- General Best Practices
On January 26, Chief Innovation Officer Angelo Otterbein and I co-hosted a webinar called "10 Things to Stop, Start and Keep Doing on Your Website in 2017." The webinar was inspired by last year's series of School Website Throwdown webinars, where we would critique 10-15 school websites live in a 60-minute period. Over the course of the webinar series and the year, we picked up on a lot of trends — both good and bad — that schools were using.
In addition to a year's worth of throwdowns (more than 100 websites!), as a company we launched more than 300 websites in 2016 — and it is part of my job to keep an eye on what our schools are doing. Again, both good and bad.
So, needless to say, this list grew to be much bigger than "10 things." We got closer to 50 in fact, but condensed it to 27 for the webinar. And in this blog, I'm cutting it down even more to the most important four things schools should stop doing on their websites...immediately.
On-Demand Webinar: 10 Things to Stop, Start, and Keep Doing On Your Website
Okay, so stop...
1. Treating areas of your website like a dumping ground
We get it — sometimes it is just easier to throw a piece of content on the homepage, or add a link to the quicklinks dropdown. However, there comes a time when you need to put your foot down. For most schools, a homepage is their number one tool for recruitment, so if it's cluttered with random summer reading PDFs (which is a whole other problem in and of itself, see below), and content that doesn't contribute to your school's story, you may be saving time, but you're hurting yourself.
In addition, the point of having a quicklinks dropdown is to provide quick access to top-hit pages that are buried 2-3 clicks from the homepage. You don't need to include every last page you think is popular.
You can use Google Analytics to determine your top pages, or survey your community on what is important to them. Rule of thumb: Your quicklinks shouldn't have more than 6-10 links.
Lastly, if you struggle with determining if a piece of content should go on the homepage, ask yourself these three questions:
- What is the goal of our homepage?
- Does this piece of content contribute to that goal?
- If not, where on our website does it belong?
2. Using PDFs on your website as a source of content
We wrote a whole other blog on this topic, because it is a monster of an issue. But in short, when you rely on PDFs as a primary source of website content, you:
- Decrease site speed and performance dramatically due to file size
- Offer no mobile experience, as PDF documents are not responsive
- Break strict ADA compliancy guidelines
There are times when a PDF is mandatory (like a school calendar), but keep content like this to a minimum — and never on your homepage. Forms and other documents that are critical to parents should be kept in a password-protected portal for organizational and security purposes.
3. Adding enormous photos, and then resizing down
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. A few rules of thumb to follow:
Always export images at the size they will be displayed on your website. Uploading a 7000 pixel-wide photo for a 200 pixel-wide thumbnail isn't necessary, and bogs down site speed.
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. Compressor.io is another great tool to use to compress images once they are resized.
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. TinyPNG is another free tool for optimizing your PNG images when they are necessary.
4. Creating Dead-End Pages
Your website is a map, and you can control the journey. Adding dead end pages is just like putting a huge roadblock in between your website visitor, and a potential conversion.
Beginning with your homepage, every page on your website should lead to another page that makes sense — meaning every page should offer a relevant call-to-action for different types of website visitors. For example, on your homepage don't just have an "inquire button," as many individuals coming to your website might be there for the very first time, and aren't ready for a commitment. On your homepage, opt for 3-4 calls-to-action, including: Inquire, Apply, Visit, or Give.
Then, on your landing pages, use analytics to determine which of your interior pages are the most popular. Use 1-2 CTA buttons on each landing page to direct website visitors down another level. Once on an interior page, think about where they could go next, and so forth.
One of my favorite things about Pingry School's website, is that there is always, without exception, a logical next step on every single page. It's one of the reasons it took home silver in the 12th Annual Davey Awards last fall.
In addition to creating dead-end pages, don't create dead-end experiences. Think about what happens after someone submits a form — do they get an email? Do you send them to a new page? What do you do to keep them engaged? We recommend using "Thank You" pages — and you can learn more about those here.
Curious about what other website trends made our list?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, Mia plans and executes a variety of inbound marketing and digital content strategies. As a former TV 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.
- Web Design