Google Apps for Education is gaining a lot of traction among schools and school districts looking for an economical way to broaden and strengthen their communications clout.
Teachers and students depend on Google to explore and connect, but there are many ways it can help school administrators too. Much more than merely a search engine, Google offers ways to analyze your website and stay well-informed about your entire school community. It also provides online security and legal protection that is otherwise burdensome to a school’s information mission.
From finding broken links on your website, to improving your school’s social media presence, to improving searchability on your site, to full-blown website analytics, Google tools are the way to go.
In a previous article on the subject, we presented some compelling reasons to consider using Google Apps for Education in your district. In this article, I’d like to review the tools and outline some further specifics on how useful Google can be to you.
Google tools and your school
As you explore Google tools for your school, ease into them. You’ve nothing to lose and lots to gain. Try one or a couple on for size, then go from there.
For starters, rather than using your personal Google account, I recommend setting one up just for your school. This will tie together all of your other Google-related services you may be using. Plus, besides generally a good idea to separate work from personal stuff, when your account is dedicated to an institution vs. an individual, it avoids the transition hassle and helps with continuity in the event of a personnel change.
Google Analytics, which I addressed in a deeper dive in the article, How Schools Can Use Google Analytics, helps tell you how people find your website and how people are using your website. The reports can be customized and automated to send summaries of the things you want to see (and share with your superintendent or school board, for example.)
You can also see what the most popular pages are, how many visitors are using mobile devices vs. desktops, and even see overlays that help you identify if your home page is useful. You can benchmark and track your improvements and website usage, compare them to previous months or any period of time.
Think how impressed your school board will be when they see how you’ve improved the improved the website.
Sometimes referred to as Google Webmaster Tools, this helps you monitor your website through Google’s eyes. The console helps you understand how Google is indexing your website and alert you to any issues. This tool is helpful for the IT staff or the person closer to the technical side of your website. While it offers many options, my favorite function is that it provides you a report of the broken links on the website.
Other useful tools include seeing what people searched to find your website, mobile usability and technical reports related to the quality, such as how you’re title and tag your web pages.
Google+ is part of Google’s response to Facebook and other social media. Used by many businesses to engage their audiences and extend their marketing reach, it can also be used in your district to engage your school community.
This is what appears on the right side of search results and has features like a map for the location, similar schools, basic information and reviews. Typically you will have a profile appear on the right whether you have a profile page or not, so you should have one on which you can control to content.
Setting up a Google+ page for your school is easy to do. Make sure you don’t neglect the branding opportunity when creating your Google+ page. Add the design touches and inviting profile and background images. While the comments and reviews are a potential liability (How to handle negative comments on school social media), as with any social media, it is something that should be embraced. Google has safeguards in event a false or offensive comment is posted.
Get started with Google+ for you school by checking out the Google for Education Google+ page (which has over 1 million followers). You’ll want to follow that page and many others that your school should connect with.
Google Alerts is the easiest way for your school to monitor the web for any content that could be directly or indirectly related to your school.
Besides content about your school, of course, you can set up alerts for any topic: tax levy information, news about other schools, general education news, etc. You simply specify the word or phrase, then Google takes it from there, sending you automatic notifications.
Alerts are very helpful for supporting your social media efforts for finding content to share. Imagine if a local newspaper wrote an article about a student or faculty member, you will receive a notification to share. You can specify how often you receive notifications. You may want immediate alerts, for example, or weekly summaries.
On the safeguarding side of things, Google Alerts are also a great way to correct inaccuracies or clarify news and social media content that’s zooming around out there. (What? Inaccurate news and facts?)
Because people want to quickly find what they’re looking on your site, make it easy for them – and you. We all know that Google is the best search engine, so why not use it on your website?
If you don’t already have it as part of yours, put this one on the top of your website to-do list. Google Custom Search is quickly becoming the standard for adding great search functionality to your school website.
Google already has your website indexed, so basically it’s giving you search capabilities dedicated to just your website. It can relatively easily be dropped into place on your website. You can access what people are searching to understand your how people are using your website and make improve. You can also see what people are searching in Google Analytics when using Google Search.
And, if you prefer to eliminate ads popping up during your searches, Google offers an ad-free versions for schools.
Language translation is critical in some districts more than others, but as your school community becomes more diverse, it’s important to be equipped to reach your multi-cultural users.
Even if your student enrollment doesn’t demand it, groups within your broader school community will embrace your communications if they are not facing language barriers.
Google seems to be adding languages almost daily. They started out with the most common any U.S. school could use – Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, German, etc. – but now have just about any you can think of that show you care about your non-English speaking visitors. Naturally, a language translator is only one facet of making your school responsive to your multicultural audiences, but it’s an important one.
For the most part, Google Translate works very well with school websites. You simply specify which languages you want to make available to your users, the add a button in your website header. It does seem to work more smoothly if you use minimal graphics with text.
Using these six Google tools is a good way to put the power and reach of Google into your website communications.
We’ve all come to rely on Google for searching and learning, so trust it to be a great resource for you and your school communications. These tools will help you better understand your web communications and your school community for that matter. They will make you more valuable to the students, parents, staff and others who wish to connect to your school.
What’s more, Google is a safe and secure resource that assures your school is following best practices from a legal standpoint. And don’t forget – all these tools are free for schools.
I recommend to avoid being overwhelmed, start slow. Bring your IT staff into the process. Once they see how Google can make their jobs easier, they can help facilitate broader adoption of these great tools.
If you’d like to learn more, check out Eric Fulkert’s webinar on using Google Apps for Education. Also, Michael Hiles reported on the pros and cons of Google vs. Microsoft in a friendly little debate in this article on Google Apps for Education vs. Microsoft 365 for education.
As co-founder of Campus Suite, Steve believes behind every great school is great communication. His tech savvy and passion for design fuel his desire to help administrators understand, embrace and seize the power of web communications.