If you want to attract right-fit families to your school, you need your website to inspire parents to take the next step in the enrollment journey. A strategically crafted website can help you connect with prospective families, establish credibility, and help visitors get a small taste of what makes your school unique.
With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of six of the most common mistakes Christian schools make when designing a website and ways to fix them.
1) Focusing on the Wrong Audience
…and missing one emerging audience entirely.
There are three primary audiences to keep in mind when writing website copy:
- Prospective Parents
- Prospective Students
- Current Families
Yes, you have alumni, donors, and search engine spiders to consider as well. But the previous three audiences should get the bulk of your attention. Let’s touch on each briefly.
The main role of your website is to convince right-fit parents that your school is the best choice for their child’s education. So write and structure your website primarily for them. This means insider announcements, your exciting new app, and the girl’s volleyball schedule all take a backseat.
Also, remember that these parents are looking for a solution, not merely a school. Don’t start out of the gate with your meticulously crafted mission statement or cold facts about the year you were founded and the size of your campus. Write about them, not you.
And when you do write about you, make it about them.
Kids, especially older kids and teens, have more say than ever in which school they attend. You can agree or disagree with this from a parenting philosophy perspective, but that doesn’t change the reality. Keep this in mind when writing pages that a prospective middle or high school student might read. Athletics, arts, and academic pages all come to mind.
How might considering this audience affect your writing? For starters…
- Banish the word “child” on these pages. That’s basically an insult to anyone over the age of 11.
- Make sure to communicate the program elements that are exciting or cool — not just the ones that are rigorous and structured.
- Talk about how your school helps students have a better life now, as well as later. It’s common to talk about college acceptance and helping students “prepare for life.” But middle and high schoolers need to see that friendships and fun await them in the short term as well.
Lastly, your website can serve as a vital communication tool for enrolled families. We want to serve these families well. After all, communication is key to satisfaction, satisfaction is key to retention, and retention is key to school success.
So, by all means, communicate through your website! The best way to do this is by putting all insider info in one place. Student handbooks, lunch menus, permission slips… Put it all together. Then make that one place (a page or portal) easily accessible to the right audience and easily ignorable by everyone else.
2) Using Too Little Copy
There’s a deadly lie in web design that “less is better.” We’ve been told to keep it short and sweet. If you say too much, you’ll lose your audience, right?
No. Definitively no.
Dan wrote about this very topic in a previous post titled “Long vs. Short Copy.” That’s worth a read. I won’t repeat what he’s already said, but I’ll add a few thoughts:
There’s no such thing as “too long.” There’s only “too boring.”
“The Fellowship of the Ring” is a long book, but people read it anyway. Why? Because it’s interesting! So, make your content interesting!
Now, don’t feel intimidated by that comparison to a literary masterpiece. You don’t need to be J.R. Tolkien to write in a way that engages readers. In fact, you have an advantage over him right from the start. The topic of your story is the offspring of your audience! Consider that for a moment. You get to invite future families into a story where their child is the lead character. Now that’s a story every parent cares about.
The big guys can break the rules.
You may resist the idea of long-form content because some big school in your area has so little content on their pages. This is one perk they enjoy as a market leader. If you are not the market leader, your content needs to have more depth so you can overcome common objections and convince people to call or visit you.
Don’t forget SEO.
Longer content typically ranks higher in search results, too. That increased visibility means more brand awareness and more campus visits.
3) Filling Pages with Ignorable “White Noise”
Yes, more copy is typically better than less. But that’s only if the “more” is worth reading. Don’t take point #2 as a license to bore.
With that in mind, make every word count! Don’t cram pages with information the reader already knows. Of course, your school teaches reading and math skills from kindergarten and beyond. Every school does that!
Use each webpage’s valuable real estate to show what’s different and better about your school. How do you incorporate a Christian worldview into your curriculum? How do you help students master written and oral communication? What do you do to encourage creativity and problem-solving skills?
4) Putting the Wrong Content Above the Fold
The content located “above the fold” on the home page is the most visible and most important part of your website. (This is the space visible before you start scrolling down the page.) It’s the very first thing someone sees, so naturally, you want it to count. Here are some quick dos and don’ts:
- Include a high-quality image depicting school life
- Add a direct call-to-action button
- Use words that paint a picture of success for prospective families
- Make sure those words are legible (usually by adding a background overlay to add contrast between the text and background image)
- Put your phone number in the header
- Make your menu visible and easy to understand
- Waste this space on fluff (like an aspirational mission statement)
- Use a slideshow. This is a whole topic for another time.
- Show off your building/campus/facilities.
- Say, “Welcome to _____ School.” This is an old website practice that has hung on for dear life. Skip the formalities. Dive right into what parents need to hear.
5) Having Weak or No Calls to Action
Every web page should have a purpose. Every page should drive visitors to do something. Therefore, every page needs a clear and direct call to action. If you have a prospective parent interested in your school, you want to make it as easy as possible for them to know how to take the next step.
Additionally, you want to make sure that your call to action button is strong and directly applies to your audience. “Enroll Now” isn’t the right choice for a prospective parent who hardly knows you or your school. They’re not ready to make that decision yet. In surveying over 800 Christian schools, we’ve discovered definitively that the quality of the principal is the second most important predictor of school satisfaction. With this in mind, a better, stronger call to action might be “Meet the Principal.”
6) Not Emphasizing Christian Character
Let’s face it: Most Christian schools can’t compete with public schools on price (you can’t be cheaper than free), sports, or extracurricular activities.
But there is at least one area where you can run circles around any public school—Christian character.
When it comes to character development, public schools are bringing a tricycle to the Tour de France. Turn that “character” into “Christian character” and the public schools aren’t even in the race. You absolutely must capitalize on this difference.
Create dedicated pages of your website that include information on your chapel program, religious instruction program, service projects, mission trips, and even the Christian principles of your athletics programs. This is the greatest value of your school, and you need to highlight it.
I truly hope at least one of these ideas will help you think differently about your website. If you’ve made one (or all) of these mistakes on your website, now’s the time to make a change!
Remember, none of this is ultimately about a website. It’s about attracting right-fit families and delighting enrolled families. It’s about getting more prospects in the door, increasing enrollment, and making a greater impact for Christ.
We’ve put together a Christian School Web Audit to help you discover more opportunities to improve your website. It covers about 40 elements of an effective, lead-generating Christian school website. The report is done manually by me — a StoryBrand Certified Guide, long-time web designer, and K-12 Christian school graduate — and reviewed by Dan Krause — a thought-leader and veteran of Christian school marketing.
If you’d like a custom report on your school’s website (at no cost), please fill out the short form below.