Designing a website for a school is not like designing a standard website. There are distinct groups of audiences to consider, specific technical capabilities required and most importantly, a strategic plan with goals that need to be achieved. From the way you structure your navigation menus to the hierarchy of your homepage, the photography, the color scheme…a school website needs to shine professionally and project the unique values of your school.
If that all sounds a bit overwhelming, here’s some good news: there are preparation steps you can take that will make all of these questions and decisions much simpler! We created these steps from our own, where our design and sales team gain a deep understanding of each school’s needs through very specific questions asked during online or in-person design workshops. It’s how we ensure we create websites that are perfectly aligned with the needs and goals of the school.
This to-do list is crafted from over a decade of experience helping schools build new websites—and it’s shared here to help school marketers get set up for website success!
This may sound really simple but the best place to start is reflecting on what you do and don’t like about your current school website solution. This means considering what's working, what's not working, and what your frustrations are.
From our experience, many schools will just say they want to start again, they don’t really like anything about their current site. We’d urge you to look a little deeper. Consider if your brand colors are shining through correctly, how your drop down menu is structured, how you take online inquiries, and what your images are like! Getting a detailed list of considerations is a great way to begin thinking about your new school website design.
Going granular on the goals of your new school website will help to inform the new design. Though you may have considered these goals already, writing and sharing them will ensure everyone stays aligned and focused with the vision of your website. By collaborating on the goals, you may realize different stakeholders have different ideas, meaning further discussions are required before you can kick off.
Getting everyone on the same page early on in the process will ensure there is a strong shared goal. This will save you time and frustration down the track, as it ensures different stakeholders don’t present new ideas when your designs are almost done and there’s no room for turning back.
Every school is unique and has different goals, but it’s best to curate a few measurable action items on what you want to achieve with the website. Gather information, reflect on your branding, do some research, and consult important stakeholders. Keep in mind that it’s okay to have more than one goal for your website, but it’s a great idea to prioritize them, so that it’s clear where the importance sits. Some example goals include:
Reflecting on your goals throughout the process is a great way to check progress and make sure the website is ticking all of your stakeholder's boxes. Creating a goal statement is also a guiding light for your website designers; giving the project a clear vision and direction.
It goes without saying that your website needs to showcase what's wonderfully unique about your school! To start thinking about this, begin with a very quick competitor analysis. List out who your competitors are and what their advantages are over your school. Maybe they have a stronger academic program, or a stellar music offering?
Once that’s defined, we want to look at what your school does better than the competition. You might be able to list these things without much thought at all. But if you’re in a competitive area, this could be tough, as many of your advantages could be shared by other schools (think about a great sense of community for example!). Spend some time diving into this question and discuss it with others; you may find your uniqueness sits in something you haven’t yet considered.
Then it’s time to think about how you could display this organically and dynamically on your school website. This will form an important part of how information is prioritized on your homepage, in your navigation and on your content pages.
We can’t overstate the importance of knowing who your audience is and what they want to do when they visit your school’s website.
Looking at your website’s analytics is a great first step in learning this. You may find your enrollment page is one of your highest rankers, meaning prospective families the majority of your website visitors. Or perhaps you’ll see your news page or parent portal up top in terms of views and visits, which means your current families love using your site. Beyond analytics, you may wish to:
After you define who your core audiences are and figure out why and how they use your site, you want to make sure that the information showcased on your site connects well with these groups and needs. The right information needs to be easy to access, engaging and create a good customer journey. Your website should be tailored directly to your audiences.
If your school’s website is multipurpose, like it is for more schools, don't be afraid to prioritize your audience groups. It will help with the structure and design hierarchy of your website!
There are different types of websites and pages you can implement for your school. The main decision is whether to go custom or themed.
Custom websites are tailored completely to the needs of your school, and can have highly specific features, pages and functionality. As it’s built from the ground up, just for your school, it’s the more expensive of the two website options and requires more time from start to finish.
Option two is a theme website, which is based on a set structure, but filled up with the personal elements of your school like colors, logos, images and content. Theme school websites are great if you need a really quick time turnaround and you’re on a tight budget. Theme websites by Digistorm cater to various goals, such as increasing applications or building your sense of community.
No matter the scope of your project or the budget at hand, you’ll be able to create a visually appealing and modern website that suits your school’s needs.
If you found it tricky to brainstorm some of these things, don’t worry! Our team deals with challenges like this every day and we’re more than happy to help out and suggest ideas. Creating a new school website is a big project, but the hard work will most certainly be worth it.