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​Can Your School Website's Homepage Answer These 5 Questions?
Connor Gleason

As school and district websites see more and more traffic, it goes without saying how vital your website's content and design are to meet families' growing expectations.

That being said, meeting the needs and expectations of current and prospective families simultaneously can be tricky. Prospective families want to know things like, “How does your curriculum prepare students?” while current families want to know things like, “What’s for lunch?”

Every school website's homepage design — whether you work at a small independent school in Texas or a large district in Utah — serves two major purposes:

  1. Inform visitors with compelling content
  2. Provide clear direction for families to find the information they need

1. Engage and inform visitors

While the old saying goes, "You should never judge a book by its cover," we all do — quite literally. A compelling book cover leads a passerby to pick up the book and read the synopsis. Reading the synopsis leads to sifting through a few pages, and those pages hopefully lead to a purchase. The same is true about the website design for your school.

A compelling, user-friendly homepage entices website visitors to stay, which leads them to explore and learn more about your school. Then — whether on that particular visit or a future one — they fill out a form to learn more about what your school offers.

2. Provide clear direction

Just because information is important doesn't mean it should live on your homepage. Would an author put their novel's plot twist on the cover of a book? No.

While your homepage's content should be compelling enough to encourage visitors to stay, it should also be easy to navigate and provide clear directions for prospective and current families.

Kansas City Public Schools is a fantastic example of a purposeful homepage with great directionals. For current families, navigating to the "Families" or "Select a School" happens in a single click. For prospective families, learning more about what makes KCPS special happens naturally through beautiful videos, photos, quotes, and high-quality written content. 

Kansas City Public Schools Family Navigation

While KCPS's website certainly makes for a great online presence, many school websites make common homepage mistakes, including:

  • Confusing navigation
  • Unattractive design
  • Too much content
  • Outdated content
  • Overwhelming graphics
  • Slow load times
  • Content that doesn't match what they expected to find

To ensure that your school website design fulfills both its purpose of engaging and directing families to the content they want, your homepage should answer the following five questions:

  1. What Do You Do?
  2. What Makes You Unique?
  3. Why Should I Care?
  4. Will I Fit In?
  5. What Do I Do Next? 

1. What Do You Do?

Your school's homepage must clearly state who you are and what you do.

To a prospective parent, nothing is more frustrating than Googling "best private schools near me" and then landing on a website where you can't tell which grades and genders are served. Your website visitor shouldn't have to travel far to learn whether you're a religious school, all-girls or all-boys school, boarding school, day school, or a public school.

One of the best ways to incorporate what you do on your homepage is by simply stating it in plain text near your logo in your website's header and/or footer. (This is also great for optimizing your website for organic search.) For example, Paideia School speaks about preparing students, while the video denotes that the school is co-ed.

Paideia School video of a family walking to school

Fordham Prep incorporates a detailed statement about who they serve in their homepage's "mission" section. Positioned to the left of a compelling infographic, finding this information is easy.

Fordham Prep Mission

And in this example from Sterling Hall School in Canada, the creativity is noted. SHS asks visitors website visitors what's important in a JK-8 all-boys school.

Sterling Hall School What's important to you

If you work at a public school district, you may feel noting who you serve may seem obvious, but do it anyway! Providing some detail up front — such as the areas you serve, number of schools, or total enrollment — is important and interesting to families researching schools there. This example from Sun Prairie Area Schools in Wisconsin shows how easy it is to incorporate essential facts with compelling content.

Sun Prairie Area Schools experience panel

2. What Makes You Unique?

In other words, why should I pay to attend your school or move to your town to attend your public schools? Competition is tougher than ever, with no two schools or districts taking the same approach to learning, and you need to communicate what sets you apart effectively.

Infographics are a common way to showcase your differences. They're great for capturing the attention of screen-fatigued families and also work great on mobile devices as design elements. This example from Dexter Southfield School is filled with unique data that speaks to the school's value proposition.

dexer southfield fast facts

Quotes answer the question of "What makes you unique?" in words other than your own — which is key to earning the trust of millennials and Gen Z in particular.

St. Mary's Hall uses a real name and grade, whereas a quote cited by a "parent" isn't as compelling or authentic.

St Mary's Hall Testimonial

Photos and video are also an effective way to answer this essential question. Within your visual elements, focus on the 5% that makes you special — your campus, classrooms, spots, location, or people.

Meanwhile, St. George's in Newport, RI, has scenery on their side — it is one of their trademarks, and it makes sense for them to lead with it in their visual elements and school web design.

a surfer in the ocean with a sunrise

Don't forget to call out your school's differentiators. We love Merchiston Castle School's "Our Difference" panel on its homepage and social media integrations to pull in the latest content and upcoming events.

Merchiston Castle School testimonial

3. Why Should I Care?

When a visitor lands on your school website's homepage, one of the first things they're looking for, often without even realizing it, is the answer to the question, "Why should I care?" Whether it's parents, students, or staff, this question is key because it directly explains why it matters to them.

Rugby school homepage

Addressing this question head-on helps to create a sense of need or urgency. It tells your audience that the education you offer is not just another option out of many, but it's a valuable opportunity that can make a significant difference in their lives or the lives of their children.

adams five start why us

In essence, answering "Why should your audience care?" on your school's homepage is about connecting with your visitors personally. Show families you understand their needs and have a clear, compelling experience that meets their needs.

Why st isidore school panel

4. Will I Fit In?

Feature photos and videos of students who have already found a way to fit in. Prospective families want to know:

  • Does the school share our interests?
  • Does the school share our goals?
  • Does the school share our beliefs?
  • Are there people like "me" at the school?

Lakeside School in Washington does an excellent job of proving that there is something for everyone on campus. Website visitors are greeted by an interactive header with rotating value propositions — each one showcasing a different aspect of life at Lakeside.

Lakeside School values

Scroll down on the page a bit more, and you'll find "The Student Experience" — a dynamic panel with various photos to highlight the programs available and the people who participate in them.

lakeside school "the student experience" panel

While photos are great visual stories, it can be hard to beat a great piece of text content that comes from the heart of a student, parent, or faculty member. Profiles are relatable and provoke the emotion that answers this question with a resounding "yes." Western Academy of Beijing has a fantastic "Student Voices" section on its homepage, packed with authentic moments from various students on campus.

wab students testimonials

Don't just speak to parents and students, though. The Tulsa Public Schools website includes faculty on their homepage to drive home that "all are welcome."

Tulsa voices testimonial panel

5. What Do I Do Next?

A "Virtual Tour" button or a "Request More Information" dropdown is a must-have element of a successful homepage. Your website's goal should be to convert visitors into leads, and the most effective way is by providing a simple call to action button that fulfills their needs (and yours).

On your homepage, have a call-to-action that appeals to each website visitor at their stage in the applicant journey. For private schools, in particular, only having an "Apply Now" button on your homepage could cost you some serious conversions.

A combination of calls-to-action may look something like:

  • Inquire Now / Request Information
  • Take a Virtual Tour / Visit
  • Apply
st. gill cta buttons

Often, schools like to include a button for donations, which works well too.

kcps calls to action

Beyond answering the question of "how can I learn more" for prospective families today, directing current families to the information that's essential to them is key, too. Give current families a go-to place accessible in one click that is a one-stop-shop for their "how can I learn more?" needs.

Stevenson High School Navigation

In this example from Stevenson High School, a top public high school in Illinois, their navigation is dedicated to directing current and prospective families to the content most important to them.

Key Takeaway

A good homepage answers these five questions by combining modern design and logical user experience. Basic information is not buried beneath design enhancements; your school's mission and values are not lost in a yard sale of content that's been acquired over time.

website redesign playbook

Connor Gleason Headshot


Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.

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