In my last article here on Education Matters, we discussed the importance of planning for your schools digital marketing. In this article, we’ll discuss the ‘functionality’ of your website; how it will work, what it will do, how can we help our audiences achieve the goals we’ve set out for
Most people inevitably dive into discussions around the schools visual elements, before they discuss what a website will do. As much as design and aesthetics are very important, how your website will function, and what information it contains is just as important, if not more so.
Create those goalposts
We’ve defined our audience and goals in the previous article. Now is the time to pin those up, and take a good hard look. How can we create a website that not only makes these audiences do these goals easily, but actually encourage them to do so?
For example, let’s just say a goal is to have prospective student families enquire about enrolments. Rather than bury this down to a secondary or tertiary level, we need to ensure this is right at the top, and prominent throughout all navigation.
You may wish to consider an attractive focus area on the homepage with an active headline such as ‘Enquire about school places today’ and ensure that every page has a standard navigation menu (a must have) with ‘enrolment enquires’ as a major menu item.
Navigation consistency is vital. Having a navigation menu which changes on different pages confuses website visitors, who are looking for consistent locations of elements. The advent of touch devices such as iPads make navigation menus even more important – drop down menus are difficult to manage on a touch device, so stick to simple navigation with secondary menus within sections if required.
The enquiry format is likely to be a web-based form. Pay particular attention to any forms within your website – do they have the absolute minimum of fields as mandatory to be able to process the enquiry, are they designed and do they have clear instruction?
We’ve found that reducing your form by a few fields often equates to more forms being completed.
Think of your own behaviour; if you go to a form that is complex and requires lots of information, you are more likely to pick up the phone or worse still, not make any contact.
We find that school website visitors are big fans of event calendars. You can create an interactive calendar that allows people to search for an event, see a week or month at a glance, and even have these events sent in RSS format, so they could subscribe to updates. Event calendars are useful for prospective families as well; they show a dynamic community with lots of events, if they are kept up-to-date.
Adding ways to pay online
Many schools deal with lots of different payments, such as school fees, uniforms, event tickets and even school lunches and more. For many, the lack of alternative payment options, such as credit cards, actually put a burden on families to either withdraw cash from their banks, or find the cheque book which gets barely any use nowadays.
Adding a secure payment form on your website is far easier than you are likely to expect. We have seen many clients increase their invoice payments, or reduce their average days to pay significantly by having an online option. Better still, in most cases, having an online payment form means less administrative time.
Improve the enrolment process
An objective many school websites has is to provide information about enrolments and to encourage enquiries about future enrolments. Rather than a ‘download this year’s fees and call us for more info’, we can be far more effective than this.
Consider adding an enquiry form which links to an email auto responder, which fires off a personalised cover letter and attaches a PDF of your school overview documents, or you could have the email siphon into a central enquiries list for processing.
Using this process means you could set up auto responders at intervals, and create reminder lists, such as a few weeks out of enrolments closing for next year. At the very least, a web form could ask information that saves your administrative staff time in dealing with new enquires, such as child age, year to be enrolled, previous school and the like.
Parents & Community Section
Most content management systems allow you to have multiple users being able to edit different sections of your website, based on security levels. Using this, you should consider offering your P&C a page or section of the website that they can edit and post content to. This will mean better engagement with parents, and keeps your website more current.
In this article, we’ve gone through some thoughts on how your website could work. Now that we’ve determined the functionality, and how we’ll engage with your audience and meet the goals we set out in the previous article, in my next article, we’ll take is to start considering what content and tone your school website will have.
Miles Burke is an Author, Public Speaker and Managing Director of Perth-based digital agency, Bam Creative. His team has created websites and digital marketing campaigns for dozens of schools, and their work has been featured in the media, won plenty of awards and most of all, helped schools demystify the digital marketing space to attract enrolments and better communicate to their communities.