How to Optimize Your School Website Landing Pages for Recruitment and Alumni Donations
Mia Major

Imagine this situation: A high school senior heard about your school through word-of-mouth, as a friend was raving about how the new journalism program landed her a job straight out of college. Intrigued, the high school senior goes home and Googles your school's journalism programs to learn more about what you have to offer. However, she never fills out a form because your school's landing page failed to meet the expectations she had after the conversation with her friend.

Student on Laptop

This situation is all-too-common for all educational institutions. Branded searches — a search query that includes your school name + keyword — drive a ton of website traffic to landing and interior pages. Despite this, colleges often compromise their landing and interior page design to spend all their time, energy, and budget on their homepage.

School landing pages are, in some cases, more important than your homepage. They are the pages that often provoke a conversion for your open house, donations, admissions inquiry, and campus visits.

School Landing Pages: Defined

The term "landing page" can be confusing. So let's clarify before continuing on.

From an analytics perspective, it's the page someone lands on to begin their visit to your site. This can be done intentionally through PPC (Pay-Per-Click) ads, or strategically though SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

Most designers will refer to a "landing page" as the page in-between your homepage and interior pages — AKA your main navigation items: Admissions, Athletics, Alumni, etc.

For marketers, the term "landing page" is used to describe a page that is specifically designed to drive conversions (AKA, inquiries, applications, open house replies, etc). These landing pages are different, as they remove the main navigation to keep visitors from leaving the page and always have a form with a call-to-action.

Qualities of Great School Landing Pages

Regardless of how someone gets to your landing page — from search, from your homepage, or from a paid advertisement in Google or on Facebook — it's imperative that your landing page has the following design qualities.

  • A responsive interface: If your college's website isn't responsive, you should consider (Here's a list of reasons why.) For those of you who already have a responsive interface, consider how you need to structure your content to ensure website visitors don't have to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page to get to a form or main piece of content.
  • A consistent, predictable design: Maintaining consistency is the key to a simple site experience, as website visitors will know where to go each time they land on a page.
  • Always offer a next step: When someone lands on any page on your school's website, they expect to find calls-to-action that make their next step as easy as their first. Use clearly defined calls-to-action that direct to other lower-level interior pages to guide users down a path of conversion. We have a whole section on great calls-to-action in our free eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Website Optimization for Colleges and Universities.
  • They should tell a story: Consider how you can use images and text together to guide users down a particular path. As you design each landing page, ask yourself: If this was the first page a prospect visited, what would they expect to find? Where would they, logically, want to go next? What is the story we want to tell in this section?

Optimizing for Conversions

Okay — now onto the really important part: bringing this together for optimization. If a prospective student or alumni is landing on one of these pages, they most likely got here from one of the calls-to-action somewhere else on your site, or even from search. The goal is to keep them on the page, and essentially force them to convert...without making them feel forced. It's an art. And it isn't easy. But, by following the general guidelines provided in this section, you should be able to craft multiple landing pages in no time.

LR Example Landing Page

When should I use this type of landing page?

These landing pages should be used when the end goal is a conversion — AKA, a form submission. Some examples include:

  • Purchasing tickets for an event
  • An inquiry page
  • Signing up for an open house
  • Requesting to download an information booklet
  • Giving a donation

The Recipe for High-Converting School Landing Pages

For the purpose of this blog, we will be dissecting a giving landing page on Lenior-Rhyne University's website that follows the anatomy of a high-converting landing page. While this landing page is specifically for giving, the best practices and content on this page can be reciprocated site-wide.

1) A Value Proposition

Your value proposition should dominate the top of the page. It will be the first thing a site visitor's eyes glance over before determining whether or not they should stay on the page. This is your chance to make a statement about why someone should apply to your school. In other words, the header on your landing page shouldn't be something like "Donate" or "The Fund for Lenior-Rhyne." You're throwing a grand opportunity out the window. Use it to say something about the experience at your school.

Your school's landing page should consist of three main elements:

  • A header: Your main value proposition

LR Value Proposition 1

  • A sub header: A secondary statement that provides additional information
  • A re-affirming statement: Located about one-third or one-half of the way down the page, this statement is intended to re-affirm the value proposition after they've scanned the page for additional content. It should be in bullet form to make it easy-to-read.

LR Value Proposition 2

The goal of your value proposition is to convince the website visitor that the benefits outweigh the costs of filling out the form. It also alleviates any pain or reservations the website visitor may feel. So, while it is important to mention what they gain — personally, academically, or professionally — by filling out the form, it is also important to note any concerns they may have.

LR's value propositions are excellent. They sell value, appeal to emotion, but also alleviate the fear that a donation would not be substantial enough.

2) A Compelling Photo or Video

Landing pages with video have higher conversion rates than those that don't — up to 80% higher, actually — so incorporating an admissions video is key. However, if you don't have the budget or resources to put together a video that pulls on those heartstrings, opt for a photo or series of photos that would have the same effect. LR nests their video directly next to the form, making it easy for potential donors to give back immediately.

LR Video + Form Combination

10 Strategies for Engaging Donors

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3) A Quick List of Benefits

Think about the biggest and most important "wow" factors that set your university or event apart, and make them easy-to-scan. Use a bulleted list or infographic to accomplish this. This can also be your re-affirming value statement as covered under the first bullet of this section.

For example, instead of writing "Our Open House is an opportunity to explore campus," think about standing in the shoes of the prospective student. What can they do at your open house? What will they explore, exactly? What will they gain? Come up with 3-5 unique and compelling bullets and place them beneath your re-affirming value statement.

4) Social Proof

Bring in the testimonials! Whether you choose to have video or text testimonials, incorporate social proof that your college or university is worth the investment. Quotes from parents, students, faculty and alumni are key to increasing conversions, as over 70% of Americans say they look at reviews before making a purchase/decision, and 63% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase or decision from a site that has ratings and reviews.

LRU Testimonial + Benefita

This logic transfers over to landing pages, as website visitors are more likely to make a decision if they see that people who are like themselves have already made a similar decision. Incorporate at least 2-3 quotes (with headshots) on a landing page. The positioning of LR's testimonials are strategically placed alongside the video and form. You can also bring in social media by embedding social media feeds that promote a hashtag or event. Using recent news stories is also a great idea to show updates for a event or cause as LR does. Depending on the type of landing page you're building, the type of social proof you incorporate will vary.

LRU Recent Donor News

5) A Short In-Page Form

Rather than directing prospective students off your site to another form from your Student Information System, incorporate a form on the landing page with about five form fields. Then, have the call-to-action button on the form be the only call-to-action on the page. We highly recommend that the button does not say "Submit." It should reference the action being taken, such as "Sign Up!" or "Give Back!" It needs to be something that inspires action. A word like "Submit" or "Click here" does not.

LR Giving Form

A good landing page will not send site visitors elsewhere — meaning don't incorporate other calls-to-action or options. The fewer options, the higher the conversion. Once prospects have submitted the form, you can redirect them to a "Thank You" page. On this page, you can incorporate additional calls-to-action and content to keep their journey going.

6) Removal of Navigation Elements

Keeping in mind that we don't want to divert website visitors to another page, these kinds of pages should eliminate your site's main navigation. While it may seem counter-productive to make it hard to get back to your website, it is critical to think about the journey.

LR Removal of Navigation Elements

They landed on this page to make an action, so let them. Don't give them the option not to. Your logo and a nice image are all that is required at the top of your page.

Putting the Landing Page All Together

Giving Landing Page Best Practice for Schools

The Ultimate Website Optimization Guide for Colleges and Universities


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.

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