Is your website fit for purpose?

When is the last time you reviewed your school’s website? Does it reflect your school’s ambition? Is it modern and easy to navigate? Does it shout about all the good things your school is doing? With so much on your plate, sometimes the school’s website can be neglected. Justin Smith explores what a school website in 2019 should look like

Your school website is probably the first port of call for any prospective new parent, pupil or employee. It is also the place new sponsors, supporters or investors will look, too. So, when it comes to recruitment, managing reputation or raising funds, your school website deserves – and needs – your attention.

The best place to start is with a web audit – a review of your site to ensure it meets your needs and, more importantly, the needs and expectations of your target audience. Here are the key features a modern school website needs to deliver.

Branding and culture
Does your site reflect your school? It’s, effectively, a digital window into life at the school, so does it really deliver? Ensure colours, fonts and images reflect this. Many schools understand the importance of clarity of message – the need to be really clear on what you stand for and what makes your school appealing – and they spend time and money on incorporating these values into displays in corridors and their prospectus and other printed marketing materials. Has this transferred across into your digital world, too? Does your website – in style and content – accurately exhibit these traits?

Content
What do you want your website to do? Is it merely an information portal or a marketing tool? The reality is probably a little of both, but many school sites are littered with outdated content; old newsletters and photos of school trips. A regular, termly, review of your site will ensure it remains fresh and relevant and that all links work properly. Of course, you need to ensure the statutory information is easily available – the DfE publishes guidelines for academies, free schools and maintained schools, so this can be easily checked.

Dynamic content, such as video, is far more engaging and interesting. Introducing some short, student-led introductory videos on your homepage is far more likely to elicit a response from prospective parents than a static piece of text or photo. You could introduce a selection of staff videos, featuring a NQT, a head of department and a deputy headteacher, for example, to help staff recruitment.

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Short clips of staff talking about their daily lives in school, their career progression and opportunities are a very engaging format for encouraging high-calibreapplications as these ‘talking heads’ could appear on your vacancy page.

Research shows that visitors to a website are more likely to engage further after viewing video content. Also, search engines are biased towards digital content and your search engine optimisation will be improved the more digital content you have.

Don’t forget to use your website to promote your fundraising efforts. Add a ‘support us’ tab, for example, allowing access to your fundraising projects and ways to donate. Also, ensure your social media platforms are easily accessed from the website; your live Twitter feed on your homepage is a simple way of gaining new followers and broadcasting your messages.

Ease of navigation
Nearly two-thirds (63%) of web traffic comes from mobile devices, such as tablets or phones, rather than traditional desktop machines; as such, it is absolutely critical your website is configured to operate fully on these mobile devices. A key aspect of marketing is to think from the customers’ perspective – how easy is it to find and access key information, such as performance data, the calendar, upcoming events, open days, etc? Can your prospectus and application forms be easily downloaded, or viewed online?

Site performance and updates
If you’re replacing or redesigning your website you’ll need to consider how simple it is to update content yourself. Your content management system (CMS) is your way of removing and adding new content. Similarly, you’ll learn a great deal about those who visit your site from the ‘performance dashboard’ or ‘analytics’ – take a look at where visitors spend most of their viewing time – can these pages be optimised to really drive home your message? 

Justin Smith is managing director of Chameleon Training and Consultancy.

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