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Building your digital school

Geoff Millington discusses how schools can make their websites more engaging and search-engine friendly

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | September 05, 2016 | Technology

When it comes to selecting schools, parents will often look online before making contact or going to an Open Day, so your ‘digital school’ and online presence are essential. But what can you do to really make yourselves stand out from the crowd? 

Geoff Millington, managing director of PrimarySite, discusses the ways in which schools can make their websites more engaging and search-engine friendly, creating a ‘digital school’ that shows the best of what they can offer in an engaging way.

Visiting the school website is often a potential parent’s first port-of-call. They’ll want to see exactly what you can offer their child in terms of teaching and learning, facilities and extra-curricular activities, as well as getting an impression of the atmosphere and values of the school as a whole. So it’s important that you provide all of this information and detail in an easily accessible way. Here are our top tips for making the most of your website and digital presence:

1.) Design and navigation – the user experience

Imagine you’re looking at your website for the first time – what are parents most likely to look for first, and where will they be expecting to find it? For example, your most recent Ofsted report shouldn’t be allowed to fall down the list of items on your news page so that parents have to dig for it. This information, along with other details, must be as transparent as possible. Consider having a section dedicated to this type of content and mark it clearly with a heading such as ’Key Information’, with all the necessary pages located within this.

While the navigation element is crucial, with new parents you still need an eye-catching design that captures the personality of your school. For example, the use of school colours and logos, as well as images of the children learning and taking part in activities, can show a great deal about your character and ethos before parents even read your mission statement.

Mobile optimisation is also really important, as many parents today access the internet through tablets and smartphones, and they will be using these more and more to conduct searches. If your site doesn’t display well on the size of their screen, they may be more inclined to click away to look at something else. Make sure that you work with your website provider to create an adaptable site that fits the needs of your existing and potential parents.

2.) Keep the content coming

When it comes to new parents actually being able to find your website, content becomes incredibly important. SEO relies on the use of well-written material that includes appropriate keywords to assign value to the website. Search results often prioritise websites that update their content frequently with relevant news stories and information. You could do this on your website pages, by uploading newsletters and updates about what each class has been up to.

You can even make use of your social media channels to boost this; for example, if you’ve just announced the term calendar, write a tweet about it with a link back to your ‘Term Dates’ page, displaying this information. Not only does this reach your community of parents quickly, but it also provides a backlink to the website that will boost your potential search ranking. 

The best way of getting truly engaging content for your website is to involve staff members, and even your pupils

One thing you need to remember when uploading content is that there are a few little housekeeping issues that need to be addressed to ensure that your website is fully SEO-compliant. This can include simple things, like checking that all of your photos have an associated metatag (or appropriate label), so that if, for whatever reason, the site doesn’t load as expected, a description of the image still appears.

3.) Get your staff and pupils involved

The best way of getting truly engaging content for your website is to involve staff members, and even your pupils. Teachers can have control over their own class pages, sharing exciting projects and great work from the classroom, while also showing exactly what’s being taught in the curriculum.

Getting pupils to contribute is a great way of sending news back to parents, as children who have written a blog or been featured on the website for their work will be more likely to go home and show off to their parents. Also, giving young people the chance to write blogs or communicate with their classmates and teachers online can help to boost key digital skills which will benefit them greatly in the long term.

The content doesn’t even have to stop with written blogs and photographs. Many schools have engaged in multimedia offerings including video and podcasting to really give parents an idea of what’s going on in the school, as well as letting pupils stretch their creative muscles a bit more than they might usually. This type of content creation has been popular with many of the schools we work with, as it engages students with their learning as they enjoy recording things for the site to show their parents and friends.

Of course, to achieve this, the site must be easy to use and update, so that a variety of people can keep the site alive with activity. This might involve training for staff so that they can upload material with ease and help the pupils to create their own content, so make sure that your website provider will support you in this.

So there you have it, three simple elements that make up the perfect school website. This should help to engage your existing community and bring in a whole new cohort of interested parents. Then all you have to do is focus on the great work done by teachers and pupils in your school, which can then be showcased to the world. 

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