Like the curb appeal of a house on the market, your school's homepage needs to make your website visitors want to enter. It’s the first stop, after all, for most, so when designing your next one, keep in mind 4 goals every school website homepage needs to achieve.
Your school website has to pull more weight these days. It’s the hub of your school communications, and your homepage has to do the heavy lifting. It has to be not only appealing with a design theme that’s carried out through your entire website, but one that’s extremely useful and organized so that visitors can find the information they need easily.
To help school communicators better understand the importance of website elements like the power of the homepage, overall design, usability, mobile friendliness and accessibility, Campus Suite Academy is offering a free website assessment. This comprehensive review evaluates and actually grades your school website using both software and human review. Learn more about objective website evaluation in this article about the school website grader.
Let’s review the 4 goals every school website homepage needs to achieve to keep parents coming back to your website for reliable school information:
1. Be organized and user-friendly
How well your website is organized will determine not only your parent’s experience with your website but all those who depend on it for their core school info. A user-friendly homepage starts with a website organized and built around school website design best practices.
Your homepage design can make or break your entire website, really. It sets the tone for the user experience. If visitors can’t readily and rapidly find what they’re looking for, they’ll become frustrated. Your homepage needs to establish a great website design theme that’s organized, uncomplicated and is carried out through your entire website.
Districts and schools have their own requirements that start with making certain the frequently accessed content parents seek rises to the top, so to speak. No one wants to navigate through multiple menus and numerous mouse clicks to find info. Phones and ADA-compliance play a big part in this, as many of the principles of crisp mobile access and web accessibility form the foundation of well-organized navigation.
This Essential School Website Design Planning Checklist is a good place for school communicators to start to assure your website is optimally organized.
Tips for organization:
- Use whitespace to make it easy to view and find information.
- Limit number of links in the navigation and sub navigation to no more than 7 links.
- Make sure popular pages such as calendars, directories, logins, schools are easy to access.
- Always have a search and translate option in the top header.
2. Attract new families
A recent article we posted in the Campus Suite blog addressed how it’s turning into a “buyer’s market’ when it comes to schools promoting themselves to parents, and your school’s website can influence where prospective parents’ decisions on where to send their children.
In the article, Research Shows Parents use Websites to Select Schools, I highlighted how, depending on what state you’re in, districts are operating in a fiercely competitive environment. Parents have more options as school choice, voucher systems, open enrollment, private school and charter schools present a smorgasbord of choices.
For first-time parents of school-age children, for families moving or relocating, or parents unhappy with their childrens’ current school and simply looking for alternatives, your website is the first stop for families ‘shopping’ for schools. Your homepage – that front door – better have a professional image and curb appeal, or they’ll be driving right past.
Tips to attract:
- Make it easy for the user to take next steps such as talk to someone, submit a request or schedule a visit.
- Promote key statistics like student to teacher ratios, academic success, special programs and other stats that help your school stand out.
- Add testimonials of current families or student success stories.
- Make the home page imagery tell stories of success.
3. Engage and inform
Recently we had a school public relations director who came to us following a Campus Suite Academy webinar, and she said we just wanted to, “Eliminate the frustration and confusion our staff and parents encounter when on our website.” Simple enough, right? Well, I told her to aim much higher. Beyond eliminating frustration, your homepage need to immediately engage and inform your visitors.
Many school website administrators get a little distracted in the objective of the website and use the homepage as little more than a photo album or a maze of menus and links that leaves the visitor confused and frustrated.
While cool photos are certainly part of projecting a professional image for your school, there needs to be a design foundation that strikes a balance between what looks cool and what actually gets the job done. And that job is to quickly provide the info your visitors are seeking, and otherwise engage your visitors with a pleasant experience free of frustration.
From the moment visitors land on your homepage, they should be confident they’ll find what they’re looking for, and feel good about engaging with your school.
Tips for informing:
- Add a list of the top upcoming calendar events.
- Share the latest news announcements or other important information.
- Include alert banners or pop-ups for important information.
- Include a way to sign up for newsletters, etc.
- Promote any volunteer opportunities and ways to sign up.
4. Be accessible for everyone, from anywhere
The term ‘accessible’ is being used a lot these days when it comes to school websites. In the legal sense, your district websites – and all the PDFs linked to your site – are required to be ADA-compliant; that is, accessible to people with disabilities. At Campus Suite, we take the term ‘accessible’ even broader.
In addition to creating a barrier-free school website for people with sight, hearing, physical and cognitive disabilities, we believe a well-designed website makes content ‘easy to access’ for everyone, from anywhere.
Beyond being ADA compliant, mobile friendliness is critical. People are ‘accessing’ your website via phones and tablets, so your design – and it starts with your homepage – better accommodate this preferred method of engaging your school website content.
Tips for improving accessibility:
- Conduct an annual website accessibility audit.
- Have your provider conduct ongoing scans of your website.
- Designate a website accessibility coordinator who's responsible for overseeing your website.
- Add a website accessibility policy to the footer of your website.
- Watch this webinar video on how to conduct a school website accessibility audit.
- Allow website users to submit accessibility issues.
Your school website homepage: the digital front door
The homepage on your school website is that all-important first impression. The front door. If that curb appeal is ratty and unimpressive, like a person shopping for a new home, they might drive right by and never come back for a second look.
That's a lot of pressure on making sure you've got a well-designed homepage. Even those frequent visitors to your school website who might be looking for staff contact info or calendar info rarely take a detour around your homepage. So you need to make sure you're taking full advantage of it.
Use these 4 goals when planning and designing your school website homepage – and the rest of your website – and you’ll be on the right track for not only making a great first impression but engaging your school community like never before.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @jay4schools.