Your website needs to have a purpose. It is the cornerstone of the structure, design and content. Think of your website's purpose as a roadmap. Without it, you and your website visitors will commonly find yourself lost, without a sense of direction, taking guesses as to which way is correct, losing valuable time and resources along the way.
And while defining a purpose may seem a little overwhelming, it can be generally answered by asking this question: will our school's website be geared towards marketing to prospective families, or providing constituents with information they need to know?
We know what you're thinking — can't it be both? Yes and no.
Websites designed for marketing and websites designed for communications have one major difference: school websites geared towards marketing share compelling marketing content on the frontend, and save constituent communications for the backend.
On the other hand, websites geared towards communications turn their website into a hub for resources, information, news, and more. Getting lost somewhere in-between brings clutter, confusion, and more phone calls to your administrative office with questions like "how much is tuition?" and "where can I find those summer reading lists again?"
Here is a brief breakdown.
Website Content Planner
Schools who use their website for marketing still provide the latest news and upcoming events on their website, but provide all other information and resources to constituents elsewhere. Keeping these kind of communications separate from the main website offers two main advantages: better privacy and more organization.
Private online communities (or Portals) offer a place for students, faculty and staff, board members, parents, and alumni to communicate and collaborate among one another, as well as access any important forms, handbooks, calendar events, directory information, and more.
These online communities are segmented by constituent group, making it easy to organize and access all your school's forms in a single location — saving you time and printing costs over time. (And of course, hopefully putting a stop to all those phone calls and emails asking where to find that student handbook or faculty phone number.) Using a mobile app or responsive design, this information can be accessed from mobile devices, anytime, anywhere.
Many of our schools, including Castilleja School in California and Archbishop Murphy High School in Washington have chosen to share marketing content on the frontend, and constituent communications on the backend — resulting in a more informed (and connected) constituent body, a less overwhelmed administrative team, a greener school, and some pretty awesome responsive web designs they're proud of.
Schools who use their website as their central communications tool are unique, as their main goal is to please constituents, rather than to appeal to prospects. This is most common among public schools and districts due to their overwhelmingly large amount of constituents.
The most common obstacle with communication-centric websites is their tendency to feel cluttered. However, with a solid navigation and site hierarchy at the core, your website can be your school's most valuable communication tool, providing calendars, news events, athletic events, online event registration, and so much more, instantly.
However, there is one other obstacle we want to mention: these communications aren't private. Sharing forms, student information, and other communications on your school's main website isn't as safe as sharing it privately. So it is important to consider the integrity of your school with each piece of content uploaded on the frontend.
If you'd like to see an example of a great communication-centric website, check out Lake Forest Schools' award-winning design.
Not sure which is the right path for your school to take?
Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Who is our target audience?
2. What is our goal?
3. How many of our paper forms would we like to be made available online?
4. Should those paper forms be private, or is it OK to share them publically?
5. Do we have the resources to produce marketing content?
6. Do we have the resources to produce constant online communications to keep our website looking fresh and new?