September and October are a really important time of year when more and more prospective parents will be looking at your website while they research schools for students starting the coming year. Your website is the go-to place for key information and where they will cement their first impressions of you in a just a few seconds.
And so it's incredibly important to provide users with all the information they need while showing off all the very best things about your school. There are a few things that you can do that can mean the difference between students coming to your school or going elsewhere. Your website is that important.
So how do you get it right?
Well there are 2 things to consider and they're both vitally important. Parents and students alike are looking for a balance. The balance between finding the information they need and looking to be blown away by the 'feel' they get about your school. Most parents make a decision taking both of these into account, especially those who shop around and look to your website as a key window to your school life.
Remember that you're in a great position because you have the ability to shout about all the great things going on in your school day to day. Don't be daunted by this because it is something you can achieve.
PROVIDING THE RIGHT INFORMATION
Lots of schools have a section on their website which points prospective parents and students to everything they need to know. Follow all the same rules you follow everywhere else; easy to find, easy to read.
Some people call this 'Admissions' which is clear and helpful and a bit more formal. Some go for something a little less formal and more open, such as 'Join our School'. Whichever you go for, use as a guide to what is contained within that section.
There is some key information that you'll want to include. If you have a website that lets you put a sidebar menu on your pages then a great way to make this easy to use is to create an introduction (or 'landing' page) that gives users an overview of what to expect in this section. Then they can easily find their way around using the navigation in the sidebar.
So what's that key information? Here's the list of content you really need to cover within this section ...
Welcome from the Headteacher - I've talked about this before in our OFSTED Ready Website Guide so I won't go on about how important it is again here.
Advice for Starting High School - this is where you stop talking about yourself and take the hugely important step of writing content that will be useful and reassuring to prospective students and their families.
About Your School - parents and students alike want to know what it's like at your school. Include quotes, even interviews with staff and students and even other parents. Talk about what you stand for and what's important to your school community.
Prospectus - use an online flipbook if you have a glossy prospectus and back it up with a downloadable version and offer a print version too.
Open Days - if you're running open days or evenings then make sure the events are highlighted in this section. If you operate an open door policy, shout about that too!
Key Values - whatever your values and your long term vision might be, communicate it passionately with those who are interested at this point. Don't underestimate the value of working on this content well.
Local Offer - you don't have to use this term but make sure you include provision for students with additional needs and their families. Try to avoid making this look like an add-on as that's a big turn off.
Policies - the slightly boring stuff but really important, particularly for families who have any kind of additional or special needs or requirements.
Students - Bring out the big guns and include what your students have to say about your school.
The Nice Touches
Once you've got all this content implemented, there's a great opportunity to add some nice information that points users to key information at the appropriate points in the year. Unity Academy in Blackpool have a great banner on their homepage pointing users to information about upcoming Open Days.
Also use photos to bring every bit of content to life. You need to make sure your photos are 'web-ready' so they're not a nightmare to download but by using photos within your content it will truly make a huge difference to how readers will engage with your website and your school.
THE TOUCHY FEELY BIT
Content is the most important part of any section on your school website and that's really worth remembering whatever you do online. But that doesn't mean we, as users, don't have an emotional response to the information we're presented with.
And of course if we're looking around at schools for our children we can hardly be expected to make a decision on cold, hard facts alone.
That's why it's really important to write your Headteacher's Welcome and make it personal. It's also why photos bring your content to life and why stories from current and past students will enrich the more mundane content.
Just make sure that your images are a suitable size and format to be used online and that they are never used to replace information that users need, rather to enhance it. If you improve your written content by spending time on the aesthetics, your school website visitors will spend more time on your website and browse more naturally. Then, if you're writing reasonably regular news content and blogging they will naturally be drawn to that content. The result is that they'll be more engaged and more likely to choose your school for their son or daughter. (That's just as relevant to older students too, the only difference is they're more involved in the decision making!)
If you'd like to chat this through in more detail then the team are always here to help and we'd be delighted to chat through how we can help you with this, either via a new, updated website for your school or through one of our Content Managed Masterplan Packages.