Within the education sector, it's important to remain relevant and up-to-date by refreshing your website design, typically every three to four years. This doesn't necessarily require your school to undergo a full re-brand; however, it's important that your online and offline presence continues to evolve. By continually evaluating, iterating and refreshing your website and other platforms whilst adopting new tools and techniques, you are guaranteed to engage with your audience dynamically and with longevity.
1. Get To Know Your Stakeholders
The most important thing to take into consideration when designing anything is understanding the wants and needs of the end user. In the case of a school website, you have to optimise the navigation structure and content of the site with existing / prospective parents, students and teachers in mind.
Conduct stakeholder analysis to determine what exactly it is that they are hoping their website to achieve. What a teacher would require from the website would be significantly different to the wants and needs of parents and pupils.
- What are each of their goals and aspirations?
- How do they interact with your website?
- How long does it take them to perform key tasks?
2. Focus Your Home Page
Your school's home page will, in most instances, be the first page that your stakeholders will visit. This is your opportunity to make a good first impression on your website visitors. According to a study conducted by the Nielsen Norman Group, the first 5-10 seconds of the page visit is crucial for the users' decision to stay or leave. The probability of leaving is very high during these first few seconds because users are generally sceptical, having experienced and suffered poorly designed web pages in the past.
From experience, people now usually avoid wasting any more time than necessary on inefficient site structures and poor content. If they can't find the information they are looking for at first glance or with ease they are much more likely to leave the page. However, if you manage to get them to stay for at least 30 seconds, there's a fair chance they'll stay much longer - often 2 minutes or longer (which is an eternity on the web).
3. Share Your Values
Your website is a great promotional tool for your school, therefore it's important to portray your school's mission statement clearly. A strong set of core values will help your senior leadership team make strategic decisions for the school and its online presence. This will help to ensure consistency and a unified level of experience throughout the school and across all platforms.
4. Visually Engage
Tell your story with visual prompts to make your website more aesthetically engaging. If you are planning on having an image-centric website, with a heavy use of photography, it's important that it is professional and of high quality. By having your own photography, as opposed to using stock photos, you are able to tell the personal story of your school and add credibility to your website and reputation.
Use short videos to communicate with your audience in a more entertaining way. This could be anything from student testimonials to teachers offering answers to frequently asked questions. Videos are not only a vital tool within the enrolment process, but they can also be incredibly valuable for recruitment - showcasing the environment in which prospective teachers will be teaching. Videos are also very good at capturing the attention of the website visitor and maintaining their attention until the video has finished. If the video is successful in keeping the user on the page - they will be more likely to browse the website thereafter.
5. User Friendly
It's important to design your website with your stakeholders in mind. This user-centric or customer-centric approach means that your website visitors will be able to find the information they want in a short space of time with the fewest amount of clicks possible. Check your analytics to understand the top three tasks your users perform on your website and ensure that their end destination is achievable in two clicks or less.
6. Clear Calls To Action
With an effective use of imagery, engaging photography and useful content, it's important that you have a strong call to action that makes it clear to the user where they will go from that page. Calls to action should stand out on the page and be easily identifiable as links that immediately direct the user to the specified location. For example: "View our prospectus here" - linking directly to your prospectus.
7. Showcase Work
Constantly updating and showcasing the work of your students will ensure the website is kept up to date with content. If the content never changes, you offer no incentive for your visitors to frequent your website. That means lost opportunities to communicate with your stakeholders.
8. Incorporate Social
Social platforms offer a source of constant communication and involvement with your audience. This will encourage repeat visitors of your site, along with engaging with parents and students with the daily happenings within the school. From here, you will find that the parents will re-tweet, like or share your posts; which simultaneously increases your school's online reach - thus increasing your brand awareness.
Consider feeding social media activity directly into your homepage. This will allow users to share an article or page they have read on your website, directly to their own followers. Again, this will improve upon your school's reach and strengthen your online presence.
If you're not providing your website visitors with an interactive experience, they are less likely to feel engaged. Consider including a virtual tour within your website in order to showcase the grounds and facilities to prospective students and parents.
10. Be Different
Do your research; look through a variety of school websites, take inspiration and ideas from the features and functionalities they include. However, you should always be thinking of how you can improve the overall experience and perception of your website.
Remember, improving a website isn't something that should ever be considered as "complete". Websites can quickly start to look dated and it's important to remain aligned with current online trends to stay relevant and maintain visits to your website. You will find that it will go through many iterations and different phases, whilst constantly being updated with dynamic content and altered in direct response to feedback.
Think outside of the box and don't ever underestimate the power and influence of a great school website
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