Do you cringe when you think about your school’s website? Or are you proud of it, but you know it needs to be improved?
Your website is your most important marketing asset, but often, schools neglect this critical component. It is completely understandable. It can be time-consuming and costly to keep it up to date (whether you do it in-house or hire an outside firm to manage). However, it is a worthwhile investment.
If you are thinking about improving your website (and you really should be), or considering a complete redesign, here are four important tips that you need to incorporate into your plan to ensure that your website truly becomes an asset for your school.
Clearly assign accountability of the website
This is not who has rights to update or modify the website, but rather this is the staff member who has ownership of the website. This person ultimately is going to be the one who is responsible for ensuring that the website is updated and correct. This simple management approach allows for a clear line of responsibility and is the first step in improving your website.
Do not fall into the trap of making this a committee’s responsibility. It is perfectly fine for different people to have the responsibility to update or create content for the website, but at the end of the day, there needs to be a single person whose job description includes keeping the website solid and updated. And that last part is important, the website must be current.
I don’t mean things like the lunch calendar, though that is important, but reviewing the website on a semi-annual basis to ensure that everything still fits, that there are no broken links, and that the pictures and content are being regularly refreshed. It is easy to spot websites that are neglected and that sends a very negative statement to potential parents who are evaluating your school.
Clearly define who is your target for the website
Your website should be oriented towards the prospective parent. It is fine to include some links to things that your current parents need to have access to like online grade platforms, etc., but your website is a marketing vehicle for prospective parents. Your pictures, copy and organizational structure of the website should be tailored towards enticing a new parent to want to engage more with your school.
If you have not created parent personas for your school, I would encourage you to read this article about building customer personas for your school. Your website should not just be designed for the generic customer, but should be designed to appeal to the customer type that you are targeting.
Building your website with your target customer in mind will also give you strong ideas for how to structure your website to ensure effective search engine optimization (SEO). SEO experts can ensure that your website is high on search engine results. A good SEO ensures that when people don’t know your school’s name, that they are able to find it when they are Googling you.
Know how effective your website is and where they are coming from
You need to understand what your website traffic looks like. Data informs many critical aspects of recruitment, but only if you analyze it. Your first critical step is to sign up for Google analytics on your website. This is a free service! And, Google offers a lot of great training to help get you started. Note that you do need to have a Gmail account to access Google Analytics.
If your site is a WordPress site, there are also a number of plugins that you can use to track your traffic. This article lists a number of WordPress plugins that are pretty good and generally free.
Don’t get overwhelmed by the amount of information that Google Analytics will give you. When you are just starting out, just focus on the following things:
- What is your total number of visitors?
- What is the break down between new and returning visitors?
- Where are they coming from?
- Organic search – they are Googling you.
- Direct – they are typing in your URL.
- Email – coming from one of your newsletters or marketing emails.
- Referral – coming from another site that is linking to you.
- Social – coming from a social media platform.
Once you can track this, you get a pretty good view of how successful your website is doing and where your traffic is coming from.
Finally, ensure that you are identifying who is visiting your website.
It is one thing to have strong traffic numbers for your website, it is quite another for you to be able to identify who is visiting your website and gaining their contact information to allow you to begin to nurture those leads. A common thing that many websites use to accomplish this is what is called a lead magnet. Basically, a lead magnet is something that you offer to visitors in exchange for giving you their contact information. For Bright Minds, we use a simple eBook titled The Ten Things Every School Administrator should know about Marketing their School. Once customers click on this page, they are asked to provide contact information to be able to download the eBook. This allows you to begin to build your prospect database.
A great tutorial about building lead magnets is offered by HubSpot which is a great (and free) CRM system that many schools use. It is worth the read.
Your website is the foundation for your school’s marketing efforts. You need to invest the time (and yes, the money) into making this an effective part of your marketing mix. These simple steps help you to ensure that it is targeted correctly, updated regularly, analyzed effectively and serves its’ purpose in identifying prospective parents.
Best of luck!
Nick LeRoy is the president of Bright Minds Marketing and the former Executive Director of the Indiana Charter School Board. He is also a reformed marketing executive from Eli Lilly. Bright Minds Marketing provides marketing and recruitment consulting to private and charter schools. For information about how Bright Minds Marketing can help your school improve its’ marketing, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 317-361-5255.