- General Best Practices
We now know that the Digital Campus experience on the website needs to go further. It needs to anticipate better; respect a user’s time better; and make it all just as friction-free as possible. This means paying attention to the details all the way through the website, beyond the homepage.
To bring that point home, we evaluated interior dwell time (the amount of time someone spends on a particular page) on dozens of websites and found the following interesting:
- On average, a user spends 1:24 on the homepage compared to 1:11 on the about page, 2:04 on the directory and 2:15 on the tuition page. If you total just those 3 interior pages together, a user is spending triple the amount of time on those interior pages compared to the homepage.
For district websites, as one example, users spent more time on the transportation page than the homepage!
- Users spend over a minute on your top five interior pages. A minute may not sound like a lot of time, but time yourself for 60 seconds viewing a page and see how much information you can absorb.
With this in mind, we’re going to focus on what that notion means for the interior of your website, using common pages that are generally highly trafficked on school websites. These sometimes “forgotten” pages long for your attention, and it’s time to give them just that.
Top Website Pages Your Website Should Have (and Focus On) in a Virtual World
1. The “About” Page
This video provides an overview of how Lake Highland Prep does a terrific job with it’s “About” landing page, one that is often typically little more than a few paragraphs of content and therefore a missed opportunity for reaching prospective employees and families who have bypassed the homepage.
A great "About" page includes:
LHP drives this home right at the top with “Empowered by education. Defined by character.” Just two sentences of text follow, but they are extremely well written and purposeful, covering the right amount of introductory ground.
It’s important to the School, so it’s important on the About page. LHP’s mission also happens to be short, which means a higher likelihood of it getting read. If yours feels too long, perhaps start with a few sentences then link to the rest.
What makes LHP unique? The page communicates this with a large picture grid overlaid with “Patriotism”, “Christian Values”, “Leadership & Character”, and “Lifelong Learning”. The hover states on these blocks encourage the visitor to learn more.
Prospective families want to see how a school builds character and teaches integrity, so including this helps validate what LHP stands for; the design also makes it easy to digest.
The combination of a written quote with inline video is powerful and attentive to the reader and the watcher.
LHP has 50 years of tradition under its belt and it’s clearly a milestone they want to emphasize. Linking the strategic plan is a smart way to share the promises of what’s ahead.
A great "About" page doesn’t necessarily have to have all of the above, and you may find alternative content or media to achieve the same result; what’s important, though, is to avoid the tired language of an overwrought mission statement or overview, and focus in on what you want visitors to learn and understand about you ... and quickly!
2. College Guidance Page
For many prospective families, college placement is the top priority for making a decision about where to send their children to school. While school leaders will actively encourage families to think about the broader outcomes of the education students will receive, there’s no quicker metric than the college matriculation list.
But what makes a college guidance page strong is what else is included with this list, namely the process and how the school helps parent manage it:
Starting with Freshman year, Lake Highland Prep provides an overview of what the school will experience, including a “highlight” that makes their program unique. Parents can easily see an organized, stepped approach to the process that seems manageable and deliberate.
If there were ever a time for good calendaring, it’s college guidance where deadlines come and go at every turn. Having a college-counseling specific category for testing, upcoming internal school deadlines and the like can be a big time-saver for parents, but also will give your prospective families a sense of everything you’re doing.
As with your faculty, having pictures of the people who will be guiding students and parents can make all the difference in humanizing a very intimidating process. Check out this example from Choate Rosemary Hall.
Testimonials have a place here, too. A great quote from a graduate speaks volumes about how your school provides countless opportunities for students to learn and grow, while also being a more competitive candidate for college. Check out this example from Singapore American School's "Meet the Counselors" page.
College guidance is an art as much as it is an exercise in diligence and organization. Simple devices like an accordion treatment help lay out the big picture of what’s ahead and not just what’s “due”, while not overwhelming the end user with a huge amount of information.
We often recommend cutting back content, but in the case of college counseling, often “more is more”. This doesn’t mean throwing everything you have onto the page, but it does mean that you should dig deep for showing the value you bring to this extremely important high school process.
3. The Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) Page
Ah. The most routine of pages. And having one is like double checking you have cinnamon and brown sugar in your pantry: when it’s important, it’s important. But remember that applicants, and their parents, are nervous or may be reluctant to ask a question in person, in a zoom meeting or during a tour. They may worry their question is silly or uninformed. But we know they want to ask! So let’s get this page right.
Categorizing the questions.
Sometimes the list of questions can get too long, and you can help the reader by grouping things for faster skimming and to help them isolate the question they may have. This example from Lake Highland Prep uses tabs combined with collapsible questions.
Use an accordion element.
Collapsing the answers to questions helps streamline the interface. A simple “+” sign is all it takes to indicate there’s something to expand.
Add a hover state that’s a different color.
When rolling over a question, highlight it with a color or bar to visually confirm to the user what question they’re about to expand. These are the small details that matter.
No one will complain about a short answer.
Challenge yourself to use as few words as possible to provide the most succinct answer.
It’s not all nuts and bolts!
Really dig into the questions you’re hearing on tours or in emails, but query your student guides for what they’re getting asked -- lunch is always a hot topic, as are many of the social elements of the student experience.
Link to more information.
Answer the question, but don’t replicate content from other pages if there’s a more comprehensive explanation that will help the visitor. In this case, a parent has a question about transportation. There’s a “short” answer, but there are likely follow up questions they’ll immediately have, so this answer directs them to where to get those answers.
If there’s a big, looming question, call it out!
Thayer Academy pulls out one alongside its collapsible set of numbered questions:
FAQs are not just for admissions!
Prospective families will have many questions about many things, and collapsing them all into one FAQ page isn’t necessarily the right approach. Consider FAQs as a way to approach everything from Student Life to IT, as Taft does with its Computers and Technology page.
Think about the best way to answer the question!
Sounds like a no-brainer, but there’s no requirement that every answer needs to be a paragraph. The answer to this question,”What type of schools do students come from” could be answered with text, but is more efficiently done with a chart.
Try it on the homepage!
The Marvelwood School uses interactive Q&As and even embeds video for top questions, directly on the homepage.
Ultimately, your visitors are coming to your site because they are trying to answer a question they have. So use the FAQ page strategically to build a relationship and engage them.
4. The Transportation Page
For districts in particular, this page is often in the top ten most visited pages. As a practical matter, getting this page right will reduce calls and frustrated emails from current and new parents looking to figure out how their children will get to and from school. So what makes for a great transportation page? Naturally, less of a focus on design and more on content and information architecture.
Note: Be sure to update your transportation page to include safety and social distancing protocols in light of COVID-19.
First and foremost, make it easy for a parent to find their route.
Make it clear which year you’re talking about (so as not to confuse an upcoming year with the existing one) and include a clear button to search.
Clarify who to talk to about and for what.
This accordion treatment makes for a simple solution that forces the user to think about what they’re trying to accomplish before calling the first number they see.
Lost and Found.
It’s nice to show sensitivity to the fact that we all forget things, in addition to tips on what to do.
This simple approach by Spring Branch ISD to laying out the school options makes it easy for parents sorting things out:
Having a main contact number and an emergency phone number front and center can be another approach to making it as easy as possible for parents to reach someone, including email addresses.
How do you dress up a transportation page? In some respects, students getting on and off a bus is quintessential education imagery, so start there. The picture above that includes student artwork is a warm and creative touch.
5. The Jobs/Careers Page
Prospective employees are always top of mind for school leadership, yet the pages to draw them in seem to fall closer to the bottom of the list. In recruiting for your Digital Campus, finding talent is even harder and more urgent. Good news is that it’s usually the page with the most “quick wins” to improve their quality
Be sure to include the benefits.
Health care, PTO, and the like are important considerations. Avoid a lengthy download and try to write your benefits in plain English.
Include links or embedded faculty and staff profiles.
They matter! People want to get a feel for who their colleagues are.
Make it fun!
Include pictures of people who look like they’re friendly, inviting and part of a great team.
Episcopal of Dallas is a textbook example of many of the components that make for a great jobs page. Watch this video to learn what those items are:
The above is not a comprehensive list. To be sure, your analytics will tell you a lot, and since we tend to focus on the “top 10” pages, you may want to look at the page rankings for spots 11 through 20. You may be surprised to find that while there are fewer visits, the time on page is longer,and that while 100 or so visits may not seem like a lot, if 100 parents walked into your school one day that would surely be a big deal!
Many of the principles discussed in this chapter can easily be applied to other pages. We are happy to brainstorm with you on just how, too.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Angelo graduated valedictorian from St. Paul's School in Baltimore, MD and from Princeton University. Despite getting his degree in creative writing and English Literature, it generally takes some doing to keep him from programming and breaking websites. Just after graduating, he started Silverpoint, and grew it to over 300 schools worldwide before merging with Finalsite in 2013.
- Content Marketing
- Digital Campus