We’re big on analogies here at Finalsite. And when we were brainstorming a new course on how schools can improve their websites, we realized how similar it was to the process of building a house. It requires careful planning and design, and each wall and room are reliant on the structural integrity of another.
Without a foundation, the design plans are useless. Without walls, the paint choices never see the light of day.
The way your website works is similar. A beautifully-designed website means very little if no one can find it through search engines, and your landing pages have no value if they don’t offer a clear path for visitors to take the desired action.
This is why Finalsite created Fixer Upper: School Website Edition: a three-part course designed to help you identify areas of improvement on your school’s website, complete with the suggested tools and skills to help you make those improvements.
The goal of the course is to go beyond the design of the homepage and focus on the interior pages that make a difference. In this blog, we’ll walk through the science of five conversion-focused pages and exactly how you can design them for a better user experience.
Together, we’ll build the ideal layouts for:
Bonus: Watch the full Fixer Upper Lesson here!
Before you begin: Understanding landing pages and the common pitfalls to avoid
First, what is a landing page? Simply put, a landing page is exactly what it sounds like — it’s the page a visitor lands on after taking an action. This can refer to the page they reach from Google results, from a social media ad, from an email, or directly from your website’s navigation.
In general, there are three main types of landing pages:
- Landing pages accessible from your main website navigation
- Landing pages built specifically for advertising
- Landing pages that are found through organic search
Why is it important to understand the difference? Because a user who finds you through organic search may have different intentions from the person who clicks on your ad, who is also different from your direct website visitor! Every individual who lands on your website comes at a distinct stage in their journey.
When looking at your admissions funnel, there are five stages to consider:
- Awareness - Families in this stage may not know your school yet and are searching for the best option.
- Interest - At this point, your prospective family knows who you are and is more likely to take a low-commitment action, like downloading a viewbook.
- Desire - Your visitor is far enough in their research process to confidently make an inquiry for their child(ren).
- Action - Your family applies!
- Experience - Your family is enrolled at your school, and your goal at this stage is to retain that enrollment.
The three types of landing pages we identified earlier fit into particular stages of your admissions funnel. Your top organic pages through search engines fall into the early stages, your landing pages from your website’s navigation are visited after a family already knows you, and your landing pages for advertising likely fall the whole way from the beginning of the funnel to the application stage.
It’s important to identify these differences now, because the way you build a page that’s designed for families in the awareness stage will look a lot different from your inquiry page. But before we get into our wireframes for core landing pages, let’s dive into the pitfalls to avoid.
Common Landing Page Pitfalls
While there are nineteen mistakes you need to avoid across your entire website, there are four that I want you to focus on and avoid for your landing pages.
- No opportunity to convert: The most frustrating landing page experience is one that doesn’t offer information about what to do next. No matter where your family is in the funnel, you need to be clear about what you want them to do when they land on your website. This can mean placing a contact form directly on the landing page or offering clear calls to action for what to do.
- Searcher’s intent does not match conversion opportunity: You need to ensure that the keyword terms you are trying to rank for match the conversion opportunity on your landing page. (Here’s a blog if you need a quick SEO refresher.) For example, if someone is searching “how to choose the best private school” and you serve them an ad that goes directly to your inquiry page, you’re not matching the top-of-the-funnel intent of the family, and you will likely lose any potential for a conversion. In this case, a lighter touch conversion, like an eBook on choosing the best private school, would be more appropriate.
- Poor user experience or design: It’s essential to keep your website up to date with the latest design best practices. Our perception of what defines the “best” online experience has changed drastically in the last year, so be sure that you’re meeting those expectations.
- The landing page doesn’t deliver on what’s promised in the ad or meta content: Your meta content, or the SEO descriptions of your pages in the backend of your website, should be customized on a page-by-page basis. When someone sees your page show up in search results, the content they see before clicking should match exactly what the page contains!
In this example, Greater Atlanta Christian School optimizes its meta content to match the expectations of the searcher.
Your Inquiry Page
We’ll start with one of the most important areas of your website: your inquiry page. You should not expect that other pages on your website will sell the value of your school on their own — your inquiry page needs to be equally inviting and conversion-focused.
The above wireframe lays out a blueprint that you can use while updating your inquiry page. Some notable elements include a heading with your value proposition, a section identifying your differentiators, and a main call-to-action (CTA).
The content in this wireframe is mindfully laid out to keep your visitors engaged without burying the form far down the page.
Boston Trinity Academy puts this ideal layout into practice on its virtual admissions page.
Here, you’ll see that Boston Trinity begins with a grabbing headline, immediately goes into three differentiators (and earns bonus points for using videos for these differentiators!), and then offers the inquiry form right on the side of the page.
Why does this work?
- There is no confusion about what you should do on this page.
- There’s enough content to draw you in, without hiding the main CTA to inquire.
Perhaps one of the simplest pages you can create is a dedicated landing page for an upcoming admissions event — and it plays an important role in the Desire and Interest stages of your admissions funnel!
Follow the wireframe above and include these key elements:
- The name of your event
- A short description of the event (Be sure to include your date and time)
- A registration form at the top of the page
- The event agenda
Bonus elements to include are:
- Video and/or photos to help set the tone for the event
- Testimonials from past events
- An anchor CTA at the bottom of the page that brings you back up to the form (should your page be long enough to warrant the nudge)
Here, you’ll see how The Woods Academy built an open house landing page using all of the key elements noted earlier. It includes core event details, describes the value of attending, offers a simple form to register, and provides bonus content like an overview video and an opportunity to schedule a tour.
Using a dedicated template like this for all of your events will help improve your registration numbers while gaining important information you need to nurture a family all the way to the enrollment stage. Win-win!
Content Download Pages
Similar to events pages, a landing page for content offers — like eBooks, brochures, and PDFs — should be simple, engaging, and clear.
You might be thinking, “Why go to the trouble of creating a landing page instead of simply linking to a PDF on a page that already exists?” And to that, we would suggest looking back at the admissions funnel.
If a prospective family is somewhere between the awareness and action stages, how can you ensure you’ll get them to the point of inquiring? Content downloads are the perfect in-between offering, as they:
- Can answer a more top-of-the-funnel question that a family in their early research phase would find value in;
- Introduce your school to a family in a way that is a lower commitment than asking them to inquire;
- Provide an opportunity to gather a name and email address that you can then use for email automation.
In this example, Hebron Academy follows the general guidelines of our suggested content download wireframe, with:
- A top-of-the-funnel guide answering a question regarding tuition in a private school education
- A photo of the guide with a description of what it contains
- A simple form close to the top of the page
- A testimonial with an opportunity to contact admissions
Landing Pages for Ads
Landing pages that are built for your advertising efforts should be approached differently from the landing pages we’ve discussed so far.
Unlike pages that are found organically through your navigation or through search engines, landing pages for ads should take your ad copy and the intent of the user into further consideration. If someone has already clicked on an ad — whether or social media, in a display ad, or through a search engine — their expectations have already been set. Plus, you paid for them to find this content…so the stakes are a little higher!
Your landing page for Ads should:
- Confirm that your visitors are in the right place
- Offer additional information that shows the value of your school
- Remove all navigation (aside from your logo to return to your main website experience) so that you can focus the visitor’s attention directly on the content you paid for them to see
- Include a form with a compelling CTA
The above wireframe can be effectively used for an ad that is conversion-focused. This can be for an ad that is meant to get families to inquire, schedule a tour, or another bottom-of-the-funnel ask. For an awareness-stage ad, you can simply use this wireframe and move your form to the bottom of the page. This way, you put your school and the value of attending first before asking your visitor to do anything.
In this example, Buffalo Seminary School drives its ads to a simple landing page that puts the inquiry form right at the top of the page, with no opportunities to do anything other than the desired action.
Pro Tip: Don’t reinvent the wheel! Creating a landing page for your ads can be as simple as copying your organic page and making some minor adjustments like adding a form, removing the navigation, and condensing your content.
Last but not least, let’s talk about thank-you pages. While they are too often forgotten about, thank-you pages serve as a vital piece in your landing page strategy. Without them, you’re missing an opportunity to further engage with someone who is essentially raising their hand to talk with you. Plus, having a thank-you page URL can help you set clear goals for ads, which will improve your analytics.
On every form’s thank-you page, be sure to include:
- A confirmation message: “Thank you for your interest …” “You just signed up for…”
- An explanation of what happens next: “Expect an email in your inbox shortly with…”
- Opportunities to explore more: “In the meantime, here are some additional resources you may like…”
Bonus: Personalize it with a video! “Hi! I’m _____, and I’m so excited that you’ve _______! Here’s what you can expect to happen next.”
Even if you plan to follow up form submissions with an automated email, a thank-you page is still an essential part of the experience. Take the content example we showed earlier from Hebron Academy — here is what their thank-you page looks like:
It sets the expectations that the guide will be arriving in your inbox, offers a direct link to the guide in case you don’t want to wait, and then takes it a step further to offer more areas of the website to explore with a video to learn more about the school. *chef’s kiss*
Why is this important? There is rarely ever an opportunity to know exactly what a prospective family is thinking, so when they fill out a form on your website, take that chance to engage with them when you know they are in that mindset.
Landing pages play a key role in grabbing the attention of prospective families throughout their admissions journey. Take these wireframes into practice, and you’ll have the right recipe in place to help them finish that journey by enrolling at your school. As always, if you aren’t even sure where to begin, the Finalsite team is here to help!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
In her position as Inbound Marketing Manager, Kristen provides the strategy and creation of content across email, website and social media communications at Finalsite. With over five years of experience in content strategy and digital marketing, Kristen has worked with clients around the country to develop their branding, SEM, SEO, social media, and inbound efforts. She holds and maintains a number of certifications from Google, Hubspot, and Hootsuite