I’ll get straight to the punchline: your parents shouldn’t have to work hard to find the information they want on your website. Your website should be a trailer for your school, like the trailer to a movie — it shouldn’t reveal everything about your school or the whole story. Instead, you want to draw them in with a compelling hook, and intrigue them enough so they’re ready to take the next step.
For the most part, people are shopping online—for everything from cars to clothes to, yes, schools. Many parents might not be ready to pick up the phone or walk into your school right away. That’s why you need to make sure your website is optimized and built to help your admissions team get more inquiries so you can reach out for that personal interaction and connect with families. In other words, perfect your trailer so that by the end of it, families are jumping at a chance to buy tickets to the full movie and learn more about enrolling at your school.
Here are a few elements I believe every school website should have and why you need them.
Key Elements of an Optimized School Website
When families find your school online, it’s likely their first interaction with your school. It’s essentially the digital front door for your school. Are you doing enough to intrigue them and catch their interest so they call looking for more? Are you making it easy for them to ask for more? A lot of times schools don’t make it easy because they’re missing essential elements on their website that will help move families to inquiry. Here’s what your school website needs to get more families to inquiry:
1. A clear call-to-action for Admissions
The number one thing you should have on your website homepage is an admissions tab, link, or mention. A lot of people forget that a website is not primarily for your current families. Your website is built for marketing and branding and recruiting. The admissions tab should be bold and eye-catching so families can learn more and request information easily.
2. A strong and differentiated value proposition
Above the fold on your homepage, your school should make it easy for families to—in a glance—understand who the school serves, and what sets them apart. With more and more parents finding your school via Google search and the internet, you want your website, and all of your messaging, to communicate a strong, clear story that differentiates you from others.
3. Easy access to a directory
You need to have easy access to a directory. Parents want to know how easy it will be to contact their kid’s teacher or to contact the front office or whatever the case may be. And you should have clickable email addresses and phone numbers with extensions so families can quickly reach out. Basic email addresses that are not personal to the specific employee are also off-putting, such as admissions@ or info @, all of which imply that an email will go into a random box rather than directly to a human being who will create a personal connection. This is especially true for Directors of Admission who funnel their emails and calls through an assistant or associate. Making yourself available goes a long way for building trust.
4. A welcome page for the admissions office
Share more about who your admissions team is and what their values are. Tell families what’s important and what the admission process will look like. If you have alumni on your team, that’s powerful. If they come back to work at the school it says a lot about your community. And again, include a clickable link to their direct emails.
Including a picture of staff, your admissions director, or team on your website changes things. When a family sees a face, they feel they can relate to that person more. Or if a family sees students on your website that are happy, secure, and confident they’ll want their kid to have that. If they can look at the admissions director, head of school, and teachers on your website, they are much more likely to trust those people and feel a connection with them.
6. Inquiry button on every website page
You need an inquiry button on every page of your website. This is crucial because you don’t know how families got to your website or what page they’re going to land on first. So you want to make it easy for them to take the next step. Don’t make them click around and search for it. The more clicks it takes, the less likely they are to follow through. You can change the name of this button to “Request Information” as well.
7. Social media links
Links to social media are big too. You want to drive families to your social media and hope they follow you and even share your posts. You can also include images from Instagram or other social media accounts on one of your website pages so families can quickly see recent posts, activities, and updates.
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The Danger of an Un-Optimized Website
In today’s day and age, a website is how people shop. They aren’t reading the newspaper and they aren’t listening to the radio. Even if you’re using Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to market your school, you run the risk of driving people to a website that’s going to fall short. You’re wasting your time on your social media efforts if your website isn’t designed to convert once someone reaches it
When you have key pieces missing on your website you run the risk of turning people off and telling the wrong story. You will lose people. I guarantee it. That doesn’t mean you have to pay a fortune to get a completely redesigned website. Granted, everybody wants a really fashionable and functional website, but you can see results with a simple website — you just need to brush up what you have.
Running an Assessment Of Your Website
It can be difficult to find the mistakes or sticky parts of your website when you’ve looked at it so many times. You know your way around, but would a new family? One way to approach running an assessment on your website is to gather an outside team of volunteers, past parents or alumni, or student ambassadors, to do an audit. You can make a list of things they should check for, like how many clicks it takes to get what you need, how long it takes to submit an inquiry, broken links, and any grammar or spelling errors. What it boils down to is getting as many eyes on your website as you possibly can, but not before you’ve had a chance to assess it and fix it internally first.
What Happens When Your Website is Optimized for Inquiries
When you’ve gone through and optimized your website for admissions and inquiries you’ll see a lot of immediate benefits. First off, you’re going to get fewer phone calls about specific details like your tuition or available programs. Families may still call, but you’ll start off your conversation with them being impressed and intrigued about your school rather than confused. Once you’ve piqued their interest, you want them to engage in a personal relationship with you. Having a website that helps them buy into your value proposition and picture themselves or their kids as a part of your community before they even call will make your first conversation even more impactful.
A related post here: 5 Tips to Transform Your Private School’s Approach to Digital Marketing