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6 Simple Changes to Enhance Your Website's News Section
Mia Major

The way people expect to receive news has changed. We don’t have to wait for a newspaper to show up on our doorstep, or to catch the evening news. (Although, I do get a little nostalgic thinking about it.) Everything is available on-demand from our phones, laptops, tablets, watches...and even refrigerators.

In addition to the availability of news, leading digital publishers such as Buzzfeed, CNN, The New York Times, and The Skimm have changed the way we engage with news. Websites offer a constant flow of information with no end in sight, and you’re constantly encouraged to read the next similar story.

The New York Times website

And while your school or district certainly isn’t a news giant, website visitors do expect to find the content they’re looking for easily — and even be prompted to read similar content. If you want to increase engagement and readership of your school or district’s news section, make these six simple changes. (Most of them will take less than a few minutes!)

1. Send them to a website page, not just a lightbox.

Lightboxes, which are on-page pop-ups that appear when you click certain actions on a website, have always been a popular way to display news on school websites because they provide access to content in one click, and keep website visitors on the same page. However, lightboxes are not an ideal solution for news stories because they don’t provide the same modern news experience today’s website visitors expect. Tiny boxes with lots of texts and lots of scrolling? Not exactly ideal, especially on mobile.

And, according to our in-house consulting team, lightboxes are not crawled by Google. So, if you’re spending time and effort writing news stories to help with your organic search performance and only displaying them in a lightbox ... it is unfortunately, a wasted effort.

Looking for the perfect win-win user experience? Try this:

If you still wish to use a lightbox for the news stories displayed on your homepage to keep visitors there, add a “view more news” button that sends website visitors to a main news landing page on your site. From here, you can display the news content on individual pages so that it exists somewhere besides a lightbox, without having to write the content twice.

The Hun School of Princeton’s new Best-in-Class website touts this exact user experience, and it works beautifully! Visit the homepage, and you can easily click on the school’s most recent news stories (which display in a lightbox).

The Hun School News and Events

When you click “all news” you are brought to this stunning landing page, where each news story then lives on its own individual page.

The Hun School Welcomes New Faculty and Staff
The Hun School Welcomes New Faculty and Staff

 Download our FREE webinar to learn tips for creating noteworthy news pages!

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2. Add Additional Reading Links

One of the reasons you might object to abandoning your beloved lightbox is the thought that website visitors can access numerous news articles from the same page. That’s the ideal user experience, right? Well, kind of.

Have you ever clicked on a news article on social media, only to find yourself still on that website twenty or thirty minutes later, a dozen articles deep? That never-ending loop of articles helps these news giants keep you engaged with their content for longer — and you should create this same type of user experience on your website.

In this example from Spring Branch ISD in Texas, the panel on the right includes additional news stories called “Top Headlines” to further encourage the website visitor to read more.

Spring Branch ISH The School Zone News

And in this example from Sacred Heart School in Greenwich, the news page includes additional reading along the side as well, but includes the thumbnails to make it even more visually engaging.

Sacred Heart School Greenwich news page

3. Be Smarter with Images

There are two key factors that will determine whether or not someone reads one of the news stories on your website: the headline and the image. So, if you want to make your news articles more clickable, be sure that you follow these best practices for news images:

1. Use high-quality images. This one might sound like a no-brainer, but there’s nothing enticing about a dark, blurry, or pixelated image. 

2. Be sure all of your images are the same size. This plays a particularly important role on the news landing page on your website because it keeps things clean and organized.

Highline news

If you use Composer, Finalsite’s Content Management System (CMS), along with our blog and news tool, it’s easy to ensure all of your photos will be the same shape and size without having to edit them yourself. In the Posts Element Settings on your website, be sure that you’ve selected a size, shape and alignment for your images under “Post Thumbnail.” Here, be sure to select “Rectangle” or “Square” so that the images are automatically cropped to your desired shape.

Composer Posts Thumbnail menu

If you don’t have an image, don’t leave it blank! Find a free, related stock photo on a website such as Unsplash or Pexels, or follow suit with Spring Branch ISD and Sacred Heart Greenwich and create your own standard stock photo that includes your school logo and/or colors to fill those gaps when you can’t find anything that corresponds with your news story!

Sacred Heart Greenwich News Archive

Enhance the images used on news story pages. In other words, don’t display the same tiny thumbnail at the top of the page! You can automatically make the image larger by adjusting the settings in Composer, or, use the Resources module to integrate a photo slideshow. We also encourage you to use images throughout your post when possible — the same way you would on your website!

St. Mary's Cathedral news story

4. Use Categories and Tags to Simplify Searching

Remember the days when you’d get a newspaper delivered to your doorstep in the morning and you’d immediately flip to the section that interests you most? Comics, lifestyle, obituaries...even in the days when the real newspapers were what we depended on, we still had an index to find what we were interested in — and your website’s news page should follow suit.

In this example from Webb School of Knoxville, website visitors can find news articles from eight different categories. 

Webb School of Knoxville News category filters

Note that the categories set up as “topics”, such as athletics or school events. It’s important to avoid using internal nomenclature (such as homepage news) as a filter on your website, as website visitors won’t know what that entails.

5. Add Social Sharing Buttons

Get more miles out of your news content by encouraging social sharing! Add social media sharing buttons to your news stories so that parents, students and faculty can easily share them on their personal networks.

Pro tip: If you want your news stories to gain traction on social, be sure to feature the individuals within your community, as people are likely to share stories about themselves or individuals they care about.

6. Format Content to Make it Scannable

When you format website content in general, it’s important to format it with millennials in mind. A smart use of headers, lists, and callout text make content easy to scan and digest. This article from The Hun School of Princeton features callout text, headers, and images to engage readers and make the content easier to digest.

Key Takeaway

If you’re putting effort into writing news stories for your school or district’s website, you want them to be enjoyed, read, and even shared. Take the extra time and effort to implement these six simple changes to lower bounce rates, increase traffic, shares, and more!


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mia Major

As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, Mia shares innovative and helpful content that helps schools and districts create captivating online experiences that increase brand awareness, student and faculty retention, and school-to-home communications. With more than six years experience in the industry, Mia has written more than 200 articles, eBooks, and reports about best practices for schools on a variety of topics from social media to web design. As a former TV and news reporter, and wedding photographer, Mia specializes in sharing how to use storytelling to power your school's admissions funnel. When she isn't busy creating content or hosting a webinar, you can find her hiking with her Boston terrier or enjoying a well-deserved savasana on her yoga mat.

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