• Public School District
How to Simplify Your District’s Website: Tips from Wayzata Public Schools
Leah Mangold

Less is more.

These three words have been used as a motto for all kinds of things—from architecture designs to how much you should share about your personal life on social media.

For Andrew Hagen, Communications Specialist at Wayzata Public Schools (WPS), the phrase is very appropriate when it comes to website content in today’s mobile-first world. Before redesigning with Finalsite, the district’s website had upwards of 17,000 pages. Today, the page count is 865.

You read that right. The district trimmed its website down by nearly 16,000 pages!

How exactly? In a recent webinar Andrew shared an in-depth explanation of how a website redesign with Finalsite helped the district declutter, simplify their message, and manage the content on its website. 


On-Demand Webinar: Keeping Your Website in Shape with Wayzata Public Schools

WATCH WEBINAR

 


1. Keep the homepage simple. 

“Your homepage sets the tone of your school. Do you want your tone to be clutter?”

In the early 2000s (ancient times in the world of websites!), the homepage was a catchall for any information a company wanted to share— sort of like a digital bulletin board. This was what people expected to find and it worked—then. 

the mcdonalds homepage from 2000
microsoft homepage from 2002

The McDonalds homepage from 2000 and the Microsoft homepage from 2002 were less about brand design and more about links to resources. 

That day is long gone. 

mcdonalds homepage in august 2019
screenshot of the microsoft homepage in August 2019

Today, people use a website to assess a company’s brand.  The same is true for district websites. How can you keep it simple while still meeting the needs of your website visitors?

First, determine the goal of your homepage.  

As part of our website redesign process, we recommend that districts set a goal for the website. One district may need to focus on improving student retention rate, while another may need to prove its value to the community. 

Whatever your goal is, use it as a yardstick for any content you want to add to the homepage. If something doesn’t fit the goal, take it off the homepage. End of story. 

It may be tough to resist at first (especially if you have staff members who just really want to promote their special event or resource on the homepage), but don’t give in. A well-organized website paints the picture of a well-organized district.

Still not convinced? Here’s why having everything on the homepage is actually inconvenient for your visitors:

  • Mobile, mobile, mobile. Even if the extra content doesn’t seem cluttered on a desktop, it probably does on a mobile—where approximately half of all internet browsing occurs. Paragraphs of text look especially long on a small device. 
  • Short attention spans, large bounce rates. The average attention span of the average website visitor is six seconds. If people have to scroll (and scroll and scroll) to find what they are looking for, they won’t. Simple as that.
  • Bounce rate. When people can't find what they want on your website, they leave. The more times people click away from (without visiting another page), the more Google thinks there’s something wrong with the page. This will negatively affect your page’s search engine optimization. 
  • Google uses the “backdoor” anyway. Considering 90% of all Internet activity begins in search, many people looking for resources (such as the lunch menu) won’t even visit your homepage. For example, in a search for “ellington public school’s lunch menu” the results page lists the specific interior pages instead: 
search result for ellington public schools lunch menu

2. Simplify interior pages.

Since Google often dictates which pages people will land on from search, it’s important that your interior pages are just as user-friendly as your homepage. Make sure you’ve taken the proper steps to optimize each page for search. Then, focus on your readers:

  • Break up content into sections. School websites that use accordions or tabs eliminate excessive scrolling on a mobile device, making the content more digestible for on-the-go readers. Site visitors can easily skip over content they don’t need to read and navigate to sections pertaining to their interests.
tabs used in wayzata north woods elementary school page
  • Use plain language. Save the college-level vocabulary for academic papers. Before going live with its website, Wayzata Public Schools compiled all of its website content into a Word document to check the readability score. Try it for your website, or read up on the federal guidelines.
  • Clarify internal abbreviations and nomenclature. FYE, FERPA, ETS, ELL... You may use the lingo everyday, but people outside of the education field don’t. Include the full words and phrases, or explain it in simpler terms.
  • Remove directional language. It’s no longer necessary to say “click here for more” or “scroll down to see [blank].” People understand hyperlinks and buttons; as long as it's obviously clickable, there’s no need to explain how. Bonus: This will cut down on word count! Plus, phrases like “click here” aren’t ADA-compliant!

3. Simplify navigation. 

Today’s parents expect personalization, so look for ways to make it easier for people to find exactly what they’re looking for. District can approach this is in several ways.

Use website data to improve user experience.

Wayzata Public Schools used Google Analytics to see when certain website pages gained the most traffic. The results made sense— parents searched for school supplies lists and immunization forms in late summer, holiday dates in autumn, and graduation information in spring. 

What better way to save time for families than to collect seasonal information and put it in one spot?

wayzata public schools featured buttons show back-to-school lists

Wayzata Public Schools rotates the lower left-hand feature box on each school’s website to match what parents typically look for during that particular season.

Pro-Tip: Ask school secretaries, who often field questions from parents about school information, to help you curate a list of seasonal content. They’ll be happy to reduce those unnecessary phone calls! 

Focus on what your different audiences need.

Most district websites allow community members to easily navigate to each individual school. Many districts also have a “Quick Links” section in the navigation, so that current parents and students can access information in just a few clicks. This helps declutter the homepage because the resources are all “hidden” behind one link. 

quicklinks example

If you want to truly create a one-stop-shop for your district’s community members, consider using constituent portals. Finalsite Portals provides a password-protected space for schools to link information and downloadable resources—without cluttering up the homepage.  

4. Simplify your workload.  

An organized house is easier to tidy up regularly than a disorganized one, and the same goes for your district’s website. As long as your website has a solid navigational structure, you can easily improve it without a complete redesign.  

Limit who edits what on your website. 

Finalsite’s Content Management System (CMS), Composer, makes it easy to set up various levels of editing rights. For example, maybe you only want website admins to be able to add content, but you want to be the one who always hits publish. Or maybe you don’t want anyone to be able to delete content. Maybe you only want certain admins to access certain pages. Composer can help you create a custom set of admin rights for whatever works for your district admins so thatpeople only add what they need to maintain content for. Before giving anyone administration access, make sure they are properly trained

Involve the community. 

  • Use surveys to guide decisions. According to Andrew,“research shouldn’t be scary: for the researcher or the participant!” Wayzata Public School’s feedback form is listed under the website tutorial video, and provides an easy way for people to give suggestions: 
screenshot of the google form used for wayzata public schools  website feedback
  • Create a dropbox or email for parents and teachers to contribute photos. Don’t think your community won’t notice that the pictures on your homepage feature last year’s graduates? They will. The good news: those same people will likely have great replacement photos!

Remove duplicate content.

Look for areas of your website where content can be consolidated. Before the website redesign, Wayzata Public Schools had a different health services page for each of its nine elementary schools, but the pages all had the same exact information. The district simplified the editing process by creating one page for each school to link to. Now, any new health services information just needs to be updated on the website once—not nine times! 

Key Takeaway

Unlike the high schoolers in your district looking to increase word count in their writing, your task as webmaster is to reduce. Find your inner Marie Kondo— say goodbye to pages that no longer serve a purpose, and guide your team in creating a website that sparks joy. 


Click here to watch the "keeping your district website in shape" webinar

Leah-Mangold-Headshot

As Finalsite's Marketing Associate, Leah promotes new school site launches and educates people on all things digital marketing. She’s passionate about global communication, handwritten notes, and sole travel. When she’s not exploring new places, she’s either blogging, doodling, or dreaming about it! 

  • Marketing/Communications
  • Website Redesign
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