5 Easy DIY School Website Updates That Make a Big Difference

I'm not really one for DIY projects. It's not because I'm lazy – trust me, I wish I could turn pallet wood into a kitchen table or knit my own blankets. But unfortunately, that's just not in the cards for me as I usually end up with at least four splinters and shopping on Wayfair in defeat.

hands covered in paint

What's the one place I do feel totally comfortable with any DIY project, you ask? My laptop. It might be because it is slightly less dangerous and there is an "undo" button. But honestly, it's just where I feel the most comfortable. Whether it's making GIFs from "scratch" or building landing pages — I am much more fond of the digital blank canvas.

If you're someone who is more comfortable taking a hammer to a pallet than a mouse to a pixel, there's still a lot you can do (at least on your school's website!) that is very simple, yet offers a big impact. Here are my top five DIY website projects that any school marketer can tackle.

1. Move News & Events to the Bottom of the Homepage

Schools often have a checklist of the content they want to include on their homepage, most often including photos, videos, testimonials, value propositions, calls-to-action, and of course, news and events. Both prospective and current families care about news and events. For prospective families, it's nice to see an active campus; and for current families, it's an easy way to grab the date or time for an upcoming event. However, it's essential to consider: what is the main purpose of our homepage? Is it to communicate, or is it to sell?

Value Proposition Guide & Worksheet

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In the case of most private schools, the purpose is to sell — meaning, you should be using your homepage to sell your school, its story and its value. News and events are just a small part of that.

If you use Finalsite Composer, this is such an easy update you can basically do it with your eyes closed. In a recent school Website Throwdown with Finalsite and InspirED School Marketers, Georgetown Preparatory School received some great advice about their homepage. Right now, their homepage is structured to show News & Events directly under the main header image:

Gprep Homepage W/ News

In Composer, you can simply drag and drop this news section to the bottom of their homepage to restructure, and reveal some pretty awesome content! While News & Events are still on their homepage, they are now beneath two compelling panels that sell the value of this amazing school.

GPrep Homepage - Moved News

Important note: While this may be an easy fix for some school websites, if your website has a lot of custom treatments or enhancements, we recommend contacting your Client Success Manager, Project Manager or Designer before making any changes.

2. Re-Structure Your Secondary Navigation

Secondary navigations are essential for providing website visitors a roadmap of where they can go next as they dive deeper into your website. In most cases they are placed on the left-hand side for a simple user experience. However, this uses some pretty precious real estate, considering Internet users read in an "F" pattern: left to right, with the most attention typically in the top left as you can see by the heat map below:

F Pattern Reading Example

There are two main ways you can restructure this area to take advantage of this "F" shaped reading pattern.

First, you can add calls-to-action to your secondary navigation.

If you like having your navigation on the left, you can use that space to purposefully guide your users to their next step — such as an inquiry or application. If you use Finalsite Composer, this can be edited in your "Banners" section, or directly from the page itself.

Composer back-end banner

Red Oaks School takes advantage of this precious real estate site-wide, adding two call-to-action buttons directly above their main secondary navigation. This puts the visitor's "first look" directly on those important buttons.

red Oaks CTA buttons on left Navigation

Second, you can move your secondary navigation from the left to the right side of the page.

This is an easy swap that can be done in Composer's layout options by adding a right-side banner and removing the left-side banner. Your settings will look like this:

Composer Layout Settings

When you move your navigation to the right hand side of the page, it is still easy to find, but it allows you to put other important content in the primary reading area for website visitors:

Pomfret School Right Navigation

3. Create more Internal Links

Looking for one of those Friday afternoon (or winter break) projects that require just your laptop and a good Spotify playlist? Say hello to internal links! Internal links are simply links that go from one page on a domain to a different page on the same domain. Internal links are helpful because they allow users to easily navigate from page to page.

But more importantly, they help improve your website's performance in search. (Yes, something as simple as linking your website pages to one another can give you a boost!)

Internal links can be used for blog posts, news articles, and internal website pages. It's pretty simple in the sense that you are essentially just linking keywords (such as teams, academics, upper school, etc.) to their related pages within the page text.

internal linking example

If you use Finalsite Composer, linking to other internal pages is a snap. Simply select the word or words you want to link, and choose the page in Composer to link to using the "link" tool in your page editor.

4. Add Social Media (or Other Content) to Your Login Page

For most schools, login pages are one of the most highly-trafficked areas of the site... so why not use that to your advantage? You can add social media, news, events or announcements to engage your constituents.

And, it is simple to set up! First, navigate to your Login page in Composer. Then, add a two-column layout element to the page:

2 Column Layout

Because this is already a login page, simply drag-and-drop your "Login" element to the left column of the two column element. Then, for the right hand column, navigate to the "Social" tab to select which social media you'd like to share. (Or toggle the "Module" tab to select the news or calendar you would like to share).

And viola! A login page with some zest.

Engaging Login Page

If you wish, you can also add additional content below for a full multi-content page!

5. Build a better News Story Page

When someone clicks a news story on your website, where do they go? Do they end up somewhere that looks like this:

choate news story example 1

This is perfectly fine, of course. (We love our marketing friends at Choate!) However, when someone clicks on a news article and they read it, it's important to continue that experience. An easy way to do so is to add "more news" to the page. This can easily be done using Finalsite Posts for Blogs and News (or News Manager!)

It's important to provide relevant and related content to the news story so that users who are reading a story on alumni, get more stories like that. You can follow these easy steps to create a more engaging news page:

  • First, examine your news categories: How many are there? Which are the most popular? In which categories do you post the most? Are there any you can consolidate?
  • Then, based on those categories, create fresh News Post pages in Composer for each category (e.g. athletics news, lower school news, upper school news, etc.) Because your homepage most likely includes a variety of different categories, it is best to create a "homepage" category or board that will have its own news post page design.
  • I recommend using this layout, but you can use whichever suits your fancy:

Composer Layout

  • Using this layout, bring in related news posts, testimonials, photos, videos, calls-to-action or a social media mash-up that is relevant. To save time, copy-and-paste content from related sections of your site.
  • Once you have set up your pages, edit your element settings to display content on the page you built and you're on your way to success.

choate athletics news page - fancy

I want to hear from you!

Do you plan on trying one of these DIY projects soon? If so, tell me how it goes! (Or if you have a DIY project that you think I should try, let me know!) Email me: mia.major@finalsite.com

Finalsite Composer

Mia Major

As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, Mia plans and executes a variety of inbound marketing and digital content strategies. As a former TV and news reporter, freelance cinematographer and certified inbound marketer, Mia specialises in helping schools find new ways to share their stories online through web design, social media, copywriting, photography and videography. She is the author of numerous blogs, and Finalsite's popular eBook, The Website Redesign Playbook.