Today, websites are one of the most used and important ways to communicate with your school’s key audiences. Never before has there been a tool for business communication that is as inexpensive, accessible, and adaptable as are websites.
For businesses, websites are as expected as a sign on the door. Like the telephone, radio and television before it, the Internet is a fixture of how your target audience gathers information. We have approached the time when your school’s parents will be comprised of people who can’t remember a time before the Internet. With such a colossal shift in communication style, it is up to you to meet ever-changing expectations.
The beauty of a website is that it can answer all the critical questions your audiences may have. The drawback of many sites is that they fail to offer this information, or provide it in a way that is difficult for users to access. Clear communication between your school and the target audiences you wish to reach must be the goal of your site.
As the novelty of using the Internet has worn off, a de facto protocol for how information is presented on websites has developed. Right or wrong, users have come to expect that sites will present information in a way that makes it easy to find what they are looking for. Most typically, Montessori school sites use a site structure including a home page and a series of sub-pages to organize their information. This may include some or all of the following sub-pages: About, Programs, Parents, Montessori, News, Admissions, Calendar, Contact.
Each sub-page of your website should focus on just one element of information. Don’t overload each page with unrelated content; visitors can become confused or irritated, hindering clear communication.
This is not to say that a page won’t have a lot of content, but there should only be a single theme to each page. Your “Contact Us” page, for instance, may have a multitude of ways to contact your school such as phone numbers, addresses, and names, but it shouldn’t include information on enrollment or staff biographies.
With websites it is important to consider all key audiences that may be visiting your site.
Many schools choose to put photo albums of events on their site. While this is of interest to current families, it is important to make it of interest to potential families as well. Place captions on your photos describing the events or action taking place. Use every page on your site to communicate the benefits of your school. This will help reinforce both current families’ loyalty as well as spark the interest of potential families who are visiting your site.
Often, your website is the initial contact that a potential parent has with your school. Since there is only one chance at making a first impression, having a website that accurately reflects your school’s personality and level of professionalism is critical. A poorly designed site could keep parents from ever considering your school. It may not be fair, but it does happen!
Since many parents work, calling or visiting your school during normal business hours is reserved only for schools that are high on the list of those being considered. A quality website can distance you from your competition. Professionally designed sites that provide easy access to information give parents a sense of confidence before they ever pick up the phone or drop by the school. You can control your image on the Internet; review your site frequently to be sure it speaks to all of your key audiences.
Ultimately it’s important to remember that simply having a presence on the Internet is no longer enough. The days of putting all of your school’s information on two or three pages are over. The goal of any school’s website should be clear communication to key target audiences. Understanding the needs, fears and desires of your school’s audiences can help you determine exactly what information is needed for your site. In the long term, your school’s website can be the most valuable – and least expensive– marketing tool available, but only if it’s properly developed and its content is audience appropriate.