Time was when a school website did little more than provide a directory of some basic contact information and a calendar of events. And if you were lucky, both these would have up-to-date information.
What so many are missing is a balanced, strategic approach to using their school website to increase engagement. Sure, calendar events and staff email addresses are important (providing, of course, they’re up to date), but there is so much more content – beyond the standard plays – that you should be using your website to increase engagement.
Enter the ‘web content rule of thirds.’
The standard plays of school web content
First, to understand the three content hubs, it’s important that school communicators don’t overlook the core content their websites should be providing. Most web providers make it easy for schools to provide these ‘standard plays’ to their school community.
Teacher web pages
Links to LMS and SIS
Important forms (permissions and sign-ups)
These content hubs are the 'blocking and tackling' of any website. Assuming your school CMS provider is doing its job delivering a well-designed website that features these core areas in an appealing, usable and fully accessible way, it’s now time to turn to the ‘web content rule of thirds’ for making much more of your website, and increase engagement in so doing.
Web Content Rule of Thirds
Big images of happy students and dedicated teachers can only go so far when it comes to engaging your school community effectively. School communicators mired in the web content status quo need to adjust their approach when planning their school website and think in terms of variety when it comes to the kinds of content they’re serving up.
Besides the ‘standard plays’ – that frequently tapped content that forms the infrastructure – school websites should offer up balanced content in three main categories: 1. school news and events; 2. human interest; and 3. ideas. This approach to generating web content has extended utility beyond your website. Once this content is on your website, it can be easily shared via links in social media, school blogs, teacher pages, emails, and media releases.
The school website content rule of thirds in summary:
1/3 news and events
AKA school news. This is the bread-and-butter of school content. Besides including event information on your school calendars, ask yourself if you’re thoroughly promoting the many cool school events and activities happening on your campuses, in your buildings, even off campus.
Critical to keeping up with all the events going on in your district is a comprehensive master calendar on your website that enables visitors and users to customize their view and tailor it to just the info that’s pertinent to them. Make sure your current calendar is making your parents happy and has the capability to synchronize with their personal calendars.
Besides the event basics listed on the calendar, you need to inform your school community in more detail. If this were a newspaper (for those of us who remember newspapers), this is the front-page, main-section stuff. Make sure you’re promoting the events before, during and after they take place. Social media provides a great method to share these events in real time.
1/3 human interest
This the warm-and-fuzzy stuff. Yeah, okay, I take it back: there is room for those great photos of student-teacher interaction, but there’s also a limitless supply of other great human interest content as well. Fun, personal opportunities that deserve to be share on and via your website.
Beyond photos, think in terms of telling stories. All the many stories that happen day in and day out in and around your school. They don’t need to be long ones; in fact, shorter the better and in many cases, just a pic or short video and a brief description will do the trick.
Achievements and milestones (both staff and student)
Behind the scenes (team practices, play rehearsals
Staff and student spotlights
Retro news and imagery (think Throwback Thursday)
AKA facts, figures and tips. This is where a school communicator can shine, and the good news is, you don’t have to knock yourself out to come up with all the ideas. By curating content from a variety of sources (think NSPRA, PTO, NEA, etc) and relating it to your school, you can address a wide range of ideas that could motivate, if not simply inform your school community.
In the short-attention-span-theater world in which we operate, these little kernels can go a long way to support many aspects of your school. Like the bulletin board or school kiosk, think very high-level topics and information that can be encouraging, helpful, and sometimes even inspiring.
Statistics about your school staff or students
News or stats about education in general
Links to parent resources
It all adds up to school value
Using the rule of thirds formula is something you can begin doing right away. Today, in fact. Examine your own website, and I’ll bet it could use a little more variety from one or all three of these categories of content.
Beyond your website and other digital channels I already mentioned, using this approach can factor into your broader school communications planning. Start thinking outside the standard plays. Create more variety in your web content, and begin painting a fuller picture of your school’s value to the school community.
All this engaging content will add up to engaged parents.
After all, to be of service to the parents, students, staff and many others who depend on it, a school website at a minimum should include certain, frequently accessed content. Right? But unfortunately, many school districts are doing just that – the minimum. Don’t be alarmed. It’s a common mistake in school website design when it comes to content.
Marketing director and content strategist for Campus Suite, Jay’s a former school public relations specialist who’s helped businesses, schools and colleges use the power of web communications to improve their image, generate support, and optimize relationships. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him @jay4schools.