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6 Secrets to an Effective School Website with Chelsea Janke

Is your school website enticing and useful, or more like navigating a maze blindfolded? Modernizing your website and staff intranet isn’t just about looking flashy; it’s about making life easier for families and staff. We asked Chelsea Janke, Vice President of Integrated Marketing at CEL, to provide her top six tips for an effective school website. 

1. Ditch the School Jargon

“Parents aren’t coming to your website for a vocabulary lesson; they want clear, concise information,” says Chelsea. Use plain language that everyone understands, not just educators. Avoid acronyms, abbreviations, and niche terms that may be unfamiliar to families. “Put yourself in the shoes of a new family who has never set foot in your district before. The website should explain things in a way that is accessible to anyone, not just insiders.”

A great example: Eden Prairie Schools (MN) provides a high quality after school program — the Eagle Zone. Eagle Zone could mean sports in one community or homework help in another.  While insiders know and trust the Eagle Zone for elementary after-school care, newcomers had a difficult time finding what they needed when searching the site for “after-school child care.” The problem was corrected by adding plain language to the page title, meta description and advanced search.

Another jargon pitfall is leaning too heavily on education buzzwords and theories. You don’t need to name-drop Maslow or cite Vygotsky to tell families about your child-centered approach to learning, Chelsea advises. Stick to plain language explanations of your core values and practices.


2. Think Mobile First Website Design

“Mobile optimization is non-negotiable. If your website isn’t built mobile-first, you’ve lost more than half your users. Make sure everything looks good and works well on those smaller screens,” said Chelsea. She recommends considering content hierarchy when designing pages. What a desktop user sees first might be different from what a mobile user sees first.

With most web traffic now coming from mobile devices, the mobile experience should be the top priority. Chelsea emphasizes focusing on critical information and calls to action when designing for mobile. “Those smaller screens have limited real estate, so you need to make sure the most important content is front and center.”

That might mean changing your navigation menus, restructuring page layouts, or prioritizing different elements on mobile versus desktop. “Don’t just shrink down your desktop site,” warns Chelsea. “You need a responsive design that reworks elements for the ideal mobile viewing experience.”

“Website accessibility is also crucial. Your site needs to be usable by all people, whether they use assistive technologies like screen readers or have other needs like being able to resize text,” Chelsea explains. Following accessibility guidelines like Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) ensures your site works for everyone.

3. Demonstrate What Makes Your School Special

“Show off your personality,” Chelsea recommends. “Your website shouldn’t read like a legal document. It should reflect the vibrant community within your school. Think of your website as a sterile, empty school building. It may be functional, but it doesn’t make you feel good. What makes you happy is the smiling kids, the artwork on the walls, and the sense of spirit and community. Convey that same feeling on your website through success stories, celebrations, and letting your school’s personality shine through.”

Consider adding:

    • Photos and videos showcasing student life, events, and accomplishments
    • Profiles spotlighting exceptional teachers, coaches, alumni, etc.
    • A frequently updated feed of campus happenings and news
    • An interactive virtual tour for prospective families
    • Testimonial quotes from families, students, staff, and community members

The website should give an authentic snapshot of what it truly feels like to be part of your school community. “You’re selling an experience and a feeling, not just facts and stats,” says Chelsea. “So let your website bring that experience to life.”

4. Simplify Your Website Navigation

“Over the years, websites can become navigational nightmares,” Chelsea said. “Simple information can become hard to find, hidden behind unnecessary clicks, vague labels, or unusual organization.” Think of your website navigation as a roadmap rather than a maze. A logical hierarchy will help users move through your site naturally. 

To keep your navigation simple and user-friendly, consider the following:

    • Prioritize your audience’s top tasks. Make those actions accessible with curated user journeys. Not every page on your site will cater to the same audience.
    • Offer clear, one-click access to core content.
    • Use plain language for navigation headings.
    • Put information directly onto your website so your site search has something to find. Uploading a course guide PDF  is not searchable. Put the content directly into searchable posts.

5. Integrate Key Tools/Services

“Your website can be a one-stop-shop for everything people need,” said Chelsea. She encourages an app-like approach to integrating popular tools and services directly into the website ecosystem. “Let’s get staff their work hub, families their student portals, and everyone their event calendars all in one convenient location—your website.”

By centralizing and connecting to or linking to these digital tools through the website, you create a vastly better user experience. “We’re making your site a direct line to the technology and services that make people’s lives easier.”

6. Make Data Work Smarter

“Data talks, but only if we listen,” Chelsea said. “Too many schools are sitting on goldmines of user data that could improve their websites, but they aren’t tapping into it enough.”

She encourages a more analytical, data-driven approach to understanding how people use the website and optimizing accordingly. “Through tools like heat maps, analytics, engagement data, and more, we can see where folks run into issues, what content resonates, and how to remove frustrations.”

For example, track search keywords on your website. When a lot of visitors are searching for ‘high school credit requirements,’ and you don’t have content for that, or it’s an unsearchable PDF, there’s an immediate opportunity to fill a content gap.

Make a Welcoming First Impression

A school’s website is the first impression for potential new families and a hub for the entire community. Ditching jargon, showcasing your differentiators, optimizing for mobile, simplifying navigation, integrating key tools, and making data-driven decisions are all critical components. When a website nails these elements, it transcends just being an online brochure to becoming the digital heartbeat of the school.

Beyond the practical need of sharing information and enabling enrollment, an exceptional school website fosters connections. It captures the spirit of the community and lets that personality shine through authentically. Just like a vibrant physical campus, the website should inspire families to feel welcome and excited to be part of the school.

Modernizing your web presence is about more than just aesthetics or checking tech boxes. It’s about strengthening engagement, improving access, saving time and headaches, and meeting the needs of your audience. By investing in an effective website and listening to user feedback, a school demonstrates its commitment to creating the best possible experience for families and staff alike. 

“Don’t let launch day be the best day of your website’s life,” says Chelsea. “Embrace a mindset of continual website improvement and optimization. The investment pays dividends by nurturing a more connected, empowered, and supportive school community for years to come.”


“Never let launch day be the best day for your website.” - Chelsea Janke

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Published on: April 23, 2024