Millennial Parents and Your School Website
Millennials are often known as a high-tech, high-convenience generation. When it comes to your school website, does it make the grade? Create a website experience that engages prospective families and current users. Small changes can make a big difference in the user experience, even without the budget for a total overhaul.
Why Your Website Matters
Parents have choice in schools, now more than ever. Digital marketing for schools is imperative. But when you draw prospective parents into your website, what story is it telling?
Your website caters to many audiences: prospective and current families, students, staff, community members, and alumni. Do you know how these groups use your site? Do you treat all of your pages the same, or are they designed with the target end-user in mind?
Reducing office phone calls can be an immediate benefit of a good school website. Schools are often inundated with parent calls:
- “When is spring break?”
- “Is Friday an early dismissal day?”
- “How do I sign up for parent/teacher conferences?”
Your website should be the go-to source for basic, frequently asked questions.
We’ll Tell You What They Want, What They Really Really Want
Parents have high expectations for their children’s schools, and millennial parents are no exception. When choosing a district, parents are likely looking at key data points, such as graduation rates, test scores and extracurriculars. But they’re also looking at culture, diversity and other traits that aren’t measured through assessment. An Echelon Insights report shares that “while [millennial parents] view academics as a top responsibility for schools, they also lean on schools to help their children build the character, life and workforce skills they’ll need to be independent, successful, and happy.” If it sounds daunting, don’t worry—the best way to convey this information is to show, not tell.
Storytelling, Not Selling
The millennial generation is known for a love of authenticity. Instead of jargon and stock photos, share real students, real stories and real successes.
Cultivate content supporters inside each school. Give principals and teachers an easy way to share student stories and photographs, and you’ll have more than enough wonderful content to highlight. Use the COPE approach (Create Once, Publish Everywhere) so you’re not duplicating content efforts.
Finalsite, a website platform/content management system for schools, recommends leveraging social media across your website. “If you feel like you’ve done a great job with your homepage, spend more time focused on interior pages, and consider social media’s relevance there, too. These are the pages that sell value and provide millennial parents and their children that next level of information.”
For example, integrate your athletics social media feed into your sign-up pages, or add your Facebook feed to your About Us page. These are quick wins that tell a more authentic story than a lengthy paragraph ever will.
Mobile-First, Responsive Websites
It’s no secret that a responsive website is the expectation of millennials and many other visitors. Over half of all website users are browsing from their mobile devices. Not only should your website look great no matter what device families are using, but consider designing mobile-first.
The constraints of mobile design can actually be a valuable benefit. When you have less space to work with, it’s easier to turn a critical eye on your content. What’s most important to share? If you only have five words to sell yourself, what should they be?
It’s important to remember that your homepage is not always someone’s entry into your site. If prospective parents Google search your district or enter from an aggregator, what pages will they land on? Do your interior information pages have the same impact as your home page?
The truth is, people don’t spend much time on webpages. Millennials are likely to make snap impressions about your site —in 0.05 seconds, that is. You have around 6 seconds to capture their attention, so:
- Aim for skimmable information and clear headlines.
- Design for speed. If your website is slow to load, people won’t stick
- Focus on strong navigation and a logical sitemap to help students, families and staff quickly find the information they need.
- Good branding is good storytelling. Using your brand in a consistent manner throughout your website (and beyond) helps convey your top messages. It also enhances the appearance of professionalism and credibility.
- Offer information in multiple ways. Videos can be great, but they won’t appeal to someone skimming a site for key information. Include important details in a bulleted list below the video. Giving people options in how they consume content keeps more users engaged and makes your information more accessible.
“Don’t force downloads of need-to-know information. When I’m standing in the dentist’s office, trying to schedule my child’s next checkup, I don’t want to download a full PDF school calendar onto my phone. I’m looking for quick dates and easy-to-find, easy-to-skim information,” shares Ashley Winter, CEL content writer (and preschool parent). “Printable calendars are great, but there are also times when I want to find information quickly. Having information available in more than one format suits different needs — and busy lifestyles.”
Website Accessibility and Equity
Parents love convenience, and having information at the tap of an app can be a huge benefit to some people. But not every family can afford the mobile phone storage space to download multiple school apps. And most apps fail at language translation and accessibility. Be certain that every user can access the information they need by designing your website with accessibility in mind.
- Add alt text to all images
- Avoid PDFs, or ensure they’re created in an accessible format
- Think color contrast for accessibility
- Add captions to all videos
- Understand how families and other audiences use your content
Do you know how many communications parents are receiving, daily, weekly and monthly? When teachers, principals, superintendents, coaches and after-school clubs are all communicating, unread communications begin to pile up. And for parents with multiple children in the school system, this often results in missed information and confusion.
On top of communication overload, parents don’t always know where to look for information they skimmed previously. Was it on the website? In an app? Which app? Maybe it was emailed…but from whom?
To avoid this type of frustration, create a communications strategy that clearly outlines what type of information should be shared with parents and where it should be shared. When you’re consistent in your communications, your users will always know where to look for information. And that consistency breeds trust, too.
Define communications channels
- What content do families need on your website? Aim for a blend of functional/informational, storytelling, and district promotion.
- What content belongs in an email or newsletter? Think essential news that informs and reminds families of important dates, events and policies; stories that connect families to the school and classroom; and ways families can engage.
- Is there email or newsletter content you can hyperlink to a resource on your website? Parents often appreciate educational content, and are likely to follow your “read more” link if you’re offering tips that feel relevant to their family.
- Do you archive emails and newsletters on your website so that families can find them if they accidentally delete the email message?
- How/where will parents be notified in the event of a crisis? Occasionally remind families to keep phone, text, and email information up-to-date in the event of an emergency. Social media is fast—official school channels may need to mirror that speed.
- Be specific with subject lines – families should know what’s in a communication before they open it.
- Teach families how to whitelist the district email domain so they’re not missing valuable communications.
- Remember that every email experience of a busy parent will influence how likely they are to open — or skip over — the next email you send. Deliver value and ease in every message to help increase the chance of an open next time.
Keep up-to-date district and school calendars
School calendars should keep families informed of important dates, such as holidays and early dismissals, testing dates, conferences, school board meetings and special events. When families have a consistent and trustworthy place to find important dates, they can stay more easily engaged with school and district happenings.
Familiarize your content creators with your website tools
Does everyone creating content on your website understand your website tools? Do they know the purpose of pop-up windows? How to set self-expiring content? Where to archive content? A few quick training sessions for content creators will keep your website content accurate and relevant.
Don’t Forget Your Community
The majority of your website is directed to students, prospective and current families and staff. But your local leaders and citizens are valuable district stakeholders. Don’t forget to develop community website pages with the right audience in mind.
- Are your hiring pages designed for today’s workforce?
- Do you invite partnerships and highlight opportunities to volunteer or get involved?
- Is your educational foundation easy for a prospective donor to find?
- Are you engaging young families who will soon be thinking about kindergarten?
- Are your community programs and events easy to find and welcoming?
Measure What’s Working — and What’s Not
Are you hitting the mark? These questions can guide your evaluation and help identify the best opportunities for improvement.
- What are the most used pages on your website?
- How do students use your website?
- What are parents commonly printing from your site?
- What are good open rates and click rates on your newsletters?
- How many broken links does your website contain?
- Are your communications effective?
- Are there gaps on your website?
Many of these questions are best answered by engaging your stakeholders. Organize focus groups to hear from students, families, and staff. Use a well-designed survey to gather data on your district communications efforts. Schedule a communications audit to delve into the details of what’s working and what’s not.
As parents have more choices than ever before, an engaging and strategic school website matters.
When you’re deep in the day-to-day swim, setting aside time to review and improve your website and communications program can be difficult. Consider how you might create a website that does the heavy lifting for you — and what other tasks it can take off your plate. And as always, if you need a helping hand, we’re available to chat about any of these topics!
At CEL, we support clients no matter which stage of the process they’re in. Here are a couple of our favorite website partnerships:
San Diego County Office of Education’s Content Consolidation & Website Redesign
Following CEL’s Lifecycle of a Website process, we dug into the SDCOE’s Google Analytics to help in fact-finding. We determined the top 100 pages to help in prioritizing content and call-out sections. This allowed our team to restructure the site map, streamline navigation and enhance SEO and searchability for a more positive user experience. The most frequently visited pages are now featured prominently on the homepage to help visitors find information quickly, and we redirected over 5,000 URLs to ensure a seamless site launch.
New Code Academy’s Enrollment Marketing
Bloomington Public Schools partnered with CEL to rebrand and market the district’s Bloomington Online Schools (BOS) program and actively recruit for open enrollment students.
We leveraged key messaging, fresh designs and digital marketing tools to position BOS, newly rebranded as New Code Academy, as Minnesota’s premier district-affiliated, tuition-free online K-12 school.
A Bold Website Redesign for SoWashCo Schools
South Washington County Schools redeployed as a student-centered district with a new website, brand and logo: SoWashCo Schools. This public school district desired a more equitable, accessible, and modern website to amplify their core values: collaboration, relationships, equity, integrity, and continuous improvement. The home page was developed with quick access links based on the most used items from current families. The new site unified pages and school programs in a mobile-first, accessible design.
37 Websites for District 196
Numerous website platforms varied from school to school and didn’t provide a seamless experience as students moved through the grades. Webmasters and specialists needed an easier-to-use content management system (CMS). Accessibility in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was a top priority. What do you do when you’re facing these kinds of challenges? District 196 partnered with CEL. By leveraging a comprehensive web redesign process, they could unify schools and programs districtwide: for a district of 35 schools and 30,000 students.
Integrated Marketing for Richfield Public Schools
Richfield Public Schools is a multilingual, progressive community that attracts young families. The district needed a mobile-first website that would support storytelling and be easy to maintain in multiple languages. Sharing content from the district site across multiple school sites was critically important for their one-person communication office.
CEL led the district through a website redesign and content migration. Our six-step MissionIgnition™ process engaged a variety of stakeholders in setting project goals, content assessment, site mapping and design feedback. When the global pandemic hit mid-project, the CEL team worked behind the scenes to keep things moving, migrate content and launch the site on time.
Published on: June 14, 2022