- General Best Practices
- Independent Schools
- International Schools
- Public School District
Your Digital Campus has never been more important. But building a website that unites, connects, and inspires your community is no easy feat. For some schools it has meant re-inventing their entire digital presence, and for others, it simply meant updating some key website pages.
In any case, you may be wondering: what are the most important pages to focus on? It depends on your goals.
If your school is looking to keep enrollment up, recruit quality teachers or attract and retain right-fit families, then look no further! Here are the top seven pages that are necessary for all schools — districts, charters, independent schools and international schools alike:
- “Why” Page
- Tuition & Value
- Faculty Directory
- Curriculum & Academics
- College Guidance/Counseling
- Parent Communications Hub
Do Districts Need to Focus on All of These Pages, Too?
If you work for a school district, you may be thinking… wait! We don’t charge tuition. We don’t have an admissions process. Those pages don't really apply to us, do they?
Yes! Public schools and charter schools should be thinking with a private school mindset when it comes to online communications. With competition from homeschooling, affordable private school options, and neighboring school systems, marketing is key to keeping enrollment numbers steady. And while public school parents may not be writing a check to the school directly, they are still paying for their children’s education — and so is the entire community. An engaging, informative, and easy-to-use website communicates to your stakeholders that they need not look any further for high-quality education.
In a virtual world, especially, district websites must do what in-person experiences used to do: answer questions, ease the enrollment process, and keep families active, engaged and fulfilled. So yes, district readers, read on!
1. The “Why” Page
If you don’t have a page that highlights your school or district’s differentiators, you are missing an opportunity to not only reach prospective families, but also current families with younger children; families who are trying to decide if they want to continue education in the same place for middle or high school need to be reassured of the “why.”
A good “Why [Your School Name]” page will convey the unique attributes of your school or district’s culture, values and mission to families and give them that “I want to be here!” feeling.
“Why My School/District” Examples:
Spring Lake Park Schools, a Minnesota school district, invokes school spirit with a great “Why Choose SLP Schools” page — the page answers the question with testimonials from families and staff, plus a list of the top 50 reasons the district is “Panther Proud.”
Kansas City Public Schools’ gives families that “I love this school” feeling with a compelling value promise, “KCPS Cares.” The “why” is backed up with interior pages for each reason, from details about free breakfast and lunch to social emotional support offerings and gifted programming.
The Woods Academy, an independent Catholic school in Maryland, uses a series of seven individual testimonial videos — complete with short clips of footage from their school — to drive home seven main reasons why families choose Woods. Who better for parents to hear from than fellow parents?
Ready to Improve the Way You Share Your School’s ‘Why’? Start Here:
2. Tuition & Value
In a benchmark study of Finalsite independent schools, we found that the average time spent on a tuition page was 2 minutes and 15 seconds. That may seem like a short amount of time, but it is actually longer than the amount of time spent on any of the other pages surveyed, including the homepage (which clocked in at 1 minute and 24 seconds).
Why? Because cost is a huge factor for many families, and they want to do the math.
That doesn’t mean families aren’t willing to pay for a quality education — they just need to be convinced of the value first. To prove this, many independent schools have mastered the art of sharing why they are worth the pretty penny before naming the price.
Public schools, take note! Use a similar approach with your website’s messaging to share the value of enrolling and remaining in your district.
Tuition/Value School and District Examples:
South Texas ISD points out the value of their tuition-free district education right in the dropdown navigation — visitors only need to hover over the apply button to be reminded that they’ll be guaranteed free transportation and open enrollment!
King’s Academy in Madama, Jordan, makes tuition numbers easily accessible under an accordion, and emphasizes value on the rest of the page: from financial aid, to a bulleted list of what is included in tuition, to a testimonial in a quote block. (Note, too, the callout box that links to its “Why” Page!)
Need to Clarify Your School or District’s Value? Start Here:
3. Admissions & Enrollment
Remember when parents used to show up at your district’s main office with their soon-to-be kindergarteners in tow, ready to fill out enrollment forms at the front desk? Or, when parents would call your private school’s admissions office because they wanted to stop by campus and check it out or request a tour?
Today, families are still expecting to do all of these things — but they must do it online.
That means two things about your school or district’s online presence:
- It must convey/convince/encourage families why they should apply or enroll.
- It must explain how to apply or enroll.
Virtual Admissions Examples for the “Why” Stage:
Saint James School, an independent boarding school in Maryland, reused content from past student Instagram takeovers on their virtual admissions hub to provide prospective students with a “virtual shadow day.” The embedded slideshows add a human element to the page and give it extra pizazz.
Virtual Enrollment School Examples for the “How” Stage:
Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD uses a tabbed page layout to outline the steps of online registration for their district — with steps for new families, returning families, and school choice families alike. The page anticipates and answers many of the main questions that families have, which reduces the number of phone calls to the main office about enrollment!
Need to Focus on Your School's Online Enrollment Process? Start Here:
4. Faculty Recruitment & Directories
The perception of your school or district’s faculty and staff plays a fundamental role in the decision-making process for not only prospective and current families, but also prospective teachers. If your school or district is looking to recruit teachers, take a look at what you can do to spruce up your faculty directory page beyond names, titles and contact information — think fun facts, teacher interviews, and of course, photography!
Faculty & Staff Page Examples:
Saint Mary’s Hall, an independent school in San Antonio, Texas, shows a care and appreciation for its faculty with a “Meet the Faculty” page that includes a Fast Facts infographics panel, teacher awards, and of course, a detailed directory.
Powered by Finalsite Directories, the filterable grid of teachers and faculty can be searched by keywords or department. The detailed profile for each faculty member adds a critical human element that is especially valuable for faculty recruitment during COVID-19; prospective teachers who can’t visit campus can identify with their future colleagues and get a better idea of the school culture.
Tulsa Public Schools, a district in Oklahoma serving over 40,000 students across eighty schools, continues to recruit quality teachers with an efficient page. With clear messaging, bright photography, striking calls-to-action, and a thoughtful list of “Top Ten Reasons to Teach with Team Tulsa,” Tulsa makes it clear that teachers are more than a member of their directory— they’re a member of the community.
What’s more, the page has a prime spot in the main navigation next to Parents and Students, which adds emphasis and makes starting the application process that much easier.
Looking to Recruit Faculty and Improve your Directory? Start Here:
5. Curriculum & Academics
It wouldn’t be school without academics, and that means the quality of your curriculum is a deciding factor for many parents when it comes to choosing — or staying at — your school or district. A good school website assures families that yes, your school is the right place for them to thrive academically.
This has never been an easy task, but it likely seems extra difficult this year — when much of the learning experiences are hybrid (or even fully online). How many zoom screenshots can one possibly take?
The truth is, there is actually even more content to be found! We’ve seen schools really thrive with this aspect of their digital campus — including everything from distance learning yoga classes to virtual cooking with parents to goofy teacher videos.
Distance Learning Showcase Examples:
The Woods Academy challenged families on social media with a #WoodsCooksOn initiative, encouraging students to prepare and enjoy a meal with family (and then share the recipes!). Then, the school’s marketing team repurposed that content on an engaging landing page to highlight student learning and show prospective families how their school community thrived in spite of mandatory quarantine:
The Post Oak School shows off its distance learning curriculum with an engaging “Learning Wherever We Are” page. The embedded video on the page is full of positive messaging, sharing how students and families have thrived in the Montessori model of distance learning.
Curriculum Page Examples:
Students engaged in distance learning (or in-person learning, for that matter!) also need a way to view what specific courses your school offers. Physical course catalogs have become a thing of the past, and lengthy, text-heavy lists online aren’t far behind. Today, you need to give parents and students the ability to see all of the classes you offer from the click of a button. Even better: a page they can interact with and customize to fit their viewing needs.
Maret School uses Finalsite Posts to create a filterable grid-view of course offerings on its curriculum page, complete with interactive buttons and pop ups to provide more detail on each course. The color coordination makes it even more impressive — and so much easier to navigate than a page with a long list of course codes and titles.
Need Hands-On Strategies for Academics Pages? Start Here:
6. College Guidance/Counseling
College placement is another top priority for many families making the decision about where to send their children to school for K-12. Whether it be a matriculation list of colleges, statistics about graduation outcomes, or evidence of students feeling supported, there is a lot of opportunity for your school’s college counseling pages.
College Guidance Page Examples:
Viewpoint School, a California-based independent school, has a strong college counseling page; it is full of information, but the information is visually organized on the page in blocks so that it doesn’t overwhelm. A moving slider of college logos shows where Viewpoint School’s class of 2020 graduates are now, a visual testimonial highlights key values, and a full college counseling calendar shows prospective and current families alike that there is plenty of support from the counseling office to students!
Canandaigua City School District in New York outlines its counseling program by school. On the middle school counseling page, the district shows its mission statement for counseling, followed by an actionable list of ways the district nurtures students to be forward-thinking and career-minded individuals. The side panel with photos of the counselors in each school adds a nice personal touch, too!
Looking for more ways to spruce up your counseling pages? Start here:
7. Parent Communications Hub
Having a central place to communicate with current families has always been important, but it's especially crucial now, largely because there are just so many logistics involved. What is the cleaning procedure for classrooms? How will kids stay safe and minimally exposed during lunch time? Are laptops for distance learners free? Parents have many questions and concerns that they want alleviated — and they don’t want to have to go chasing for the answers.
In the lesson recording, presenters Mia and Risa break down several key areas where schools must make sure the content is updated to reflect COVID-19 changes:
- Lunch Information. Does your lunch area still have the same content as it did before COVID-19? If so, families may perceive that your school or district is not on top of student safety.
- Tech Support. Distance and hybrid learning adds an extra layer of technology questions — from wifi to network bandwidth to extra laptops. Does your website answer these questions?
- Transportation. How has the bus schedule changed? Can parents come inside during drop off and pick up? If not, be sure to specify on your website to indicate the change!
- Blogs/News/Calendars/Social. Adding frequent posts about how your school or district is handling the unprecedented circumstances is a great way to convey the quality. Are lunch aides going above and beyond to hand out bagged lunches? Give them a shout out! Is the principal wearing a goofy hat for virtual meeting? Add it to the website!
- Distance Learning. Communications can easily become overwhelming as parents sift through emails, social media posts, and website content from a variety of sources. Keep all of the most up-to-date distance learning information in one place so they know where to go for any burning questions.
- Single Sign Ons (SSOs). SSOs to other platforms make the website experience easier for parents to access all of the service accounts in one place. Be sure to include the SSOs in your hub for a smooth and seamless visiting experience!
Focus on positive, general messaging about student wellbeing, rather than writing “COVID-19” on every page. Just because COVID-19 is the reason there is a new lunch routine, you don’t need to say it outright! Simply ensure families know your school emphasizes student safety.
Save the original content — from before COVID-19 — on an unpublished page. Then, if life ever returns to “normal,” you can bring back the lunch pages and transportation pages you worked so hard to write.
Parent Communications Page Examples:
Kansas City Public Schools outlines its child nutrition services plan in light of COVID-19 using accordions. Each section details a different meal and model, from “Breakfast Model: Sack Breakfast In the Classroom” to “Lunch Model: Service in the Cafeteria.” The page conveys the district’s attention-to-detail, and reassures parents that student safety is a top priority.
Avon Old Farms School's hub, "AvonSafe," is well organized, with interior pages outlining the upcoming changes to academics, athletics and residential life. The page reflects the school’s brand and positivity just as much as any other section of the website — a great example of AOF’s adaptability, encouraging families to embrace the “new normal” with enthusiasm, not dread.
Highline Public Schools' collection of video tutorials helps parents navigate to the "Return to Learn" webpage and get tech support for distance learning.
Northshore School District uses infographics to make each stage of the distance learning plan easy to understand. Check out their "Learning Model Status" page, which has a visual dial to communicate the current model the school is in, as well as what other stages will look like!
Ready to Build Your Own Communications Hub? Start Here:
The virtual world is here to stay. Schools and districts need to be prepared to meet the needs of a society that will only continue to grow its digital expectations. Whether that means improving your online admissions process, distance learning, or parent communications, you must take the time to build your digital campus to retain enrollment and attract right-fit teachers.
As Finalsite's content specialist, Leah promotes new school websites and exemplary content marketing examples from schools around the world. She’s also writer and editor of numerous blog articles, eBooks and presentations on best practices for digital marketing, social media, and school web design. Leah found her passion for international education at Arcadia University, where she earned her BA in Global Communications and studied abroad in England, Greece, Vietnam and Australia. When she’s not exploring new places, she’s either blogging, doodling, or dreaming about it.
- Digital Campus