As we know, K-12 students come in all shapes and sizes – and ages and maturity levels. So why should the websites that serve them be any different? In fact, when creating K-12 websites, schools should take an in-depth look at what each age group – elementary, middle school and high school – needs and wants from their digital presence online.
And that doesn’t even take into consideration other constituent groups such as parents, faculty/staff, prospective students and community members. Below, we outline the most important considerations to make with your high school website in order to speak to this wide array of audience members.
This should be an essential feature on ALL websites. Simply put: visitors will not return to your website if they can’t find what they want. And why should they? However, planning out a thoughtful website architecture will allow you to direct visitors to the places they need to go.
One common mistake that is often made is the impulse to put everything on the homepage or in dropdowns in the main navigation. Granted, the homepage is the entry point into your website and the most important page to consider. However, it should serve as a gateway and supply an initial path to the rest of your website.
Slider images with recent photos that link out to current/important pages? Sure. An events calendar? That makes sense. A link farm with a hundred pages to visit that only discourages visitors from engaging with your website? Let’s stop there.
Yes, all your pages are important. But providing a main navigation with major “subsites” such as academics, student life, athletics, faculty/staff and about us, allows you to direct visitors to major hubways that will get them to the information they need.
Take the next step and divide up information by visitor type. This could include students, prospective students, community members, staff and alumni. Provide relevant information to these groups on each of these pages and visitors will know exactly where to go.
A perfect example is below. Del Valle ISD has a prominent main navigation, but a smaller secondary nav highlighted by icons that drives visitors to other portions of the site:
Appropriate Design and Language
Have you ever been to a shopping website (clothes, appliances, etc.) and immediately said “oh no, this is not for me”? School websites can create a similar disdain. That’s why it is important to make sure that high school websites speak to their audiences. The design shouldn’t be overly cartoonish in any sense and the photos should be a true representation of the age group that goes to the high school. The language should be light and consumable and be written for the appropriate age level.
In a nutshell, the design and language should speak to an age group that is moving toward graduation and into their adult life, while maintaining a young and fresh aesthetic that allows them to remain in the moment.
This approach also allows you to appeal to prospective students and families – and community members, faculty and staff – as well. Think of your website as a rallying point or epicenter of everything that is associated with your school.
Lastly, this is the perfect way to show off your school spirit! Use your school colors and logo. Show students and community members wearing your school merch. Your website allows you to scream your school pride loud and proud. Make the most of it.
Speaking of your audiences: are you sure you are reaching them all with your website? Accessibility is no longer considered an afterthought. It is considered a priority. Ensuring ALL your users can access your website and consume your information should be a top priority on your web development list. There are many beneficiaries of accessible websites, including:
- Deaf individuals
- Vision-impaired visitors
- The elderly
- Those with learning disabilities such as dyslexia
- Colorblind users
- English language learners
- People with limited motor control
These visitors are part of every group that frequent your website, including students, parents, faculty/staff and community members (not to mention prospective students who may judge a school by its accessibility standards).
Making your website accessibility compliant may also keep you out of legal trouble. 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.
These days, having a mobile-friendly website is becoming less and less of an option and more of a necessity. It’s true that smart phones and tablets are not new inventions. But the expectation for websites to provide a premium user experience on these devices has never been higher.
With that in mind, schools must provide a digital experience that is easily consumable regardless of how your website is being viewed. Most content management systems allow you to pick templates (but you can use custom coding) that automatically format your website correctly when it recognizes the device a visitor is using. It’s called responsive design, and it allows you to update your website once and properly formats it everywhere it is seen.
So, whether your site is being viewed on a handheld device or a huge iMac monitor, visitors will get a user experience that allows them to efficiently consume the information they are looking for.
Tell Your Story
In the long run, your school is more than your curriculum. Granted, that is an extremely important part of your school and what you want the world to know about it. But does your curriculum tell your story? Does it tell visitors what you want them to know about your school?
One way to tell your story is to include icons or graphics on your homepage (see Del Valle ISD image above) and throughout your website. Accompany these images with value propositions, recognitions, a mission statement or other achievements and you will be supplying highly digestible content that says a lot about your school.
But don’t stop there! There are more stories to tell. Other great ways to tell your school’s story include:
- Quotes from successful alumni
- Quotes from parents and community members
- Feature stories on students, faculty/staff
- Images that are rotated on a frequent basis to reflect recent events
- School fundraising efforts
- Featured community outreach efforts
Remember: prospective students are students, too. And don’t forget their parents, alums and community members. Storytelling like this not only brings out a sense of pride among current students but also creates a sense of community among all who are associated with the school. These additional features help tell the broader story about your school and illustrates what a vibrant and personal place it can be.
In the image below, check out the middle section of the Cary Academy homepage. There are three news columns, including community features and articles from the school magazine:
Make It Social
Social media is ubiquitous these days and schools have an opportunity to spread their message far and wide by making website content sharable. Allow students and community members to share your information to Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.
What kind of content is most likely to be shared?
- School events and calendar items
- Student profiles and achievements
- Photo galleries of student activities such as drama and sports
- Faculty and staff spotlights
- Fundraising and PTO events
This is not only a great public service and recruitment tool, but it also ensures that users will return if they know that there is content of interest that they would like to share. It’s a great way to create a community with your website. Easy-to-install plugins make sharing simple.
Update Your Website Often
In today’s world, you can’t let your website become stale. And why would you? You have invested time, effort and money into your digital presence. So, it only makes sense to update it often and ensure that visitors return time and time again.
And it doesn’t take that much effort. It can be as easy as updating photos on main pages and using a calendar plugin that is updated automatically wherever you want it. Additionally, it doesn’t have to fall on one person. Assign multiple users to your content management system and the task will seem relatively easy. What content items can be updated frequently? Here are a few:
- Events – Use a website plugin and you can update your calendar once and it will show new events wherever you want them.
- In the news – Have an important announcement? Create a post and assign it to the homepage and other relevant places on your website.
- New academic guidelines – These important announcements can be updated whenever new and relevant information is available.
- Make it seasonal – Whether it is Spring or Winter, give your website a seasonal look (photos in particular) that shows the website is fresh and relevant.
- Deadlines – Make sure users get important dates and deadlines by placing them prominently on the homepage and other relevant pages.
- New at our school – If you have something new at your school that many would find interesting, post it to the homepage to ensure they see it.
- How to tips – Ask faculty and staff to lend their expertise and create how-tos for the most in demand and used processes.
- Photos – Create a slider on the homepage, then create calendar items every week to remind you to update these with fresh and relevant photos.
Choose a content management system that makes these tasks easy, and they will become second nature. Assign accountability to other users and you will have a web team before you know it!
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.
- Templates & Themes – Choose from a variety of pre-developed designs to get your website up and running fast.
- Plugins – These additional pieces of software (kind of like phone apps) give you additional functionality for your website (SEO tools, calendars, etc.).
- Accessibility – Choose WordPress and take advantage of accessibility plugins that ensure your website is compliant.
- Customizable – WordPress is easy to use and allows you to customize templates or create a look and feel on your own.
- Multipurpose – WordPress can be used as the content management system for your website, while also serving as a blogging and ePortfolio solution for your staff and students.
- Multisite – Administer and update multiple websites from one dashboard and one login.
- Access levels – Assign access to multiple WordPress users and allow them to make updates to specific pages/sites.
Check out more reasons to use WordPress as your content management system. Below, view the Lufkin Independent School District website. It features multiple points of entry and large slider images that can be switched out on a regular basis.
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.