How to Stand out in 2021: Drive Engagement with These 5 Website Improvements
Mia Major

We’re all looking forward to 2021 (see ya, 2020...), and as you and your prospective families come back from well-deserved winter breaks, everyone will also be coming back to your site with a fresh set of eyes. It’s an important time in the application process—the decisions your prospective families will have to make in the coming months mean the choices you make today are more important than ever. 

Here are five quick site improvements to kickstart your 2021 and drive engagement this spring:

1. Add New Content

This may seem obvious, but families who visited your site in the late summer and fall will be returning this winter for another look— maybe a final look. It’s a critical moment when they may have additional questions, hesitations, or want one last virtual glance at your programs. If they do, you’ll want to showcase fresh content on your site to create a new experience and spotlight what’s been happening since they were last there. Incorporating fresh content goes deeper than a new coat of paint; it’s a chance to reinforce your mission. Your new content will let visitors know you’re utilizing your site as the powerful communications tool that it is. 

So, what can you easily update?

Fresh Imagery

Your website shouldn’t be just a collection of your best images from the last five years; your site is a representation of your campus today. New, eye-catching visuals will make your returning visitors do a digital double-take—especially on your homepage and pages with lots of traffic. Colorful, powerful photography that makes a statement will resonate with visitors and will show that meaningful moments are taking place on your campus right here and now. 

Tupel Public School District homepage screenshot

The homepage and interior pages of Tupelo Public School District feature some amazing visuals that highlight their response and spirit during the pandemic. It’s an authentic look into schools’ classrooms, and the bursts of colors, the energy, and the emotion all work to represent how their community is thriving during challenging times. 

Timely Testimonials

Schools often highlight their students’ experiences, outcomes, and what has always made their school special, but what about incorporating testimonials that can speak to what’s happening right now? If you have a few testimonials to share that are about recent circumstances, like your response to COVID-19, remote learning, or reopening in the fall, it can show that your community is actively responding to and engaged with the situations at hand. It adds an important time stamp to your virtual presence and provides context to the content on your site.  

screenshot of a head of school quote on Mead School's website

The Mead School’s reopening page presents a supportive quote from their interim head of school. The testimonial does a great job reinstating the commitment to their mission, but you could take it one step further by showcasing a parent’s perspective on how they see the school living its mission during this school year. 

example from derby school of a parent testimonial on the website

On Derby Academy’s Admission page, they’ve included a parent testimonial about the schools response to the pandemic and how excited their student was to return to campus. It’s a powerful anecdote strategically placed where a prospective family may be more likely to see it.

“New” News

Let’s face it, not every day brings jaw-dropping excitement to your school’s news cycle, but in the weeks or months since your families visited your site, you’ll want to be able to share announcements, highlights, and campus news. A lot has happened since they last visited your page, right? Show your families how active and engaged your community is by sharing how students are excelling, what your faculty has accomplished, any exciting programs that have been launched, or the annual events that have recently been reimagined. Remember, if it doesn’t happen every day and if it celebrates your community, school, or program, it can be news.

Charterhouse news section screenshot

Loading Charterhouse’s news page feels you’re loading a mega online news site like Buzzfeed. With tons of engaging and up-to-date content, stories, and profiles (even broken down by category), you can get a real sense of what their campus is like—these updates create the sense that their school is an exciting place, and their page serves as a great source of the most accurate and timely information for families. 

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2. Promote New Admission Events 

Now can be a good time to evaluate if you're offering enough chances to virtually connect with your families. If you had a fall open house or big admission event earlier in the year, think about hosting more opportunities to re-engage families in the application process and continue the conversations. Featuring additional dates on your admissions or event pages like virtual coffees with parents, Zooms with division heads, or live chats with the athletic department give your families multiple opportunities to engage and connect. Offering choices will give prospective families the flexibility to meet with the departments and administrators they’d have access to throughout a normal year. It’s a great way to nurture relationships that started in the fall and support them through the application process.

admissions landing page example screenshot from Agnes Irwin School

Agnes Irwin has done an amazing job at keeping their virtual doors open by offering multiple admissions events for families. Virtual open houses in the spring, “Touring Tuesdays” throughout the year, virtual sessions with department heads, virtual private tours and information sessions—no matter when you may have visited their site, it seems like there’d always be an opportunity to sign up, log on, and connect with them virtually.

Posting your admission’s content like viewbooks or brochures is a great addition for families who may have missed those materials during their first online visit. Agnes Irwin does a great job at hosting downloadable content about their curriculum, their arts and athletics departments, and even guides for their college counseling and tuition assistance programs.

3. Rethink Your Calls-to-Action

Take a few moments to analyze your calls to action, or CTAs. Without clear, direct, and engaging CTAs throughout your site, you may be losing out on important engagement opportunities. When you want visitors to take action on a page, like filling out an inquiry form, making a gift, or requesting more information, take the time now to consider the wording and placement of your CTAs. If you’re not seeing the level of engagement you’d expect, now’s a great time to pause and consider why. 

Now’s the time to conduct a mini website audit for your CTAs. Here’s what to check:

  • Does every page (yes every page!) on our website have at least one call to action? Keep in mind that anyone can enter your website through any page, and their journeys are all different. Ensuring that families can always make their “next step” is is key!
     
  • Do the CTAs resonate with the appropriate stage in the admissions funnel? For example, does your Tuition & Financial Aid page only have an “Apply” CTA? Not everyone visiting that page is ready for that commitment — so open it up with two more options, such as “Download a Viewbook” or “Speak with an Advisor.”
     
  • Do the CTAs use action words? Don’t underestimate the language, word choice, and tone of your CTAs. What you say and how you say it can make the difference between a click and continuing to scroll. Is the language too forward, or is it exciting enough? Think about it — which of the following buttons would you click?
    • More Info
    • Start Your Journey
    • Keep Reading
    • Arrange a Visit
    • Will You Accept This Rose?

    •  
  • Consider the placement of your buttons—are they appearing too early on the page? Be sure to offer value or an incentive before you ask visitors to commit or submit. Maybe your visitors aren’t ready to take action. Remember — it’s okay to offer the same calls to action at the bottom and top of a page!
  • For Finalsite Composer users — are you using shared elements? If you want to save time with your CTA updates, use shared elements to make global changes, instead of individual changes. 

After families have explored the academic programs at Baylor School, the prompt gives readers a moment to think about what action to take. The page design does a great job using their secondary colors to really capture your attention and draw your eyes down to the CTAs. Each strategy helps to keep interest levels high and hS families take an action to begin a conversation.  

Baylor School website screenshot

Westridge School does a nice job anchoring their calls to action at the bottom of their homepage. With enticing language and an eye-catching, inspiring visual they encourage their visitors to “take the next steps” in their admission process. 

CTA example screenshot from Westridge School for Girls

Whether you’re looking to drive inquiries, requests for more information, or looking to go deeper with your programs and page content, guiding your site visitors with standout calls to action is an easy and creative way to drive engagement.

4. Invest Time into Crafting Better Title Tags, Meta Descriptions, and Keywords (Oh My!)

While maybe not the most exciting site improvement to make this year, evaluating your behind-the-scenes title tags, meta descriptions, and keywords can pay off in the long run. They’re a little hidden to the untrained eye, but if you don't have them accurately completed you could miss out on a lot of website traffic. Taking some time to evaluate your efforts could increase your search results and click through rates.

Title Tags

Your pages' title tags are crawled by search engines to determine your page's relevance to a user’s search. Using a keyword term with your school's name is a great strategy, like “ YOUR SCHOOL | YOUR CITY Private School.”  Google usually displays the first 50–60 characters of a title tag.

Meta Description

A meta description briefly describes your page to your searchers and lets them know what to expect on the page. Essentially, it’s the description of the page that you see when you Google something. The trick is to make them accurate and interesting enough to get a click. Aim for about 154 characters or less so they don’t get truncated.

Keywords

Make sure your keywords or key phrases actually focus on what your pages are all about. A little effort here can go a long way in helping search engines recognize your content and increase the chances of ranking higher for that search term.

screenshot behind the code for Whitfield School's website

Pulling back the curtain, you can see Whitfield School has put some thought into their title tags and meta descriptions, which can help them be found when a user searches related terms.

Whitfield School search result screenshot

If you have Finalsite Composer, title tags, descriptions, and keywords be can managed in your Page Settings:

screenshot of Finalsite Composer's page settings for SEO

Want more help with title tags and meta descriptions? Access Finalsite’s Beginner Search Engine Optimization Worksheet.

5. Optimize Pages for Mobile

Lose the weight this year, cut the fat, and clear the clutter! If it doesn’t add value to your page, support your school’s value proposition, or doesn’t answer what your visitors are looking for, remove it. By focusing on a great mobile-first design, you’ll give your on-the-go visitors a better mobile experience. Dive into your Google Analytics and prioritize your site’s top ten pages (outside of your homepage). 

Don’t forget to compare your site’s desktop version with its tablet and various mobile versions, too. Your site should respond to the user's behavior, screen size, platform, and orientation. User experience can vary from device to device, and with about 50% amount of traffic coming from mobile devices these days, it’d be wise to design with mobile in mind. Take advantage of Composer’s ability to preview pages in various displays and confirm the design of your page is how you intended it to be viewed.

screenshot from Finalsite Composer's display sizes

As your visitors switch from mobile, to desktop, to tablet, to laptop, you’ll want to consider a responsive design that creates a seamless experience to streamlines your school’s value proposition.

Packer's website displayed in a laptop, iphone, ipad, and desktop monitor

The Packer Collegiate Institute’s site presents a familiar and consistent brand for its web, mobile, and tablet displays, but it also creates a friendly-user experience across various platforms.

Key Takeaway

Well, 2021 can only get better, right (nervous laugh)? Starting the year off with some tiny site improvements can have the potential to make a big difference in the months to come. If you can tackle these site improvements during your winter break downtime—fantastic! If not, make the most of your time in the office (or dining room table) and kickstart the new year with these resolutions. Besides, these resolutions will last longer than your new gym membership and you’ll appreciate them more than those socks you got for the holidays.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mia Major

Mia is a creative and passionate school marketing thought-leader. Since joining the Finalsite team in 2013, Mia has produced hundreds of pieces of content with one goal in mind: helping private, public, and international schools improve their online presence. In her current role as director of demand generation, Mia focuses on full-funnel inbound marketing strategies. She's also a co-host on The School Marketing Show, a frequent blogger, e-book author, Expert Course consultant and webinar host. She loves putting storytelling at the heart of all communications — and before joining the Finalsite team, Mia was a TV and radio broadcaster, wedding cinematographer, and author for various online magazines. She is an army wife, mom, and rookie photographer currently living in southern Georgia.

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