How to Design and Build a School or University Website
I’m a huge advocate of taking a “strategy-first” approach before investing in the actual development of a school or university website. Unfortunately, most school websites start off as an information dump and eventually grow like an unplanned community with no flow or message for prospective enrollments.
In this article, I’m going to share with you my top tips and considerations for building your school or university website.
Plan the site structure
Start with a list of all the pages that need to be developed. Go low-tech by writing the name of each page down on post-it notes and placing them on a wall. That way you can move the sub-pages below the main pages and rearrange them easily until it makes sense to everyone.
6 pages every education organization’s website should have
Each organization is a little different, but at a minimum, you’ll want to have the following six core pages on your education website:
- Home page – The “front door” of your website
- About – Where people can learn about your organization, your story, and your values
- Faculty & Staff – Details about the people behind your organization and their qualifications
- Admissions – Information specifically for prospective students, including admission requirements and the enrollment process
- Academics – The academic offerings you provide
- Contact – Provides multiple ways for potential enrollees to get in touch with you.
TIP: Need help with what content you should include on these pages? Check out our free online marketing guide for schools and universities.
Solidify your school’s branding & messaging
From an enrollment marketing perspective, you want your school’s brand to be consistent and recognizable across all digital platforms along with any collateral material that you produce.
- Messaging: Consider your best families and students that have already enrolled in your school. What’s important to them? You can bet the same things are important to most of the parents and students that are considering your school but have yet to enroll. Build your messaging and content around them.
- Brand Consistency: Make sure you have a dedicated color pallete to work from so that the colors are consistent throughout the site. In many cases, the colors of the website can be pulled from the school’s logo for consistency. Make sure you only use a limited number of fonts throughout the site. You might have one font for your headlines, another font for your sub-headlines and a third for the body copy, but no more. Make sure the images have a similar look and feel, and that the entire website experience “feels” like your school.
PRO TIP: Learn more about brand with our article, Is It Time to Rebrand Your Business?
Stay connected to students, families, and staff with expert marketing advice and all the tools you need, all in one place.
Write your content
People don’t read on the internet, they scan… they see headlines, images, and bullet points. Assume that your visitors have the attention span of a goldfish. Concentrate on headlines that stand on their own if no one bothered to read the body copy.
Long blocks of text are subconsciously intimidating. Whatever you wrote, edit it down. Then edit it down a second time. Then have someone else edit it down. Trust me, no one will read much until after they are fully engaged.
Choose the right images
Face it, every one of us can spot a stock photo a mile away. If it’s in the budget, invest in a professional photographer to take candid pictures of school life. Make sure you get a release form from anyone who might be in the photos. If the school has uniforms or school branded apparel, make sure everyone is wearing it on photo day. If you must use stock photos, look for ones that appear more candid and less posed.
Make sure it loads lightening-fast
Google tries to emulate human behavior when deciding who ranks where for which search terms. Slow-loading web pages are a dissatisfier for both Google and humans. If page after page consistently takes more than a few seconds to load, both visitors and search engines will just leave. When a web page loads slow, it’s usually due to one of two culprits:
- Oversized images: It’s not the dimensions of the image that makes it load slow, it’s the original file size of the image that you uploaded. A properly optimized image will look exactly the same as an oversized image on all monitors, big and small. Put your website on a diet and reduce the “fat” of oversized images. They add up.
- Bloated Code: Using a good quality website builder is essential. Using untested plug-ins that conflict with each other can slow down a web page regardless of image size.
Make sure your website is mobile-responsive
Everyone in your target demographic spends more time on their phones than on their desktops. It is essential that your website takes a “mobile-first” approach. In fact, Google now only looks at the mobile version of your website to decide where you rank on their search engine results page.
Your website builder must facilitate mobile-responsive design, meaning the website adapts to the size of the screen that the user is viewing your school website on. We use a combination of sophisticated software and visual confirmation to check a website for mobile-responsiveness, but there is no substitute for just grabbing a phone and experiencing it yourself.
TIP: Looking for an easy way to build a branded website that is automatically mobile-responsive? Try out Constant Contact’s mobile-responsive website builder for free and see how you like it before making a commitment!
Keep it search engine friendly
Google considers hundreds of different ranking factors in their algorithms, but just taking care of the fundamentals can go a long way towards ranking when parents or students are searching for a specific type of school.
At the end of the day, you can help your cause by providing a great user experience. Make sure your school website design is clean, clear, and simple. Make sure that you infuse search keywords you want to be found for throughout the site. Make sure you fill out all your meta-tags and meta descriptions. Most good website builders will have this feature.
PRO TIP: Check for speed, broken links, misspellings, and anything that doesn’t work. Each month Kreative Webworks (my agency) donates up to 4 free website audits exclusively to schools.
Enable tracking analytics
You can’t improve what you don’t track. Make sure that your school website platform has built-in analytics, or that you install Google Analytics (free). If you install Google Analytics, enlist the help of a professional to set up the proper filters so you won’t be counting robotic traffic or traffic from questionable sources that might give you false impressions.
Invest in strategy first
No need to spend tons of money on expensive website builders with bells and whistles you will never use. Instead, invest in upfront planning and quality content. If you don’t have the time or money to do it right the first time, where are you going to find the time and money to do it over?
Wrapping it up… for now
Your school’s website is the hub of all your marketing activities. Sooner or later every parent or student will visit your website, so don’t trivialize the value of a properly-branded website and a great user experience that truly highlights the culture of your school.
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