure the “no events” is attended to--there’s always some kind of event to post, even if it’s a holiday. But, if not, adjust your default message to explain what’s going on, such as “We’re off for summer! The new calendar will be posted in August.” Just a thoughtful gesture for the user.
24. START treating your tuition page as a value proposition page.
Remember that many prospective families will land on this page first as a result of a Google search. You want this page to do as good a job as the homepage building value for your school. Morristown-Beard School does a really nice job with the language and approach to this page.
25. KEEP at it!
No website is ever done. If you need a shoulder to cry on, we’re here for that too!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Angelo graduated valedictorian from St. Paul's School in Baltimore, MD and from Princeton University. Despite getting his degree in creative writing and English Literature, it generally takes some doing to keep him from programming and breaking websites. Just after graduating, he started Silverpoint, and grew it to over 300 schools worldwide before merging with Finalsite in 2013.