3 Best Practices for Building a Strong School Website

In a perfect world, schools would sell themselves. But with so many choices, education styles, and learning environments, it can be difficult to stand out.  Enter the school website.

 

In a barrage of options, a well-built school website can be a beacon. Offering prospective parents, a strong first impression of your school is key to increasing enrollment, and it’s pretty safe to assume that EVERY new parent who is considering your school will visit your website during their shopping process. And when they visit, you want to give them a website that informs, captures contact information, and drives engagement vis-à-vis tours, shadow days, and shadow days.

 

Whether you’re building a new school website or revamping an existing one, employing the following best practices will help bring in audiences and help prospective parents take the next step.

 

Tailor your site to the correct audience

 

Finding the right target audience is just as essential for schools as it is for big companies. In your case, the target audience is almost always going to be prospective parents. To determine which parents, you need to develop customer personas. These are fictional representations of your ideal parent that describe what these parents look like and what are their needs when they are thinking about their child’s educational experience

 

You can create these personas by analyzing your school’s demographics and conducting individual interviews and focus groups.  I covered the importance of customer personas in this article if you want more information.

 

Once you’ve established these personas then, you can tailor your website to not only prospective parents but YOUR prospective parents.

 

A well-tailored website tells the target audience why they should enroll their children. For a good example of this in action, check out Indianapolis’ Cathedral High School homepage.

 

school website

Upon arrival, parents are instantly greeted with a sleek, intuitive visual that touts the school’s longstanding history and invites you to visit the campus. The navigation menu is simple and accessible, and scrolling down reveals further information on the school’s educational programs.

 

From the written content to the page structure, it’s clear that this school website understands what its audience wants to know and makes it simple for them to learn more.

 

Capture contact information

 

Most prospective parents aren’t going to enroll on their first website visit. In order for you to follow up with them, it’s important that you capture their contact information on that first visit. Even if they just supply their email address, you can still send them your school newsletter or ask them if they need any more information.

 

One effective technique for capturing contact info is with an “overlay.” Similar to a popup, an overlay is an engagement feature that typically asks users for their email address so they can “stay in the loop” or “receive a special offer.” An overlay is designed to be helpful in nature, and according to Econsultancy, websites with an overlay obtain “up to 400% more email opt-ins” than sites that use in-line forms.

 

Just like everything else on your school website, an effective overlay is tailored to your target audience, and because your audience is made up of parents, offers around buy one get one free or a coupon probably won’t work all that well! Instead, opt for something a little softer and learning-focused. An overlay that simply asks if you would like to receive updates on events, enrollment deadlines and news might work better.

 

Another approach is offering parents access to custom content in exchange for their contact info. Custom content can be any content (video, eBook, slideshow) that a parent (especially your target parent) would find valuable. An article on “The 10 signs your child is gifted” or an info packet about “How to nurture an interest in STEM in your elementary student” would work here. However, it must be offered with tact.

 

Avoid being too “salesy” or didactic. Instead, be helpful. “Sign up to read this eBook which can help you in your decision-making process,” or “Tell us a bit more about yourself and get a sneak peek at our year-end celebration video before anyone else!”

 

Even an info packet on the school itself can entice parents. Charleston’s Mason Prep website invites parents to exchange their contact information for learning materials by presenting a “Learn More” call-to-action button on its homepage. It leads to this:

 

school website

Follow Your Customer’s Enrollment Cadence

 

Schools like Cathedral and Mason Prep know what information to include and how to present it by following the enrollment cadence: Learn, Engage, Visit, Enroll. This is the optimal order of actions for parents to take and should be how you structure the navigation of your website. It’s like the sales funnel of school enrollment.

 

First you invite them to learn more about the school. Cathedral accomplishes this by a) enticing parents with nuggets of interesting, important, or helpful information, then b) inviting them to read further via call-to-action buttons like “See For Yourself” and “Visit Campus.”

 

Next, the website encourages parents to engage with the material. For example, if you click on “Visit Campus,” you’re greeted with an embedded video of a campus tour. Now a prospective parent is watching a concise, well-produced video on the merits of the school’s education system.

 

school website

After a parent engages with the material, they are more likely to visit the school. They just watched a video with friendly people and happy kids. What’s not to love? Cathedral’s website also makes it easy for parents to visit by including information on how to visit (shadow days, parent preview days, individual visits) beneath the video.

 

And finally, enrollment. The final step should be easy to find and easy to start. Like the Cathedral website, the “Admissions” call-to-action should be prominently positioned on the website, and the admissions/application process should be clearly explained in full (Cathedral even has an Admissions video).

 

 

 

If applications are done on a separate page or through a third-party service (as they often are), don’t make your parents going on a searching expedition; include links to all relevant content so they can make a seamless transition.  But make sure that they understand that they are leaving your site and going to a third party enrollment site.  Sometimes this can be confusing to a parent.

 

 

Takeaways

 

  • Your school website is the key to all of your enrollment marketing
  • Identify your target audience by establishing customer personas, then tailor your school website to that audience by presenting information they want to know and making it easy for them to learn more
  • Your website structure should lead parents through the enrollment cadence: First, they learn about the school, then they engage with website materials, then they visit the school, and then they enroll
  • Ensure you can follow up with prospective parents and keep them in the loop by using an overlay or offering custom content to capture contact info
Nick LeRoy

Nick LeRoy

Nick LeRoy, MBA, is the president of Bright Minds Marketing and former Executive Director of the Indiana Charter School Board. Bright Minds Marketing provides enrollment and recruitment consulting to private, Catholic and charter schools. For information about how Bright Minds Marketing can help your school improve its’ student enrollment, send an email to nick@brightmindsmarketing.com or call us at 317-361-5255.

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