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Research Shows Parents use Websites to Select Schools

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Posted by Steve Williams
Dec 6, 2018 5:55:06 AM

Study links website design to parent engagement

Like realtors lean on the age-old phrase, “Location, location, location,” as their barometer for success, school administrators are learning that “Website, website, website” can be one of the biggest influencers on parents choosing one school over another for their children.

In Arianna Prothero’s Education Week article, Academics or Safety? How Website Design Can Influence Parents’ School Choices, she references a study that supports what we’ve been preaching for years now at Campus Suite: great website design is critical to great school communications.

In Prothero’s article, she concludes, “Parents are increasingly empowered to choose schools, be they district, charter, magnet, or private, website design may have a lot of influence on the choices they ultimately make, and subsequently, what types of schools succeed.”

I’ll take her article one step further and suggest that website design – now more than ever the most important part (see hub) in any school’s communication mix – can make or break how your entire school community perceives and engages with you.

Campus Suite Design Center

More choices than ever

School choice, open enrollment, voucher systems, etc. have created an almost ‘free market’ for many schools in many states. Such a competitive environment underscores the need for an effective and engaging website.

The gist of the Mathematica Policy Research study Prothera reports on is that website design choices can sway parents’ perception about your school, and that how you present your school content is more important than you might ever imagine. As school choice has expanded more options for some families, it’s also making it tougher than ever for parents to decide.

Even if your school is somehow not competing for that next great family, don’t you owe it to your school community – parents, staff, students and all your school stakeholders – to have a website that incorporates school website design best practices?

A website that lags behind in technology and does not reflect your school's excellence is one that is putting your school in a bad light.

Put yourself in a prospective or even current parent’s shoes: you search Google for ‘Your School Name here’. Up pops a dusty, dog-eared looking website that’s got tiny fonts, bad navigation, and stale content. And that’s if you found the site in the first place, for it might not even have shown up on the first page of your Google search.

Maybe they’re searching from their phone or iPad, which they likely are given that mobile devices have overtaken desktops as how people are reaching your website nowadays. Take a spin on a school website that’s not mobile friendly, and you just may never be back on that site.

Website design can change outcomes

If your school website is not designed well (i.e., mobile friendly, easy to navigate, fully accessible, and frankly, just cool looking) you are at a disadvantage regardless of the competitive environment in which you’re operating.

The School Website Design Center is a good example that acknowledges the importance of providing time-tested designs that engage parents. Created for schools involved in researching, buying or building a new website, the Design Center provides an interactive experience for school communicators to see great school website principles at work.

Such research is no surprise and certainly substantiated by Rebecca Fabiano, community education coordinator for Hudsonville (Michigan) School District. In this school website design case study, she summarizes the role that district’s new website plays in attracting families to the schools in her district.

Whether it’s working with my Campus Suite designers to make our designs as intuitive and fresh as possible, or warning school communicators how to prevent fatal mistakes of school website design, I’ve long preached the value of great design. The study conducted by researchers Steven Glazerman and Ira Nichols-Barrer and the subsequent article by Ms. Prothero supports this importance and brings compelling data to my own assertion of the impact website design can make on a school.

After all, shouldn’t your website reflect just how excellent your school is?

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Posted by Steve Williams

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.

Topics: Communication School Districts Website design

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This blog and other Campus Suite Academy resources are part of our commitment to professional development for school communicators. Please join our forum for sharing the latest technology and communication trends to help schools better engage and improve education outcomes.


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