Back to school means back to web basics

With more and more parents, realtors, reporters, and other key audiences turning to the web first for information, eMarketing basics are becoming increasingly important. Use the checklist that follows to refresh your web site as students head back to school.

• School and district statistics, headlines, and photos are new. Updated information has been posted about the board of education, school administration, key departments, faculty, staff, and students.

• All district and school addresses, phone numbers, eMail addresses, and fax numbers are current and easy to find and include the area code numbers and zip codes. (Remember, this is the World Wide Web, not a local network.)

• Key “Welcome Back” and “New to the District” information may be accessed from the home page. When school starts, registration, student placement, the bell schedule, transportation, school supplies (by grade level), “meet the teacher” events, open houses, lunch menus, athletics, discipline policies, before and after-school care, and co-curricular activities are just some of the items parents will be looking for.

• “How to” tips for parents are gathered in a special web section that may be accessed using a hotlink from the front page. Potential topics include smoothing the end-of-summer transition, preparing a young child for full-day kindergarten, assisting children with homework, creating lifelong readers, recognizing warning signs, and other parent-friendly items.

• Information about academics, teaching methods, grade-level expectations, goals, testing requirements, special programs, and graduation standards is posted in jargon-free language and photos that walk parents through their child’s school day, generating a sense of excitement and enthusiasm for learning.

• Parents may use a keyword search to find what they’re looking for on your web site, and they don’t have to rely on your site structure or flow chart for guidance. A glossary of educational terms has been developed, along with answers to the most commonly asked questions, and these are linked to the district’s front page.

• “Under construction” has been banned from the web site, and outdated information has been removed. All documents and pages posted last school year have been reviewed for relevancy, edited, and spell-checked.

• The latest test scores and other student achievement data are posted and explained in non-educational terms for parents and other site visitors. Disaggregated data are available on a district-wide and school-by-school basis.

• School and district success stories are highlighted with photos and crisp, compelling copy. Parents want to know how the Class of 2002 fared, including SAT scores, academic and athletic scholarships, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate test data, showcased graduation and attendance rates, anticipated college attendance, etc.

• New teachers, administrators, and support staff are welcomed and highlighted appropriately, with photos and brief biographies. Teacher and principal eMail addresses and phone numbers are posted with the commitment to respond to all queries within 48 hours.

Now that you’ve updated your site, add even more value to your eMarketing efforts by following these guidelines:

• Post something new on your school or district home page every day. News headlines and news releases should be archived after one week, unless there is a compelling reason to leave them up longer.

• Get help. Enlist students, support staff, and your colleagues in serving as web news hounds, digital photographers, proofreaders, and content developers. Kick off the new school year with a web success party that mixes staff development, web protocol, and guidelines with camaraderie and fun.

• Check out the 2002 web site award winners from the National School Public Relations Association and other groups and steal (I mean borrow, adapt, and modify) all the ideas you can. Contact the winners for advice and tips.

• Adopt a new policy that allows the webmaster to remove outdated or inaccurate information without waiting for the blessing or approval of the content developer. Agree to repost the information once the content developer has corrected the error and eMailed it to the webmaster. Of course, common courtesy indicates that the webmaster will provide some advanced warning.

• Establish a good working relationship with your district technology folks and enlist their support and guidance in developing and fine-tuning your web site.

• Add a pop-up survey to keep track of parental concerns and to gauge your web site’s effectiveness. Make sure that all webmaster queries are answered within 48 hours. If you must forward the query on to another staff member, let the person who eMailed you know who the appropriate contact is and how to get in touch with him or her.

• Use Gifwizard or other free or low-cost webware to manage memory hogs such as photographs and graphics so it doesn’t take long to load your pages—even when using a less-than-optimal internet connection. Keep the use of Flash and other gimmicks to a minimum. As my colleague Elliott Levine always says, “This is the information—not the animation—highway.”

• Find the worst computer in your school or department (or use your home machine) and log onto your web site. Do the graphics fit the screen? Are the load times satisfactory? (Anything more than 10 seconds and your site visitor is probably going to give up.) Have the colors morphed into something horrendous? Adjust your web site so it looks good, even if the machine is a relic.

• Type the name of your school or district into Google, Yahoo, Excite, and other common search engines. Does yours pop up right away? If not, you’re probably not using enough metatags—keywords embedded into your HTML code that make it easy for search engines to find you. You might want to register your site with these and other search engines as well.

• Before you get hit with an anti-site, buy up all the possible web site variations that could apply to your school or district. The cost is minimal and is well worth sparing you, the superintendent, and the Board of Education the embarrassment of a “” equivalent.

• When it comes to parent-friendly content, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The National PTA, Great-, and other parent-oriented, nonprofit organizations have developed powerful content that you can help your site visitors access simply by providing hotlinks to these sites.

Building better web sites doesn’t have to become a black hole that mysteriously drains all your time away. By following these tips and enlisting students and other volunteers in your efforts, you can develop an effective and award-winning site that keeps parents and other key people coming back for more.

Related links:
National School Public Relations Association


National PTA

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