A well-designed, easy to navigate website is now considered essential for any district wanting to stay connected with parents, students, teachers, and the surrounding community. Not so long ago, charter and private schools tended to prioritize this important marketing resource more than districts did. We saw some pretty confusing and non-interactive district websites as a result. That’s no longer the case, fortunately: the days of the confusing, ugly, non-interactive website are rapidly disappearing.
Why is your website so important? Many parents, particularly those relocating from another district, visit your website before ever setting foot in the school. Their first visit to your digital front door must leave a positive impression. When designed well, a district website can serve as an essential resource for parents to quickly find the information they need, whether that’s about enrollment, an upcoming school event, or news about changes in district policy.
Your site can also convey your district’s values and give a taste of what makes your district, its schools, and its community special. If you are an individual school in charge of managing your school website, you likely know that your website is a great way to differentiate your school from the other schools in the area. But how can you best do that? Here are five ways to create an amazing and engaging district website.
Know Your District’s Value
When parents visit your district’s website, they’re often looking to discover what’s special about the schools in your area. Remember, at the end of the day they are choosing to send their most treasured possession to your school. Accordingly, your website should clearly explain why parents should select your district. With that in mind, you’ll want your website to have an appealing, inviting design. If diversity is a strong point of your district, you may wish to highlight that as well. The About Us page is a great place to share your mission, vision, and priorities—what makes your district distinct. A clear branding strategy can be a great asset when designing a district website. If you have a logo and one-liner summarizing your district’s purpose, consider featuring those prominently as well (and consistently across all platforms). Some districts add short teacher and staff bios to help give a more personal touch to their site.
Is your district on social media? You will definitely want to make sure your website prominently links to your social media profiles on Facebook, Twitter, and any other channels you use, so that parents, students, and teachers can connect with you there. If you plan to have a blog or news section, consider integrating it with social media plug-ins so that visitors can easily share information about your school and its upcoming events with their networks. The updates that you post to the website should be social media friendly: clear, concise, and not too long. Consider going visual: infographics with data on recent school success or statistics that convey your district’s uniqueness are a great way to share compelling, memorable information in a bite-sized format. A newsletter is also an excellent way to keep parents informed on your district’s latest news. If you have one or plan to launch one in the future, make sure that parents can easily subscribe to it from your website.
Keep It Simple
Above all, make sure your website makes it easy for visitors to find the information they need. The home page should not be too cluttered. In this case, less is more. Keep the choices clear and to a minimum, so people aren’t overwhelmed: under seven links is often considered best practice. Provide streamlined navigation options that quickly lead to key information—for example, individual school pages, a calendar of upcoming events, and contact directories. Make it easy for people to find the main phone number, street and email addresses for each school. Also, consider offering an inquiry form on your website so that parents can quickly and easily request further information if needed.
Make It Mobile-Friendly
As of 2014, more people are accessing the Internet via mobile devices than on laptop or desktop computers, and that trend is only expected to continue. Many parents are completely dependent on their smartphones for Internet access, so you’ll want to make sure your website is accessible to them by selecting a product like SchoolMint that is natively mobile-friendly. Choose a responsive design which will make your site easy to navigate on any device by automatically reformatting and resizing itself to fit any screen size. Not only will a mobile-friendly approach make your website more welcoming to the many people who want to view it, it will also help your search engine ranking with Google.
Keep It Current
Once you’ve created a mobile-friendly site that’s easy to navigate, the next step is to keep it current with fresh updates on a regular basis. After all, the main purpose of having a district website is to provide a central resource with timely information about what’s going on in your district. This includes an up-to-date calendar of events and updated news pages. Make sure your contact directories, school pages, and teacher pages are also refreshed as needed. If you don’t, visitors to your site will quickly notice that the site is no longer being maintained and either call you on the phone or give up.
Make It Easy to Update
Your website should be easy for staff to update and manage. If you’re considering adopting a new website platform or content management system, make sure that the staff that will be administering the site has an opportunity to receive a full, live demo of the software before you pick a system. Make sure they can easily navigate through the administrative interface and make changes on their own. Once you’ve picked a system, also make sure that your staff is fully trained on how to use it and that they have access permissions suitable for their roles. That way they will be able to quickly and easily maintain the site, keeping it fresh and inviting to those who visit.
With these five pointers in mind, you can create a district website that’s appealing and user-friendly, showcasing the best of what your district has to offer while keeping parents and students in the know about what’s new at your schools. If you’re contemplating designing a new site for your district, good luck and let us know how it goes!
WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ENGAGING YOUR STAFF, FAMILIES, AND LOCAL COMMUNITY IN AN INTEGRATED STUDENT RECRUITMENT STRATEGY? Join our upcoming webinar, featuring Lyman Millard, current partner at the Bloomwell Group, which works with schools nationwide on student recruitment and strategic communications. You will learn battle-tested techniques to engage your families, build community partnerships, and develop a marketing strategy to attract more families to your school district. Register Now!