With charter schools’ enrollment growing – the number of charter schools more than tripled from 2000 to 2015, according to the most recent data available from NCES – public, private, and charter schools find themselves competing for students.
For many parents, the first impression of a school comes from its website. School and school district websites are increasingly becoming marketing tools for attracting students and setting the tone for all potential incoming students.
This highly competitive environment means that school and school district websites need to attract more students, engage with parents, and even recruit high-level staffing. To achieve this, your website should focus on the digital customer experience and feature accessible, searchable and relevant information while being easily updatable, scalable and secure.
Eight ways to improve your school or district website
The tips outlined below can help you improve your school or district website and make it an effective and engaging tool.
1. Tell a compelling story – All of the content featured on your website, including video, articles and photographs, should tell the unique story of your school or district’s history, mission, vision and culture. Telling a compelling story through your website makes your school personable to interested students, communicates your vision with parents, and even explains what you can offer prospective instructors. Consider working with a professional photographer or videographer to capture the visual aspects of your campus, as those images help parents clearly envision their child attending the school.
2. Make it easy to navigate – Many schools fall into the trap of cluttering up their websites with too much information and too many links. A simple, clean menu and quick links can make it easy for your visitors to find basic information like summer reading lists, lunch menus, academic calendars, and upcoming events. Delivering a better website user experience can help build your brand and develop strong connections with parents, teachers, students and the community.
3. Make it mobile friendly – Making your website mobile-friendly means that it provides a great user experience regardless of the device it is viewed on. Statista reported that in 2018 over 52 percent of all website traffic worldwide was generated through mobile devices, meaning those viewing your website are increasingly doing so on their phones.
Making your website mobile-responsive means your site is easy to navigate, your content is easy to read, and your web pages load quickly on devices such as smartphones and tablets. Text, images and videos should be viewable, readable, scalable, and interactive regardless of the device used to view them. Providing a user experience that allows parents, staff and students the ability to access your website from anywhere offers a convenient, one-stop resource for school information that will increase user engagement and interaction.
4. Design for accessibility – Many school and district websites are not in compliance with the WCAG 2.0 or the extended WCAG 2.1 content accessibility guidelines for ADA, making it harder for visitors with disabilities to get the information they need – and (worse yet) inviting potential lawsuits. It is important to understand key accessibility principles and guidelines, test and evaluate your site’s performance against those guidelines, and develop plans for resolving accessibility issues. Designing accessible websites improves digital customer experience, making sure everyone, regardless of ability, can get what they’re looking for on a website.
5. Provide a searchable directory – Directory pages are often the most popular destinations on school websites, and as such, it is important to make it easy for users to find contact information for faculty and staff. A user-friendly searchable directory is one that allows your visitors to type in a name, title or department to find a contact. Include email addresses for contacts in your directory to make it convenient for parents to contact staff without having to pick up their phone.
6. Highlight a calendar of events – Your calendar of events should be highlighted on your website to ensure that parents can easily find it. This calendar should include all school or school district events and should be updated on a regular basis so that parents can adequately plan in advance for events. A visible, consistently updated calendar helps ensure your events are well-attended and not forgotten. To make your calendar easier to update, don’t post PDFs or other hard-to-change files. Static PDF calendars don’t allow users to download calendar events directly to their personal calendars.
7. Provide grade-specific updates – Busy parents don’t want to spend time sifting through information that doesn’t affect them. Beyond that, they have an expectation for personalized information. Your website can provide this personalized experience by offering a menu that guides parents to the information they’re looking for depending on the age of their child. Your website should feature links that provide grade-specific information related to news, events, upcoming key dates, after school programs and other relevant topics. This strengthens the connection with parents and cuts down on phone calls about this information.
8. Use a content management system (CMS) – Many schools and school districts don’t have the in-house technical resources to develop a website that meets the needs of students, teachers, administrators and parents, and are looking for resources to help transform their web presence. This is where a CMS can help. A CMS solution partner can help your school or school district create an updated, attractive, easy to maintain website, yield savings in development costs and empower your staff to maintain your website and keep content fresh. CMS providers can also equip your website with the ability to scale up or down to meet web traffic needs. Most importantly, a reliable CMS helps keep your website – and the sensitive information on your website – safe and secure.
As your school or school district competes for students and the mindshare of parents across your community, it is more important than ever to transform your web presence and reposition your brand as a high-performing school system. The eight tips outlined above can improve your school or district website to elevate your message to parents, students, and community members alike.