Website First Impressions—Much Like Job Interviews,You Only Get One

Website First Impressions—Much Like Job Interviews,You Only Get One
Website First Impressions—Much Like Job Interviews,You Only Get One

Marketing Communications

Interactive. Static. Ornate. Minimalist. Colorful. Stately. Light hearted. Copy heavy. Graphic heavy. Budget friendly. DIY. Expensive.

Websites come in all shapes and sizes.

Whether a large budget was allocated or costs were reduced by in-house development, a website is often the first interaction a consumer has with a business or organization. As the proverbial first impression, there is little room for error—second first impressions simply don’t exist.

Many private schools consider their website to be a marketing tool. After all, the product—the school itself—is the main focus. In business, websites are indeed the star of the marketing plan. A persuasive retail site attracts visitors with flash and discounts, and increased traffic typically results in a boost in sales.

Academic institutions, however, should think of the school website as an admission tool. A school website ultimately guides parents into making the choice to select that institution for their child. Schools need to provide simplicity and substance in place of dazzle and special offers.

Q & A: Website Dos and Don’ts

Use these tips as a guide to avoid common web design pitfalls and get the biggest bang for your technology buck.

Does the URL structure matter? Does anyone pay attention to it?

The URL should not display random words or coding; rather, it should clearly state the content or subject of the current page. Many administrators think of the URL as a web page address, and pay it little mind. That's understandable, but it’s advantageous to consider search optimization when creating your site. The shorter and less complicated the URL, the better—and the higher the Google ranking.

What is the Facebook pixel—is it something we need?

The Facebook pixel enables site visit tracking. In return, targeted ads can be run, ensuring that money is not wasted on uninterested consumers. Installing the pixel is quick and simple, and is a must-have for any school website.

Our site looks beautiful on the computer screen, though a few things are lost when it’s pulled up on a mobile device. How much does that really matter?

Parents may use a desktop or laptop for work, but searching the internet often takes place on a phone. When designing a new site or tweaking an old one, consider the smaller screen display as a top priority.

We have beautiful videos highlighting our students and our more popular programs. Should we include them on the homepage, so prospective parents see them right away?

Videos or slides capture folks’ attention initially, but their attention is easily lost. Most people scroll online so quickly they never get past the first image or slide. Limit the risk of your images and messaging being missed on the homepage by inserting them throughout the site, on multiple pages. Not only will your message be reinforced, this will also help break up any content heavy pages.

What should be included on the admission page? The more information, the better?

Since your website is, in essence, an admission and recruitment tool, the admission page is the main event. When a prospective parent or an older child clicks on the admission page, they should be able to find the basic information they need—and not much more.

  • Keep the page clean and uncluttered.
  • Include a brief introduction.
  • Use three or four buttons for a call-to-action, such as apply to the school; schedule a tour; contact us for more details.
  • Connect the tour link with interactive calendar software, enabling the user to sign up immediately.
  • Avoid linking to an email address or phone number—if additional steps are required later, they will likely be ignored.
  • Unique programming that is specific to your school can be highlighted.
  • Additional links for more information or testimonials may be added on the lower part of the page, but are not essential. If the page looks cleaner without them, put them elsewhere on the site.

What should our homepage look like?

Much like brick and mortar real estate, the homepage should have curb appeal. Grab and hold visitors with simple but attractive graphics, bold title or headline, call-to-action, and a link to the admission page.

We have a lot of important information to share about our school. Is there such a thing as having too much content?

Content is vital, but it needs to be relevant and easily digestible. Visitors should be encouraged to move through the site for more information—not get bogged down with a manuscript. Keep the copy short and easy to read. Intersperse narrative with videos and photos to better engage the audience.

What is a “dead end” on a web page?

Dead ends are annoying when driving and ineffective when navigating a website. Wherever visitors find themselves, they must be led to the next step—a link to the admission page, an option to schedule a tour, a button to register for an upcoming program or webinar, etc. Connecting to the admission page is always an appropriate option when an obvious link doesn’t present itself during the design process.

What type of information can I get from Google Analytics? Is it worth the time and effort?

Google Analytics provides a peek into users’ behavior. If visitors are staying on the top few pages for a very short amount of time, for instance, that’s a sign that those pages (and likely subsequent ones) need to be more engaging. When users don’t click anywhere else on the page—not following any call-to-action prompts—it’s time to make some content and design changes.


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Isn’t the primary objective to get the website visitor to click on the site in the first place? Once someone is here, they’ll find what they need sooner or later.

Enticing prospective parents or students to visit your website is essential—but keeping them there is the main goal. Navigation simplicity is one of the most important aspects of a good website and the best predictor of the user experience. Utilize a clean structure throughout the site.

Limit the number of main menu and drop down options to reduce the risk of feeling deluged—and consider combining website menu items. To gain information about prospective parents’ reactions to your website, work with some informal focus groups, such as current parents and upper school students. Is the navigation intuitive? Was the information found easily? This feedback will prove to be invaluable in the web design process.

Our school has relationships with organizations that prospective parents might find interesting. Is it a problem to link their pages on our website?

While it may sound benign and helpful, sending visitors to another organization’s website is never recommended. Once they leave, they may not come back!

Remember, an effective private school website should ideally be geared toward recruiting prospective families. Stick with simplicity and calls-to-action, monitor efficacy with analytical tools, be authentic—and have a little fun.

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