Is your elementary school website doing its job in serving all its audiences with the variety of information they are looking for? If not, you may be missing engagement opportunities that could have a positive impact on enrollment, fundraising, parent involvement, event attendance, crisis communications and other areas of school operations. However, by following best practices in web engagement, you can easily supply information to those who need and want it the most.
A reflection of your school
First impressions are extremely important when it comes to websites. Today’s average web user is savvy when it comes to user experience. In short, that means they know a well-organized, thoughtfully planned out web presence with clear communications when they see one.
That makes it imperative that you develop a website that is easy to navigate, has an aesthetically pleasing design and uses imagery that reflects an elementary school opposed to middle or high school. Ask yourself, is it modern in appearance and in experience? Does it have a logical site architecture? Or does it yell the year 1998?
A website reflects your school and the values that it embraces. It is often a visitor’s first engagement with your school. With that in mind, how do you want your school to be represented online?
Current vs. prospective students
The two most important audiences that your website will speak to are current and prospective students and their families. That’s why it is important that your school website markets your school to those who may attend, while also providing important information to those that already do.
For example, potential student families most likely will be interested in academic rigor, health services, curriculum, school philosophy, among additional information that they want to know before enrollment. Current student families may want easy access to a parent portal, bullying procedures, academic resources, events, library information and other web pages that are particularly useful to those already enrolled.
Granted, there is an overlap regarding what is of interest to potential vs. current students. What’s important is that there is a balance of information that speaks to both audiences and that all resources are easy to find and digest.
Perhaps the most important information that people want to know about your school is regarding curriculum. That’s no surprise. However, ensuring the information is thorough and easy to find is the key to engaging potential students and families in particular.
The page should be in the main navigation and answer questions such as:
- Do you offer advanced coursework?
- What are the arts and drama programs like?
- Can you explain your special education approach and 504 implementations?
- What will teachers focus on at each grade level?
- What sets your curriculum apart from other schools? In other words, what makes it better?
Yes, you should take a holistic approach to your website ecology and ensure all pages are robust. But just remember that your curriculum page is likely the most important page on your website (aside from the homepage). If any place, this is where you should place your bets.
Giving your web visitors information about your school’s staff is a common presence on most primary school websites. However, the amount of information provided can vary greatly. For example, some schools may only list teacher and staff names with job titles and contact information, which is handy to have.
However, to truly be effective online and humanize your brand, schools should take the opportunity to post additional information that better serves visitors. For example:
- Your second-grade teacher is bilingual in English and Spanish
- The principal won a national award for achievements in education
- A fourth-grade teacher attended a prestigious university and made the dean’s list
- The secretary has been with the district for 30 years and was recently recognized for her commitment to students and parents
- Include short bios for ALL of your school staff members
Everyone has a story. And you can tell your school’s collective story by sharing information that gives web visitors a more in-depth look at who students will be spending time with in and out of the classroom.
What if you had an event and no one showed up? That’s highly unlikely to happen at school events where students, families and staff alike have an interest in a variety of happenings. But having an events calendar (on the homepage!) on your school website will help you engage not only those currently associated with the school, but also the community at large. Make these events shareable on social media and you can reach an even larger audience than expected.
Conducting school functions can be time-intensive, and you need to do whatever it takes to maximize attendance. They are also a great marketing tool. Prospective families can judge a school by the number and kind of events that it conducts. They see these events not only as opportunities for community involvement, but also a look at what kind of events their children can participate in.
Does your school offer athletics? A variety of clubs and organizations that students can join? Theatre, stage, and musical opportunities? The arts? Gaming? Health and fitness? If you do, you are probably already highlighting these on your school website. If not, you are missing out on a great communication and marketing tool for current and potential students.
You can also take it a step further and dedicate a webpage for each club and organization. Here you can update content and information on a regular basis, including new photos and events with the dates listed. This lets web visitors know that learning occurs outside of the classroom, and your clubs and organizations are currently active and available for students to join.
Gathering donations from parents, family, friends, and the community is a pretty typical activity for schools. Whether it is for trips, events, clubs or other activities, schools find themselves in fundraising efforts pretty much throughout the entire school year.
That’s quite a time investment, especially if your school is relying on fairs and sponsored walks that require high attendance levels. However, websites can make these efforts easier. Schools can post fundraisers online through a content management system or third-party platform and integrate them with their websites. These fundraising efforts can also be posted on event calendars and shared out through social media.
This kind of website fundraising effort offers an opportunity to create ongoing campaigns that can attract a wider audience and more donations.
Does your school have a Parent Teacher Organization (PTO)? Most likely it does. There is no better way to inform the community about your PTO efforts than by providing the organization its own website/webpage.
You can list upcoming events and post imagery of parents, teachers, staff, and students working together to make your school the best it can possibly be. Give your PTO leadership access to the webpage and they can make updates themselves when necessary. Lastly, make it shareable and inform the public about your latest news and events.
Easy to update
At first, it may not seem like an important part of your website engagement strategy. But how you update the site is an especially important consideration in your website’s effectiveness.
After all, you want an efficient and easy way to present information to the public without having to code or start a second career as a web developer (maybe you do!).
WordPress is a great option for a primary school website. It’s easy to use, and if you can post to a social media channel or copy and paste into a Word document, then you most likely will find WordPress a painless exercise.
Remember this: you may have a beautiful website, but if it’s difficult and cumbersome to update, then most likely it will grow stale and outdated. And if anything is true about websites, it’s that visitors will not return to them if they get the same information time after time and month after month with no updates.
Another great WordPress feature allows you to manage multiple websites from one dashboard. For example, you may want to have separate and distinct websites for academics, athletics, about us, events calendar, student and teacher blogs, and classroom pages. This is called a “multisite network.”
Additionally, you may want to have numerous “editors” or “administrators” who update these separate pages while maintaining a consistent look and feel, design and navigation as the rest of the website. This ensures that not all website updates are the responsibility of one individual. Taking this route will result in websites being updated more often and users getting the most up-to-date information.
School’s should make it a priority to create websites that are accessible to all users who visit. While those who rely on the use of screen readers are often the most commonly referenced beneficiaries, there are many other users who rely on these services as well, including:
- Colorblind users
- English language learners
- People with limited motor control
- The elderly
- Deaf individuals
- Those with learning disabilities such as dyslexia
This includes students, parents, the community AND staff. Everyone deserves to be able to consume your information. Not only is it a best practice to engage your entire community, making your website accessible can also keep you out of legal trouble.
For instance, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) updated its guidelines in 2017 to include mandated school website accessibility standards. Failure to comply with these rules could result in an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, loss of funding, or even a lawsuit.
Websites are a perfect tool for schools that need to send out crisis communications. This includes late buses, school closures, emergencies, updates, and other information that needs to be communicated to the public quickly. With some CMS platforms, you can add a module to the homepage especially for these times. You can also create a scrolling banner or a popup window that will surely grab users’ attention and immediately give them the information they are looking for.
There are also RSS tools that can be integrated with other communication channels so you can update once and publish everywhere efficiently, including email alerts.
It’s no secret: look around and everyone is on their phones. It’s nothing new and phones continue to be the go-to device for information gathering on the web. That’s why it is imperative that your elementary school website is mobile-friendly – meaning that it looks good on all devices including desktop, tablets or smartphones.
When you use WordPress for your content management solution, you can choose “themes” or “templates” that give you this functionality (called responsive design) without any additional work. Yes, that means you update information in one place, and it looks good everywhere.
Sign up forms
Are you still asking users to download a PDF, print it out, sign it, scan it and email/mail it back to you? We all know that this is a sometimes-necessary exercise, but a drag, nonetheless. However, creating an online form is easy! Using a CMS like WordPress allows you to produce them either by using templates or creating custom forms yourself.
Choose an email recipient for notifications and an alert is sent out each time someone fills one out. Forms are perfect for events, volunteer signups, requests, or any other situation where schools need user information.
Student success blog
Is there a better way to show off student achievement other than a student success blog? Blogs can be incorporated into your website and give you the opportunity to show off achievements in academics, athletics, volunteering and other areas.
These kinds of blogs will appeal to prospective students and families and are a great way to keep current ones coming back to your website. Upload photos, videos, pdfs, copy and other media types to tell the story properly. Make it shareable on social media and spread the message far and wide!
Another great way to showcase achievements is alumni profiles and testimonials. People love a good story. And what better way to showcase the continuous success of your students than to tell stories about the great things they went on to do after they graduated from your school?
These could be in the form of blog posts or a running list on a web page. Make sure to include quotes from students and their families regarding the great things they experienced while at your school. You can pull these quotes out and use them throughout your website, including your homepage!
Message from the principal/superintendent
A message from the principal or superintendent allows you to humanize your school and give leadership a face and voice. This also gives leadership the chance to tell prospective students and parents about him/herself and provide additional information regarding the school and its educational mission and values.
However, it shouldn’t be just a one-time static message. Update the page multiple times throughout the year and give leadership the opportunity to address timely issues and let the community know about important news and events.
So, all this information but don’t know where to get started? You should consider using WordPress for your elementary school website. It currently powers roughly 40 percent of the websites in the world that use a content management system. There is power in numbers! Also, it is easy to use and customize, and there are countless security and hosting solutions to choose from.
Additionally, WordPress can provide you with an online platform that is a website, blog, calendar solution, among other functionalities that are available. But don’t take our word for it. Check out 10 great education websites that use WordPress as their CMS.
At CampusPress, we’re experts in bringing innovative web solutions to elementary schools through WordPress and our wide range of out-of-the-box and custom plugins and products.
In fact, our services in accessibility, security, hosting, support, along with an extensive suite of other tools, power millions of education websites, blog networks and portfolios.