The best school websites continuously improve their functionality, keep content fresh, and evolve their design to deliver the best user experiences. But busy schedules, constant communications, and a packed calendar can lead us into a familiar pattern of tedious web edits and mediocre site content.
It’s time to break through the mundane, be inspired, and start tackling small, yet manageable initiatives that make a big impact. Here are 10 things to start doing on your district’s website.
1. START looking at your school's analytics
If you don't already look at your analytics, it’s the perfect time to start. When you bring data into the reasoning behind your website edits, making those updates will be that much more purposeful.
When you're looking at your website analytics, it can help you validate what content is resonating. And if you're making updates to your website or maybe you recently launched a new website experience, your analytics can help you confirm whether or not people are actually looking and how much time they're spending on the page.
Also, it can help you identify the problem areas that aren't necessarily resonating, so if you make some updates and you see a decrease in time on a page or you're seeing fewer page views, that could indicate that something's not really resonating. That's a good time to jump into a web analytics tool like Google Analytics 4 and make those strategic decisions to improve.
If you’re still using Universal Analytics, go to the behavior and then all pages under site content in your Google analytics and it will tell a story.
When you're taking a look at your analytics, review your user behavior and bounce rate — your bounce rate can tell if someone comes to your website, looks at a page, doesn’t find what they're looking for, and immediately leaves — that's a bounce. Sorting by bounce rate will give you an initial look at what pages on your website need improvement. Anything above 55%, and you want to look at those first.
2. START celebrating the voices of your district
The people of your school and district are so much of what defines your community. The people make all the difference in the world. Don’t pass up the opportunity to share the voices of your community. Much of that effort goes beyond presenting just a directory for families to get to know names and faces.
Everything that’s special about your school starts with its people. Try to present them online in an inviting way that shares and celebrates who they are. That can include testimonials from teachers and administrators, and parents and students, too. Remember to:
- Share stories from your teachers about how they make a difference, why they love teaching at your school, and what makes the students such a special part of their day.
- Include video interviews to offer a personal touch to your website — it shares so much about the experience that your school offers.
- Add regular communications from a superintendent or other members of district leadership. It can remove the distance between parents and administrators, and give more insight into key decisions and important updates made throughout the year.
Madison Metropolitan School District does just that and shares a welcome from their superintendent. They’ve also worked his tweets into the page with a social media feed, and that’s a great way to exemplify how leadership is connected, what they’re up to in real-time, and how you can join the conversion.
Tupelo Schools has great testimonials right on their homepage, and they don’t limit it to just administrators — they share the voice of students of all ages, athletic coaches, and graduates. That brings so much color to your site; students talking about winning the spelling bee, meeting their best friends, the principal talking about how his mom is a graduate, how he’s an alumnus, and how both his kids now attend the district…It brings a lot of personality to the page.
We see a similar approach from Park Hill School District in Missouri. They have a welcome page for their district and they share testimonials from graduates, teachers, and students. They talk about their community, how the teachers helped them reach their goals, and set the course to find their dream jobs.
Think about the ways you can start to bring more voices and personality to your site and you'll start to see how it can bring those pages to life.
3. START saying who you are and who you serve
Your district's “about” page shouldn’t just be the contact information and directions to your schools — it’s an opportunity to better express your school and say more about the families that make up your community.
How can you start thinking about showcasing your spirit, your passions, and what goes on every day in your classroom, on the stages, or through your sports programs? What makes your town special? Is there a history behind your school or maybe there’s something that binds your families in a way that you won’t find across town?
Take a look at Austin Public Schools — they don’t just have “About”— they say “Austin is ...” And from there they go into their academics, art, science, and different activities. The word choice and the presentation say so much more about their schools, as opposed to basic links to respective district offices.
Canandaigua City School District taps into their history and connections with the community, so when you visit their Community page, you get a sense of how ingrained their school is with their town. They’re building connections with different aspects of their community members and they’re proud to say, “Canandaigua is one of the best cities in New York to live in, and here’s why...”
Start bringing those elements to your site and you’re going to start elevating your content with a personal touch that helps define your community.
4. START thinking beyond your school homepage
It's a common misconception that your home page is the most important page. We all want that beautiful front door to your school district's website, but in reality, your website visitors are spending three times the amount of time on your interior pages. Those often-forgotten pages are really important.
Users spend over a minute on those top interior pages on average and while a minute may not seem like a lot of time, test it yourself. Go to one of those top pages and see how much information you can absorb. Think to yourself, “If this is the first page that a family visited, what would they expect to find?” Is it clear, and are they going to find what they're looking for?
Put yourself in their shoes without thinking, “I already know the back end of this website.” If someone visits our transportation page, where would they logically go next? If that answer isn’t obvious, that suggests it's time to take another approach.
Richfield Public Schools has four key pages: their schools, enroll, careers, and contact info on the left-hand side of its navigation. They have expanded navigational elements under their menu, but they're making it so clear for families. The school's website design is clean, intuitive, and easy to navigate using a mobile device, too.
5. START re-thinking your news page
Schools are a microcosm of our world…If it ever feels like there’s nothing to share, we need to start thinking differently. There’s always something to talk about, and if you’re short on ideas, here are some ways to get the ball rolling…
A regular round-up of shout-outs and celebrations is great for building camaraderie among staff, students, and families. Include a section to give a teacher or student a moment in the spotlight for something kind they witnessed doing, or something amazing they’ve accomplished. Did a new staff member join your community? Welcome them to your school with a brief introduction, photo, and Q&A. This is a great way to spread some well-deserved recognition and good vibes among your community.
Edina Public Schools took this approach with its news section. They have their posts, but you can also filter by interest, by school, or by grade level, so if you’re a parent of elementary school students, you don’t have to sift through stories about the high-school football team, or vice versa. They’ve created an experience that’s more personalized with stories about academics, the early learning center, school board updates, and student achievement, among others.
If you ever feel like there’s no news at your school level or district, open those lanes of communication and ask families to submit their own news and celebrations. Edina even shares a way for the community to submit news with a simple form on that page, which lets its community know: If you’ve got something to share, we want to hear about it!
6. START planning your district’s blog
Blogs have always been a tricky topic — some schools do it really well and others struggle. Some schools blur the lines between a news section and a blog, and there's this gray area of blog content that includes school updates, news briefs, profiles, and opinion pieces.
Blogging is a chance to include more voices from your community than you could through a news piece. It’s an opportunity to introduce more faces, approach issues from another angle, and give a platform for thought leadership.
Blogging shouldn't feel like a burden, so if you’re feeling pressured, find ways to make it work for you. You don’t need to post every day. Like everything, there should really be a focus on quality and not quantity. As you create that content, there will be plenty of opportunities to tag and re-use it throughout your site.
Offering creative content for your blog is going to help it see more engagement and interest from your community. For example, Ferndale School District 502 has a blog (separate from their school news) all about their student of the month. This is a great way to showcase your students and learn about their interests and what they enjoy about your programming. It’s also a great way to feature upperclassmen at your high school when college acceptances roll out. Take a moment to reflect on their time at school and weave in some of their favorite teachers.
If your school hasn’t started blogging, consider making it a priority. Stop avoiding it, and start thinking about how you can make the content work for you and your team. A blog from a superintendent, department head, your principal, or a roundup from your athletic teams is a great place to start.
7. START being creative with photography
Too often we see school websites with bland photography, and we all know how much impact a strong visual can have. Powerful imagery can say so much about your people and your school.
Sometimes a creative approach can have a bigger influence than highly orchestrated professional shots. Move beyond the “record” shots — someone just took a photo to create a record of it happening. Photography should be emotional, it should say something, it should inspire and engage your families and students and communicate who your school is.
Start thinking out of the box and connecting your audience with the emotion and the scene at hand. You don’t need to have the best cameras or lenses, either. If you have a student organization like a yearbook club, a newspaper club, or a photography club, enlist their help and send them out to capture some images to help support your news or blogs.
Tupelo Public School District continues to impress with its photography. They consistently have images that burst off the page with color, they capture emotion so well, and these large images capture our attention and draw us in. During COVID, that didn’t stop. Tupelo was able to go behind the masks and still capture those important moments between teachers and students, and focus on the emotion and relationships that are happening at their schools.
Edina Public Schools shares photo stories from some of their biggest days of the year. Big imagery with some accompanying text is great for storytelling and sharing these big moments with the greater community.
8. START sharing elements, and saving time
One of the biggest pain points we always hear about is…there’s so much to do, and so little time. If you’re updating your website site on regular bases, that can take up a good chunk of your day. With your website's online publishing tools, let’s start working smarter, not harder with the idea of C.O.P.E. (create once and publish everywhere.)
Design elements like navigation, embedded content, the search functionality for your site, and bringing in imagery — are all standard with Finalsite’s content management system, Composer, and creating shared elements that you are using again and again across pages is a huge time-saver and can help showcase some really outstanding content.
Using this “create once publish everyone” mentality, you can pull from your News posts to create a blog. Clarkston Community Schools takes this approach with some of its site content, and by using Finalsite Posts, they can simply create a news story, tag it as a blog from the superintendent, and then dynamically pull it into a new area of their website to help populate that content.
Suddenly they’re doing the work once, but providing content for at least two places on this website, a newsletter, and even across the multiple schools in their district. This is a huge time-saver across pages, especially if you’re cloning pages across school sites, bringing in similar elements, and are just looking to copy/paste content to reuse or display in a different part of the site. A little bit of planning will go a long way!
9. START condensing content
If your bounce rate is high, it may mean visitors were overwhelmed by the amount of content on your pages and it could mean that it's time to condense your page’s content. When you're thinking about that mobile-first mindset, remember: less is more. You don't have to say so much to get your message across, especially when we're such visual people.
You can showcase a lot by condensing content with tabs, grid elements, and filters, so users can view everything if they so choose. You’re not necessarily taking away content, but really organizing it in a mindful way so you prioritize the mobile AND desktop user experience.
Similarly, you can use accordions to act as folders for your content. Maybe you have a section of your website where you can't necessarily sacrifice content, so if it's the FAQ section, or in this particular case, from Wayzata Public Schools, “Why Wayzata?” might have a lot of information, but with a little organization using accordions, users can quickly scan to see if they're interested in reading more, then click and expand.
10. START focusing on user experience
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is offering a confusing online journey. If someone comes to your school or district’s website, you want to offer a very intuitive user experience that is accessible to all users. You really want it to be that one-stop shop for your communications, so even if you know exactly where everything lives, your visitors may not. Focusing on that user is so key when it comes to any website updates you make.
One of the ways you can do that is to take a good look at your navigation. In this example from Laguna Beach Unified School District, they place their most important pages at the forefront in its main navigation. Anything you still want to make readily available can be included in the secondary navigation links, like the lunch menu or calendar.
Also, ensure your site is optimized for accessibility. If someone's going through with a screen reader, you want to make it very clear what the entire user journey is so when they're tabbing through, it’s in an intentional order. Similarly, does every image have alt text? That lets someone with a screen reader know what the image contains. Thinking through the lens of accessibility puts the focus on all users.
Your district's site is never complete. Revamping your district's news section, starting a blog, improving your imagery, reviewing your analytics...It's time to start tackling small, yet manageable initiatives that make a big impact on your district's website.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.