What Website Strategies Schools Should Learn From The Business Sector

Everyone’s had to use a school’s website at some point, and no matter what level of education, academia’s idea of a website seems to be much different than the rest of the world’s. The higher levels of education use some good website principles from the business world, but public schools in lower grade levels have some pretty disastrous websites.

While the cause of educational institution’s bad web presence is rooted in bureaucracy (big surprise, right?), the outcome from a goal focused school website can bolster a better community around the school, better grades, and foster a culture of trust and confidence. In many cases, school administrators don’t relate to business websites as a model or think they’re relevant for some of the same purposes. That’s where they’re wrong. Consider this:

Students, parents, and the local community can all be positioned based on how the school’s website relates to everyone that touches it.

Schools Can Change People’s Opinions With These Web Design Strategies

Appearance: In business, because the website is reflecting the company, time and money is put into making sure the website communicates the desired image of the company. Schools often consider their website as a project for “when and if there is time.”

Schools also have lots of employee management, with varying degrees of training and skill sets in this field (the field of design, copywriting, public relations, marketing, communications, customer service) making all the decisions for what, where, and how content goes onto the website. Over time, this can be a recipe for a visually unappealing, unpolished, and unprofessional website.

Businesses understand quite well that their website is likely to be the first, and sometimes only, impression to their potential customers. Schools often don’t have a specific strategy for their various audiences and don’t plan for user ease and clarity (and sometimes don’t even address their most common user needs).

Content: Some businesses do content poorly and spend too much time talking about themselves instead of their client needs. Schools often fail at this too. Either way, website and social media content needs to be friendly, inviting, avoid industry jargon, and should feel like a one-on-one conversation with the site visitor.

Good content is organized, broken into small paragraphs, use sub-titles for ease of reading, and there is lots of whitespace leading and around text blocks. It is current and engaging and absolutely must be flawless when it comes to typos, grammar, and spelling (especially if it’s a school website). Business sites let you place an order online, and schools need to be sure they can enroll online (or at least get started).

Functionality: A school’s site must be quick loading and work as intended and have no broken links or confusing components. Mark hyperlinks clearly, and create simple contact forms like any business. Instead of getting creative with navigation and architecture (which some businesses, depending on industry, can afford to do), school sites should stick to clear, intuitive, and understandable UX.

Parents aren’t there to be impressed by flashy technology; they are there to get the info they need about their kid quickly and reliably.

Usability: I still see school websites that will have a disclaimer that their site needs to be viewed in IE to work correctly. This is embarrassing and would never be tolerated in a business environment. There must be cross-browser compatibility, consistent layouts from page to page and quick page load times. Prominent and logical navigation is a big miss too. Those school sites with only three buttons for staff, students, community don’t help parents know where to find what they need and become over simplified.

ADA compliance is a must. This means following WCAG 2.0 and allows more usability for those with disabilities and often provides cleaner use of HTML and CSS and faster loading sites.

Over all, schools should get out there and read general web design media, like this one, and they’ll start to understand how following the principles of user first design and functionality can improve their reputation over other schools in their area. They will be able to achieve new marketing goals too. It doesn’t take much, just a little bit of effort.

About The Author:

Bonnie is the founder of School Webmasters and has been helping schools improve their digital presence for over 14 years. She’s managed over 700 schools and love sharing what she knows about the web.

Image from http://www.creativemarketingstrategies.net/website-design/

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