Our team of website experts works with schools in over 100 countries helping them effectively and efficiently communicate with their community — whether it's global or local. There's always a good reason to redesign, but many reasons to say no. No time. No budget. No need for outside help. And one of the more challenging ones: you know you need it, but senior leadership or the board think the website is just fine.
As the most important marketing and admissions tool, your school website is critical for recruiting new families and new faculty. For example, 99% of the international schools we work with use their websites are the main recruitment tool and for many, the primary source of information for prospective families who cannot even visit the school before enrolling. And, with Covid restricting in-person encounters even further, the website, now your digital campus, is far more important for all schools.
This is not news to most school marketing professionals, but many still struggle to get approval for a new website. We work with thousands of schools and know some of the key talking points that matter. Therefore, we thought we'd share a few compelling reasons to help you get the website you need for your school to meet your goals.
1. "We don't have the money."
For those that think forward and optimistically, by recruiting just one or two more new students, schools can easily justify the cost of a new website platform. We looked at 250 international schools of varying sizes, and on average they spend less than $20 per student on the website — which includes hosting and data security as well as modules such as forms, online newsletters, calendars, parent portals, campus maps, and more. This is a small amount compared to the tuition and fees these students and their families pay.
One other huge budget item to consider is faculty recruitment. With the projected forecasts from ISC Research, there will be a need for an additional 200,000 full-time teachers at international schools in the coming years. Your website is critical for helping to educate and recruit faculty who fit with the culture of your school.
"The reputation of an international school is very much based on the quality of its teachers and, as the market expands, so competition for the best teachers increases. Teachers form their first impressions of a school by its website and that can make or break their decision to pursue a job application. Creating a good first impression is vital. A school website is not only the window to the world of student admissions, but also the window to the world of staff recruitment," shared the team at ISC Research.
The importance of your website for student and faculty recruitment stems beyond international schools, too. A national teacher shortage in the United States coupled with a pandemic means schools and districts alike are relying on their website to communicate information about community, benefits, and lifestyle. Highline Public Schools, a large district in Washington State, has created a "Jobs Hub" to showcase both life as a Highline employee and share job openings.
2. "It's not a priority."
With upwards of 90+% of revenue coming from enrollment, let us ask the obvious: how can it not be a priority? Think of all the times you google something and immediately leave a website because it does not meet your expectations or needs. Furthermore, if you are in a competitive market where the other schools have more compelling websites, the lost opportunities should give your leadership reason to reconsider.
We understand that not all schools have the personnel to tackle a Best-in-Class website. But there are options! Finalsite's themes are pre-built custom designs that make it easy and affordable to have a responsive website that looks and works great! Themes are great for schools that are more focused on implementing a new website with solid content and better organization, than on building a completely custom design.
Another option is to make use of our unique service: 'Finalsite Advantage'. This is a perfect solution for schools looking for expert help in planning and implementing a website redesign. Advantage adds an education marketing expert to your project team who is able to provide tailored, ongoing strategic advice and personal support to help plan and develop your site and keep things on track. Your personal 'Advantage Consultant' also works with you to develop a broader strategic marketing plan, to ensure you get the most out of your new site and achieve your wider marketing and admissions goals.
3. "Our website is just fine."
We don't think any leadership team would say "our school is just fine", so why would that be okay for a website? While it is recommended that you redesign your website every three years (with plenty of upkeep along the way), even newly redesigned sites don't meet the mark. In many cases, it's about educating your team since there are certain standards that school websites should meet in order to be effective. Some homepages may look "okay" — and some even look pretty good at first glance, but once you do a deeper dive you quickly see things could be improved.
Our free website consultations uncover large issues such as navigation and search engine shortfalls but they also detail ways to improve the buyer's journey through calls-to-action, landing pages, and strategic placement of various content elements. For private and international schools, admission landing pages are critical for success, and did you know tuition pages have one of the highest bounce rates on school websites? Is yours performing as well as it should?
The bar as to what constitutes a "good" school website has been raised and there are telling signs that it's time for a makeover. Allowing a non-expert — such as someone deeply rooted in academics, finance, or a randomly selected committee — to evaluate and make decisions about the website is akin to asking your athletics director to evaluate your school's accounting practices. The most successful schools we work with rely on our expertise to ensure their schools implement best practices, not only in design and navigation but also in search engine optimization, inbound marketing, digital communications, and much more.
4. "Our school is fully enrolled."
Covid-19 has made every school and district re-evaluate business as usual, and many schools reached out for our help. Having to pivot overnight to online admissions, schools struggled to make the online experience equally as impressive as the in-person one. Katie Rigney-Zimmermann, Admissions and Marketing Director at Saigon South International School, attributes Finalsite tools for saving their admissions season: “We have gained a level of sophistication and professionalism through branded and beautiful emails, the efficiency of email workflows, and most of all, our ability to sell the value of our school by showing all the great things we offer and not just telling prospective families.”
But beyond COVID, being at full capacity today is not a safeguard for future success. With the changes in the global economy, political upheavals such as Brexit and protests in Hong Kong, and new international schools opening at record speed, schools need to be ahead of the game and prepare for a sudden drop in enrollment.
5. "Our homegrown system/local provider is great."
Locally grown may make sense for produce, but not for websites! We have heard horror stories from many schools about in-house systems – from the person abruptly leaving, to the site getting hacked, to the source code not working. We also know that the local providers are often great to work with, but they don't understand the depth and scope of a true digital communication platform for schools. The intricacies of showcasing school news, calendars, portals, and then integrating with a student information system, is generally above and beyond what an in-house programmer or local provider can do. If you have the luxury of an in-house programmer, there are countless ways to make the most of his/her talents with a good website platform in place.
The risks are even greater now with issues surrounding website security and the changes in data privacy under GDPR.
There is a strategic side to marketing, and school leaders can no longer afford to be passive and need to make tough decisions. We understand that proving your return on your investment can be hard to measure, but clients continuously volunteer to share with us the impact their website redesigns have had on their school. Increasing inquiries and enrollment, improving parent satisfaction and retention, streamlining teacher recruitment, reducing print costs: the list goes on!
We would be happy to connect you with some other schools to learn how they got the website of their dreams.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As part of Finalsite's marketing team, Debbie has worked with international schools for the past 10 years while living in both Asia and Europe. She helps schools understand how they can maximize their web presence while partnering with Finalsite. As a parent of three children who graduated from IB World Schools, she has keen insights into the marketing and communication needs of international schools.