Ever get that ‘throw-the-computer-out-of-the-window’ feeling? A link doesn’t take you where you expect or you find the website but not the page you want; things are out of date or incorrect…
Finding what you want is hard but can anyone find you or your school? There are several ways to ensure your online presence is easily accessible, up-to-date and attention-grabbing but you also need to stay alert. Just when people had got used to the idea of using a word lots of times on a website to increase the chances of people finding it Google stopped ranking those sites. Likewise, searching for ‘Funny year 7 concert’ used to bring up You can buy ‘Funny year 7 concert’ on Ebay but since 2006 you are more likely to get Watch ‘Funny year 7 concert’ on YouTube (Google purchased Youtube).
It’s important your school has a high profile but, unless you have your own IT Crowd in school you may struggle given how much your attention is demanded elsewhere. Instead, when choosing a design company to create a website consider how much they can offer in terms of increasing and sustaining your positive online presence. A company that knows its own industry but also understands a school’s needs can certainly help. However, having some knowledge of methods yourself will make things cheaper, more interesting and easy to keep up.
When choosing a design company to create a website consider how much they can offer in terms of increasing and sustaining your positive online presence
The content of websites for schools is partly determined by Ofsted requirements but there’s still much to be determined about the specifics and style. Summing up what your school is about and highlighting your key features on the home page is a good idea. Speaking of ‘home page’: although it can be called just that for navigation purposes the actual title should be the school name. There will be plenty of home pages on the web but very few Cleverley’s Schools in Carrington. Other pages should include the school name as well – Curriculum: Cleverley’s School, for example.
Once you’ve included all the specified information – admission arrangements, behaviour policy, pupil premium allocation, etc. – new content and regular updates are what will make your school stand out and become part of your online identity. Articles are usually less formal than the structured content and give your site a sense of approachability. Useful information such as diary dates, uniform and travel details will change your website from just a marketing tool to a genuinely valuable resource for parents and students. Regularly adding new content will make you more findable on search engines (improving your search engine optimisation – SEO – if you must!) The end or beginning of a term can be a good time to review the site: take down any out-of-date newsletters and consider a ‘Welcome Back’ message or one for new parents and students.
Galleries (pictures) are always popular, reassuring parents and students that the school offers a good education (happy children at work) and varied extra-curricular activity (trips, sports, charity events, school plays). Whilst no-one expects you to get a professional in for every snapshot, and there is a certain charm in the less than perfect picture, choosing the right, good-quality photograph is important. It’s usually best to let a professional handle the permanent pictures such as those on the home page.
You might also consider a blog – a regular journal-like contribution summarising what’s been going on. These needn’t be long or complex and will benefit from varied contributors; encourage staff, pupils, governors and parents to submit ideas and use inclusion of school work as an incentive for children. You might even use blogging as a curriculum opportunity; it can be hard to find placements for budding journalists, copywriters or photographers but you have them here in your own online life!
A good website is essential as its often the first thing people see when looking for information about your school. ‘Sorry, we’re having the website re-done’ can be quite damaging to your image and demoralising to staff and pupils. Likewise, a site that’s difficult to navigate can easily put people off. Prospective parents need to find information (on Admissions, for example) quickly and simply. These days sites also need to be ‘responsive’ – which doesn’t mean you answer FAQs, but that the site is made to work on all devices and screen sizes (many people will be accessing the site from a mobile ‘phone). If you attract (or want to) families where English is a second language you might consider having Google Translate installed.
Being noticeable online isn’t only about a website. Young people are telling us Facebook has been taken over by the grown-ups (who think they’re watching what their children are doing!) – this can work in your favour. Facebook offers several opportunities to promote your school and keep it in the public eye and some parents (maybe even pupils!) will use it to interact: make comments, post pictures, connect with others, etc. Message boards on websites rarely succeed these days because people use Twitter, LinkdIn, Pinterest, etc. Liking a school’s page takes one click but thereafter your ‘likers’ receive your posts in their newsfeeds every day when checking for cute cats and skateboarding near misses.
Facebook’s good for updating people with stories of interest and achievement, pictures and news. It’s a way of maintaining a presence whilst parents consider their child’s education or give advice to others yet to decide. News should be positive – stories that reflect the school’s greatest assets – but also show challenges and the school’s responses to them. If you have a new gallery or want to announce an event then include a link to your website. The number of links and increased traffic both help with Google rankings.
You might also use regular email bulletins or mailshots to keep in touch, also with links to your website – or other websites and articles. Twitter can be hard to get to grips with unless you have the advantage of an enthusiast on your team but don’t be a Twitter Quitter; get the design company you employ to set things up for you and show you the basics then get commenting, accepting comments from others, hinting at or revealing exciting news.
There are other social media outlets but the karaoke rendition of ‘I Will Survive’ from when you were a student should perhaps be taken down (seriously – ask your designer about how to determine who sees what). You might also consider local directories and educational websites. Make sure you use only relevant sites for posting links in either direction; a link to your school from your karaoke triumph is unlikely to do you any good.
Importantly, parents, governors, retired staff and students all want to be confident they’ll get a response if they contact you. They don’t want to feel you are remote from what’s going on in the real world. The challenge for you is managing your online presence – keeping it up-to-date, posting new information and answering queries or comments. Schools vary in how they go about this: perhaps an eager volunteer from the English department (the grammar will all be correct), an obsessive classroom assistant (the grammar will all be correct) or a small committee who can share tasks (the grammar will be hotly debated). It’s not too onerous a task once you get going, have a few pointers and have timetabled in dates for each online activity.
At other times your school can benefit from associations with external people and events. For example, an article about work placements in a local business bulletin can come up when someone performs a search using the school name. Wherever possible connect your website and articles of this nature with links from one to the other. Increasing your actual presence locally is likely to increase your online presence so make sure it’s a positive one – and talk to staff and students about adding to the school’s positive image wherever they are. What’s not to Like?
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