School digital communications changed almost overnight in the early spring of 2020, when school administrators and faculty were forced to pivot with pandemic communications. Urgent news and new and changing schedules, plans and policies all put school communications in overdrive.
School websites were put to the test as school disruption and flux placed a heightened need for websites to deliver fresh, updated content. From school lunch logistics to remote learning to staff pre-arrival health screenings, everyone in your school community needed the latest on changes.
Enter website alert banners and pop-up windows. These handy website features are thorough ways to make certain your website visitors get critical updates, information and other important announcements, right when they need it.
The evolution of the homepage
It wasn’t that long ago when your typical school district homepage was a veritable conglomeration of menus and links with tons of headings, subheadings, and tiny copy. Dizzying navigation running horizontally across the top and vertically down each side of the above-the-fold homepage.
Everything was packed into the prime real estate; and heaven forbid you leave any “white space” (the space between text, graphics, images, and blocks.) Copy so small that not even the keenest of eyes or nimblest of fingers could scan or zoom to get to what you needed. Toss in a big school logo up in the corner and you’ve effectively crammed it all in.
School website homepage design transformed – attention-getting eye candy, where typically you’d find photos of cute kids from XYZ school in action with some inspirational quotes or school mission statement. A carousel of images sliding in, requiring the web visitor to peruse someone’s idea of a digital school art gallery before finding the lunch menu for the week or what time the school play starts.
We’ve all learned a great deal about what a school homepage should do. People need to get to the info they need fast. They’re probably hitting your site via their phone, and when they arrive at your homepage, they’re probably not after your mission statement. Steve WIlliams, co-founder of Campus Suite, calls your district homepage your “digital front door” and there are four goals every school website homepage needs to achieve.
Such design indulgence has given way to utility. Your website visitors, while certainly appreciative of the slide carousel of images that capture the warm and fuzzy side of your school, are after the facts. Two of the tools many schools are now using to push the important and urgent news to their website visitors are homepage banners and pop-ups.
Alerts ensure important information is seen by all website visitors.Parents, staff and others in your school community are relying more and more on your website for timely info, and you don’t want them to have to dig around for it on your website.
Content on your website is more plentiful and some of it is more critical and timely than ever.
Alerts enable you to push important and timely information for prominent viewing on homepage.
Banners are not new, but many schools are just now beginning to realize their utility. Usually placed in the header, footer, or sidebars, web banners have long been used by marketers to highlight content. They can get pretty elaborate and plentiful as you surf your favorite sites. For purposes of schools, who don’t have the luxury of web designers on staff cranking out custom web components, the standard horizontal banner is what we’re talking about. It runs the length the screen and is usually placed at the top.
The copy you write for your school website banner should be very concise. Web visitors should be able to get your message – or be directed where they need to go – quickly.
Pop-ups are the second type of alert schools are beginning to embrace. Pop-ups usually take the form of a small window which suddenly appears in the foreground of the page you’re viewing. You’ve seen them: ads, downloads, register for newsletter, etc. They can appear just about anywhere on the screen – top, bottom, center, corner – and have many benefits when you have to deliver important information.
First off, pop-ups are attention-getting. They help you rise above the clutter and grab the reader’s attention. Pop-ups also draw the viewer’s eyes to what you deem is most important for them. They’re also versatile in that you can have different ‘levels’ of pop-ups depending on the urgency of the the content you wish to convey.
Use color to distinguish urgency level
Many CMS pop-up features allow you to assign color values to differentiate your pop-ups and banners. The timeliness, urgency and importance of information dictates what level of alert.
First determine if your alert content is urgent, important, or simply informative. Certainly any info you’d convey through a banner or pop-up will be important in the broadest sense, but assigning a degree of importance helps you deliver your messages in an organized manner. For example:
Used for time-critical news and information or any events that could be considered disruptive to the normal school operations. (e.g., lockdowns, school closings, crisis and emergencies)
Effective for essential information that may not be so time-critical, but deemed important to school operations. (e.g., scheduling updates, important deadlines, superintendent’s/principal’s messages)
The not-so critical information that you want to feature and inform your school community about. (e.g., open house, featured extracurriculars, event reminders, teacher/staff recognition)
Used in combination, alert banners and pop-ups are ways to highlight and prioritize important info your web visitors seek.
Make your school more responsive with alerts
Now, there’s still a place for the warm-and-fuzzy stuff on your homepage, but there are times when you need to push some content loudly and clearly. Parents, staff and others in your school community are relying on your website for announcements surrounding the pandemic, remote learning, schedules and more.
The information demand on schools these days is higher than it’s ever been, and never before has your school or district website been as important as it is today. It will continue to be your communications hub, so it’s important you optimize how you use your website for maximum success. Alerts banners and pop-ups can make your website more strategic, more effective.
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.