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Mistakes on School Websites You Must Avoid

Matt Harrell


These days, your school websites serve as an information clearinghouse, a valuable branding tool, and a high-tech billboard and brochure all rolled into one. Is yours as good as it could be? While many institutions know their school websites could use a good polish (or a thorough overhaul), others mistakenly think they’re more on top of things than they are in this department.

Here at MemberHub, we see schools making the same sorts of website mistakes over and over. Are you guilty of any of the following?

Mistake #1: Outdated Technology

Even if you aren’t familiar with Flash software, you’ve probably seen it hundreds of times on various websites that use video and animated graphics. You’ve probably also seen that annoying “X” or unhappy face when Flash crashes, or isn’t supported.

This problem is becoming more and more common, as Flash does not work—at all—on Apple mobile devices. So even if your website looks great from your school desktop, that’s not what current and prospective parents (many of whom are joined at the hip to their iPhones and iPads) are seeing when they’re browsing on the go.

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Mistake #2: Stiff or Stilted Text

Some of the most uniquely wonderful schools around have websites that read like widget factory manuals: boring and lifeless. Sometimes this is due to an administrator’s misplaced fear of lawsuits, or the desire to appeal to as broad an audience as possible.

But here’s the thing: When you try to appeal to everyone, you actually wind up appealing to no one, as all of the personality and life gets sucked out of what you’re trying to say. Don’t be afraid to let your school’s unique personality shine through in your website—that’s exactly what you want to do, in fact.

Mistake #3: It’s All About You

Your school website is about your school, of course. But the secret to a really compelling, effective school website is to present your story (or stories) in such a way that the reader finds himself or herself there, too. 

You want folks to be reading your site, nodding along, thinking, “Yes—that is exactly something my kid would say!” or “I would love for our family to be part of this community.” And the way you do this is by sharing stories about the real people at your school—your parents, students, teachers, and administrators. Everyone loves a good story.

Mistake #4: No Testimonials

If you run a good program and have been around for even a little while, you probably have dozens or even hundreds of positive comments and testimonials from happy parents. Yet far too many schools fail to feature these testimonials in a prominent way on their school websites.

This is a huge mistake, as testimonials make for some of the most compelling marketing around for prospective parents—not to mention current parents who appreciate being reminded in subtle ways that they made the right choice.

Mistake #5: Too Much Text and Not Enough Photos

People love seeing photos on school websites—especially photos of happy, engaged kids at your school. This is one area where schools tend to overthink things.

You do need the appropriate publicity releases for legal reasons, of course, but once you have those in hand you shouldn’t hesitate to put those great photos up on your school’s website. And don’t make the mistake of relying too much on stock photography—those images you can buy online. They tend to look, well, stock-y.

If you’re just getting started, a few stock images on your site are better than no images at all, but swap those out with real photos of real kids at your school as soon as you can. There’s no better way to instantly build engagement and trust online. 

Matt Harrell is president and co-founder of MemberHub, school software and communications experts. He is also the technology chair of the board of directors of the J.Y. Joyner Elementary PTA (a proud MemberHub school). Matt earned his B.A. in Computer Science from North Carolina State University in 2000. You can connect with him on Twitter @MattHarrell. For more common school website mistakes, download MemberHub’s free website mistakes eBook here