This is a question we are asked a lot by the schools we work with and something we continually ask ourselves as we strive to deliver the best experience possible for our clients. Ultimately, many elements go into producing a good school website, but here are five key things to get right.
A clear representation of the school’s values and principles
Websites have become one of the most important destinations for prospective parents thinking of sending their child to a school, it’s a great resource for information and may even provide someone with their first impressions of what a school is like. As a result, it is important to reflect the correct values and principles in the website’s design and content. Doing this gives the school a chance to show what makes them unique and allows them to stand out from others in the local area.
Even if increasing pupil numbers is not a target it is still important for a good website to reflect a school’s values and principles. In an ideal world existing parents will regularly visit a school’s website, allowing the sharing of news and updates quickly and efficiently without relying on costly communications like text messaging or email. Achieving a situation where this is possible is much more likely if a school has a website that parents enjoy using and feel represents the school well.
A clear idea of what it is trying to achieve
Not every school has the same objectives and as a result not every school website is trying to achieve the same thing. There are a range of outcomes one may be hoping to achieve from investing time and resources into a good website. Examples of what this could be range from targeting an increase in pupil numbers to achieving a greater level of parental engagement or improving local reputation.
Each of these objectives require a slightly different focus regarding design, messaging and overall experience. Achieving better engagement with existing parents means putting important news and updates front and centre while increasing pupil numbers requires more focus on showing the schools facilities, values and achievements. Both existing and prospective parents should be accommodated in a good website but there should still be a clear priority that the site is built around. Trying to achieve too much can lead to a confusing and disjointed experience that achieves very little.
A simple and intuitive navigation on any device
Being able to provide a positive experience to visitors is one of the biggest signs of a good website and one of the best ways of achieving this is by having navigation menus that are clear and intuitive to use. A good website should strive to make sure that someone can always find the information they are looking for easily. If someone struggles to find what they want quickly, they are likely to become frustrated, which can lead to a negative experience and visitors leaving the website without fulfilling the purpose of their visit.
This is often about using common sense and simplicity when adding information to a website and ensuring that everything is in the place people would expect. We looked at this concept in detail in a previous article where we gave an example of a ‘calendar’ page being placed under the heading of ‘news and events’ as this is the first place someone is likely to look for it. A further thing to consider is how an experience will work across multiple devices. With more parents accessing information on the go it is important to ensure that websites are just as clear and easy to use on mobile phones and tablets as they are on desktop PCs and laptops.
Engaging and useful content
Delivering a positive user experience also requires the inclusion of up-to-date quality content. Achieving this doesn’t have to be a difficult task or one that requires an expert hand; no school needs to produce a masterpiece, just something that is easy to digest, relevant and helpful.
Like the navigation and layout, much of this is common sense; if a school knows that parents find certain pieces of information useful, these should be made available on their website. Simple pieces of information such as term dates or lunch menus should be kept as short lists and avoid unnecessarily long paragraphs. Those that need to be longer and more detailed such as policy and statutory information pages or newsletters should break up long paragraphs with subheadings, lists, tables and imagery where appropriate.
A content management system that is quick and easy to update
Everything so far has focused on what makes a school website good in the eyes those visiting it, but the final point is about making sure it also works well for those responsible for its upkeep. A good school website is one that is built on a good content management system, a system that allows the school to quickly and efficiently add and update content.
We work with schools to ensure our content management system is simple and easy for anyone to use without needing any prior technical knowledge. We believe that schools should always have to ability to add new content to their website and keep it up to date and that ultimately, a good school website is one that makes life easier for the school.