• Independent Schools
Defining What Makes a Best-in-Class School Website with Germantown Friends School
Mia Major

"Best-in-Class web design" is a term we've coined here at Finalsite to define school websites that push the envelope on web design. They work with our designers to think about where web design should be, where they want their school marketing to be, and fill in the gaps with innovations and ideas that set new trends. Best-in-Class school websites stretch far beyond bells and whistles, but implement strategic marketing.

Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia, PA has one of these Best-in-Class school websites. "Our Best-in-Class design is a result in being thoughtful and planning components for a while, not rushing it," said Alyce Callison, the school's Website and Digital Communications Manager.

"We knew going in what kind of news we wanted to share, what our style was, our story, our brand. It was a matter of using Finalsite's flexibility to find the best way to share the key parts of our story and share our story in a really pure way."

Germantown Friends School - Best in Class Design

So...while I could end this blog post with Alyce's impeccable description of what it means to be Best-in-Class, let's take a look at a few of these key elements that set their school's website apart.

The Website Redesign Playbook

Download My Copy

1. Their website is an extension of their re-brand.

In all honesty, every time I show this website to another school as an example of a Best-in-Class design, they fall in love — and it's easy to. When you're a prospective family visiting Germantown Friends School's website, you're immersed in a distinctive and playful design.

These design elements are not unique to their website however. These are elements they carry throughout all of their marketing materials, to strengthen and unify their brand in a competitive market. It's an industry best practice not many schools follow — but Germantown Friends School does, and it is making a huge difference.

"The website has been a huge part of our branding efforts, said Alyce. "Not too long ago, our communications team put in a lot of great work to develop a new viewbook — and everyone loved it! It won a lot of awards, and a lot of our branding got based off the viewbook...and the website is an echo of that."

GFS Testimonial

Key takeaway: Your digital marketing and print marketing should be an obvious extension of one another.

2. Their web design, photos, and enhancements reflect their core values.

Today, it is so easy to get caught up in all website enhancements available to schools — embedded videos, animations, hover effects, parallax scrolling...you name it. Most schools just want everything and anything, rather than asking themselves "how does this really benefit our school?"

However, Germantown Friends School doesn't. Their web design and choice of design enhancements is extremely thoughtful.

Alyce explained that the communications team is deliberate in trying to convey a joyful experience. The team consciously tries to promote the joy of education, and the website is part of that messaging.

So what design enhancements, exactly, make their website joyful?

The bright color palette of somewhat unconventional colors:

Germantown Friends School Bright Color Palette

Subtle animations, like this little arrow nudging you to apply:

Animated Apply Now Button

Whimsical typography:

Whimsical Typography choices

Fun interactive elements, like the infographic on the homepage:

GFS Interactive Infographic

Key takeaway: Think about how today's web design innovations can become a reflection of your brand, not a distraction.

3. Their photos are also an extension of this key brand message.

"We have a few photographers that we like to use that help us keep the style we have on our website and in our print materials," said Alyce.

"We try to be conscious and make our photos be a certain style and quality."

Alyce says that the school changes up their photos a few times of year, especially when they get a new, beautiful photo of their campus during a season like fall, or after it snows.

"We know that visuals are an important driver in digital marketing," said Alyce. "I think some of our photos say more than our text in a lot of places — especially on the homepage."

Key takeaway: Think about what kind of photos you can take that your competitors cannot.

GPS Campus Life Photos

4. Their content is simple, but effective.

One mistake schools make when given a new website is to just move all their old content over to their new site, without thinking about how it fits, or how it would respond on mobile.

Germantown Friends School's has exemplary website content for three main reasons:

  • It's short, sweet, and easy-to-read on all devices
  • It has a consistent voice with their brand
  • It incorporates testimonials

"Being a Quaker school, we are attentive to the language we use in presenting ourselves and the way we talk about things," said Alyce. "So, everything our team wrote for the site was extremely thoughtful, and much of it was driven by the viewbook."

GFS Academic Text

Most importantly, the communications team thought about the website content as they built out the site, rather than after. The communications team continues to meet with different constituent groups to make sure the website content and navigation is working well for them.

Key takeaway: If you want a Best-in-Class design, don't wait until it is built out to start adding your content.

5. Their website is easy to maintain.

Best-in-Class websites are a constantly evolving animal. They need new content and photos to stay relevant and interesting. However, when you have a difficult CMS, tasks like swapping out a photo can be cumbersome — which is why Germantown Friends School opted to use Finalsite's CMS, Composer.

"I was super impressed with Finalsite Composer from the beginning," said Alyce.

"It's really intuitive, and it goes a step further by having already built-out capabilities that hadn't even occurred to me. I kept thinking 'wouldn't it be nice if Composer could do this,' and then I would find out it can! You can just tell the software was really thoughtfully developed, built based on years of experience and requests, layers and layers of requests, and tailored to a website editor's needs and experience."

Since launch, Germantown Friends School has seen their website traffic double in a year-over-year comparison. Alyce attributes this to the new, responsive design that looks and works beautifully on all devices.

"Everyone loves the homepage and the experience of coming to the site, and it has had an overwhelming positive response," she concluded.

Free School Website Audit


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 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.

  • Content Marketing
  • Success Stories
  • Website Redesign
There are no news posts to display

Virtual Social Media Workshop

Join us virtually on January 17, 2020 for a full day of social media strategy from the comfort of your couch, office, or favorite coffee shop.

FinalsiteU 2020 | March 4-6, 2020

Join 300+ school professionals from around the globe for the industry's "must-attend conference of the year."