I’m a big proponent of taking a “strategy first” approach before investing in the actual development of a school or university website. Unfortunately, most school websites start out as information dumps and end up being an unplanned community with no flow or messaging to potential signups.
My school’s marketing agency, Gross Growth, has overseen educational institutions’ marketing strategies, including the design and development of their websites, for nearly a decade.
In this article, I am going to share with you my best tips and considerations for creating your school or university website.
Site Structure Plan
Start with a list of all the pages that need to be developed. Go low-tech by writing the names of each page on sticky notes and posting them on the wall. This way you can move subpages below the main pages and easily rearrange them until it makes sense to everyone.
6 pages every educational institution should have on its website
Every organization is a little different, but at a minimum, you’ll want to have the following six main pages on your education website.
- Home Page: Your Website’s “Front Door”
- About: Where people learn about your company, its history, and its values
- Faculty and Staff: Details about the people behind your institution and their qualifications
- Admission: Specific information for prospective students, including admission requirements and the enrollment process.
- Academics: The academic offerings you provide
- Contact: Provide multiple ways for potential registrants to contact you.
Reinforce your school’s brand and messaging
From an enrollment marketing perspective, you want your school’s brand to be consistent and recognizable across all digital platforms, including any collateral you create.
- Messaging: Consider your best families and students who have already signed up for your school What is important to them? You can bet the same things are important to most parents and students who are considering your school but haven’t signed up yet Build your message and content around them.
- Brand Consistency: Make sure you have a dedicated color palette to work with so that colors are consistent across the site. In many cases, website colors may be pulled from school logos for consistency. Make sure to use only a limited number of fonts throughout the site. You can have one font for your headline, another font for your subheading, and a third font for body copy, but no more. Make sure the images look the same and the entire website experience “feels” like your school
Enter your content
People don’t read the internet, they scan… they look at headlines, pictures, and bullet points. Assume your audience’s attention span is like a goldfish. Focus on headlines that stand on their own if no one bothers to read the body copy.
Long blocks of text are subconsciously intimidating. Edit what you wrote. Then edit it a second time. Then ask someone else to edit it. Trust me, no one will read much until they are fully engaged.
Select the correct image
Face it, we can all spot a stock photo from a mile away. If you’re on a budget, invest in a professional photographer to take candid pictures of school life. Be sure to get a release form from anyone who may be in the photo. If the school has a uniform or school-branded clothing, make sure everyone wears it on picture day. If you must use stock photos, look for ones that look clearer and less posed
Make sure it loads super fast
Google tries to mimic human behavior by determining who ranks where for which search terms. Slow-loading web pages are unsatisfying to both Google and humans. If page after page consistently takes more than a few seconds to load, both visitors and search engines will turn away. When a web page loads slowly, it’s usually due to one of two culprits:
- Large Image: It’s not the size of the image that makes it slow to load, it’s the actual file size of the image you upload. A properly optimized image should look like a large image on all monitors, large and small. Put your website on a diet and reduce the “fat” of large images. Add them.
- Bloated Code: Using a good quality website builder is essential. Using tested plugins that conflict with each other can slow down a web page regardless of image size.
Make sure your website is mobile friendly
All members of your target demographic spend more time on their phones than at their desks. It is imperative that your website takes a “mobile first” approach. In fact, Google now only looks at the mobile version of your website to determine where it ranks on their search engine results page.
Your website builder should provide a mobile-responsive design, meaning the website adapts to the screen size on which the user is viewing your school website. We use a combination of sophisticated software and visual verification to verify a website’s mobile responsiveness, but there’s no substitute for just picking up a phone and experiencing it for yourself.
Keep it search engine friendly
Google considers hundreds of different ranking factors in its algorithms, but just taking care of the basics can go a long way in ranking when parents or students are searching for a specific type of school.
At the end of the day, you can help your cause by providing a great user experience. Make sure your school website design is clear, clean, and simple. Be sure to mix in the search keywords you want to be found throughout the site. Be sure to fill in all your meta tags and meta descriptions. Most good website builders will have this feature.
Enable tracking analytics
You can’t improve what you don’t track. Make sure your school’s website platform has built-in analytics or you’ve installed Google Analytics (free). If you install Google Analytics, get the help of a professional to set up the right filters so you don’t count robotic traffic or traffic from dubious sources that might give you a false impression.
Invest in strategy first
No need to spend a lot of money on expensive website builders with bells and whistles you’ll never use. Instead, invest in basic planning and quality materials. If you don’t have the time or money to do it the first time, where are you going to find the time and money to do it again?
Wrapping it… for now
Your school website is the focal point of all your marketing activities. Sooner or later, every parent or student is going to visit your website, so don’t underestimate the value of a website with proper branding and a great user experience that really highlights your school’s culture.