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Improving School Websites in 2012

I decided to write this article about a recent consultation I had because it can be of value to many schools. I’ve realized that schools are trying to do more to engage with parents. They are trying to make it easier for teachers, students, and parents to interact and stay connected.

If you’re a parent you’ll understand that your little angels don’t always “remember” everything they’re suppose to do for homework. And they might also forget, or sometimes neglect to tell you about upcoming projects.

Parents understand that there is often a huge disconnect and it can be challenging to get in contact with teachers because of their schedules.

I have consulted with a couple of elementary schools now, and this was some of the advice I gave them.

Homepage: even though you are a school, and education is what you do, don’t overwhelm your site visitors with tons of information. The homepage should be friendly and inviting. This is often times your first impression so you want it to be really good and have lots of impact. You want to control your visitors actions.

There should be a primary and secondary focus.

Please understand that the focus of your homepage should be discussed and strategically organized to suit your objectives as an organization. Every school should have a unique spin on the ideas I am sharing with you.

  1. The Primary focus, to market your school. Let’s be honest a school has to sell as much as any business. So making it easy for the parent of potential students to see that your school has what they are looking for is important. I recommend this be a video, a well done video!
  2. The Secondary focus, what do you want people to do after they have seen your promotional video? It is important that you think of not only prospective parents, but also existing parents. And this section should have 3 to 4 calls to action. And each one should be simple direct and to the point. A couple of ideas for your secondary focus:
  • Newsletter sign-up
  • Calendar
  • Highlight your uniqueness

How this homepage idea looks…

Homepage Wireframe

If you’re using WordPress, it’s really easy to find a theme that is already setup like this example above. These two articles explain.

  1. Smart WordPress Themes for Every Situation
  2. Turn Your Website into a 24/7 ATM Machine

Navigation: the buttons used to navigate your website. Keep the navigation simple and organized. From the homepage you may have few navigation buttons then the other pages, because again, you want to control the actions people take and you don’t want to overwhelm everyone. Make sure they are easy to see and that the order is logical.

Design: I only recommend that the design support the branding of the school. Use school colors, use school logo, and be consistent. But because a school website is most often used for informational purposes, keep the design clean and simple.

Teacher Sites: one school wanted their teachers to each have a page on the site for publishing content. To keep parents up-to-date and informed etc.

My Advice was to use WordPress Multisite.

Note: the schools I have consultant were already using WordPress as their website platform so they were on the right track. If your school is not using WordPress, I would strongly suggest it, but it is still possible to use this Multisite suggestion if your main site is not WordPress (which is a whole different session, but it is possible, just contact me to find out how!).

The Multisite function will enable each teacher to have a their own blog. Instead of one page that could become really long, or a pain to continually update and change. The individual blogs make it easier to find information, past or present, and the teachers can reuse the content year after year if their curriculum stays the same. Each teach would also be able to have their own newsletters, making it even easier to stay connected to parents.

Because Multisite creates sub-domains, for example, is a sub-domain, you’ll want to spend some time thinking about what you want to use for the sub-domain name. If you use the teachers name, and that teacher only last a year, then your new teacher has to starts over completely. If you use the grade as an example, then a teacher can slip in and take over the sites. It is relatively simple to change the sub-domain name and to delete these sites and crest new ones. So maybe using the teachers name will work fine.

For more information on using multisite for your school, please contact me. I’d be happy to go through a consultation with you.

Every school has its own unique aspects and the idea of my consultation is to help schools identify their uniques and then show them how they can make that uniqueness apparent to everyone that visits their website and to the parents that engage with the teachers and the school administration.

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