ESSENTIAL FEATURES OF SCHOOL WEBSITES
What are the most important elements of school websites? After working with many schools, from pre-k to college, I have learned that every school has unique needs, but some features are essential to the website experience. The essential features of school websites are focused on the average visitor with a goal of making their experience the best it can be.
Here Are 7 Essential Features of School Websites
The most important focus for the home page of school websites needs to be the attraction of new students and families. In most cases, you are speaking to parents, so don’t use silly fonts or selfies. Focus on speaking to the hopes and fears of prospective families. Chances are that the choice to attend your school is a significant decision for families and you need to speak directly to their decision making process.
Consider addressing what to expect for your student, what to expect as a parent, common questions, strengths and featured programs, and above all, speak in a relational way to this audience. They are already stressed out and need to feel like your website experience will hold their hand through all of the many questions they may have.
This is where to invest your design and photography dollars as well. Be sure to hire a professional photographer to obtain excellent photos that can help students and parents alike picture themselves as part of your school community.
Current Parent Focus
Satisfying the needs of current parents with information, opportunities for connection, tools, and resources can be a full-time job for any school. Consider how you can get current families to the most important information in the fewest clicks. Creating a Current Parents section can help you speak directly to this audience and provide prioritized lists of the most frequently requested information along with the most time-relevant information like news and calendars.
Consider whether any of this content needs to be password protected without needlessly creating another account for your parents to manage. Also be fully aware of the capabilities of all of the systems you may already be running for your school beyond your website. Does your Student Information System (SIS) provide teacher pages? Don’t duplicate this on your website if you don’t have to. Whether you have an SIS, online learning platforms, an app, or email newsletters, make sure you connect all of these tools with appropriate links and leverage available integrations to reduce parent confusion.
News and blogs can serve multiple purposes for a school—from sharing inspirational success stories to keeping current families informed of important matters. Leveraging a WordPress blog or some other news engine will help you make needed information more accessible. Some schools will only communicate via paper or email newsletters. It is a good idea to repeat this information in a way that extends your reach with this information and makes it easier for folks to come back and find a piece of information they need.
The life of a school is often found in its calendar. Weekly, monthly, and special events engage students and families to define the flow and spirit of a school. An organized calendar on your school website will help ensure that families have the information they need to participate in these events. Don’t make people search old emails or call the school for vital information. Publish it in an intuitive calendar format to make promoting these events as easy as possible. We recommend WordPress based calendars like The Events Calendar as well as integrating whatever SIS-powered calendar you can into your website to reduce sign-ins and clicks for your visitors.
Location & Contact Details
Whether families are visiting for an Open House or trying to call to report an absence, make sure you provide a centralized location for contact and location details. Provide common links like a Google Map to make navigation easier. Include a note about parking concerns if relevant, and make it as easy as possible for folks to visit without extra hassle.
This is a great chance to highlight the features of your facilities through photos as well. I also recommend an exterior picture of the approach to your building so people can immediately recognize what they are looking for when they visit.
Paper forms are the bane of most parents’ existence. How many times do I need to remind the school of my home address or email via a piece of paper dropped in a puddle by my child? I have kids, I get this. Make your forms as easy as possible through WordPress plugins, fillable PDF forms, or at least downloadable forms. Be aware of requirements for signatures and e-signatures in your state, and choose your tools appropriately. We swear by Gravity Forms for WordPress to make the creation and management of forms as easy as possible. We love the ability to integrate payments and even route notifications to any number of admins. And best of all, all the data gets stored in your website database to prevent loss of data.
This is the big elephant in the room for many school websites. A Student Information System (SIS) is the lifeblood of any school looking to manage data well. Choosing a platform that offers integration with your website without forcing you to use a limiting, proprietary web authoring tool is so important. Most SIS platforms are acutely aware of the needs of schools for website integration, they just don’t all give the same development attention to these features. Never shy away from pushing your SIS provider on these issues as they need to hear the needs of their clients as they continue to set the roadmap for future features of their product.
The goal of SIS integration is the seamless navigation of public information and the easy login to access private information such as grades and schedules. Make sure the platform offers tuition payment options and captures prospective student data in a way that doesn’t create bottlenecks in your staff organization or lock away important information that only a webmaster has access to.
As you seek to improve your school website, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, but seek iterative approaches to add vital features your visitors are looking for. You can improve your school website over time, or recognize when you have reached the limits of a current platform once you know what goals you have for your web presence.
What other features do you think are essential to your school website? We’d love to hear as we continue to grow to serve our school customers well.