Things to Consider When Developing a Website for Your School

At Gragg Advertising, we build between 50 and 75 Web and micro sites per year and currently manage 60 sites day-to-day. These sites range from basic informational to e-commerce sites. In all cases, we increase the traffic to the sites, as well as lead volume back to the school.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Many of our prospects and clients overlook the importance of direct-marketing tactics in design and technical development. So let's outline some of the most common strategies to consider when managing the development and day-to-day activity on your Website.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>1. Lead Generation</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> No matter how basic or dynamic your Website needs to be, the goal of your school's Website should be to deliver a lead to your admissions team. There are a low percentage of visitors who will enroll without speaking to an admissions representative.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Leads can be generated by making sure you have:<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; "Contact or E-mail Us" buttons on every page above the fold<br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Campus phone number on every page above the fold<br clear="none" /> &#x2022; A contact form on the home page<br clear="none" /> &#x2022; Some form of call to action on <i>every</i> page<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> There should be at least one contact opportunity and one call-to-action on every page of the site. I know what some of you are saying: "Isn't this overkill?" and "It could muck up the artistic design of the site!"<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> My answer is "YES." We live in an environment that requires each and every school to get the lead into their school as soon as possible. And even though we all appreciate exquisite design, a good design that lacks direct-response elements will not help in expediting the enrollment process.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> So, when you are starting to map out the design of your site, do it with the knowledge that you must designate real estate to allow for leads and starts to come from the site.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>2. Website Structure and Design</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Before beginning to design or program, a good Web developer will sit down with you and map out your site on paper. We call it a "site map." It details each and every page, and why that page is important, and how the pages connect.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> We find many clients will eliminate pages once we determine they do not add value or do not fit in with the overall goal of the site. By putting it on paper and agreeing to the formal layout and structure of the site, you can save yourself a lot of time and energy.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>3. Just Enough Information</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Full disclosure is <i>not</i> what you are going for. Only provide enough information on your Website to whet the appetite of the potential student. This example is extreme, but I have seen schools load their catalog, have a student center, have a faculty interface, list the entire course description of every curriculum they teach, as well as throw the price of the course at the potential student.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Your admissions staff is your strongest sales tool; you want to provide only enough information to motivate prospective students to become leads. If you inundate prospects with too much information, they tend to over-think and find a reason not to buy. This can happen via the Web page, collateral, or a even salesperson.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Your Website should give enough information to outline the features, advantages, and benefits of your school; contact opportunities; programs offered and lengths; start dates; calls to action; and simple "add-ons" such as a connection to Google maps for how to find the school.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>4. Demonstrate Success</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> You will build credibility with both visitors and search engines by including rich content such as images and video. Websites that adhere to Web standards will rank higher with search engines, so all multimedia content should include "alt-tags," which are behind-the-scenes mark-up or code.

So include pictures, testimonial text, and videos of graduates and employers. I know, I said keep it simple, but testimonials are an effective way to sell the benefits of your school and allow prospective students to see people like themselves succeeding at school and after graduation.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>5. Focus Your Website on the Consumer.</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> 

Websites should be easy for potential students to navigate and use. Visitors should be able to get to any location on the site within one or two clicks and then back to where they began in one click.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Many Web developers fail to check the design of a Website in the various browsers people might use. With the increasing number of browsers for people to choose from&#x2014;Firefox, Internet Explorer 6 and 7, Opera, Safari, and now Google Chrome&#x2014;developers need to cross-reference the design and technical aspects of your site in every major browser. This step is important, but frequently overlooked.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Making the site easy to navigate and view is a simple way to keep the prospective student excited about working through your site.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>6. Don't Use Your Website URL in Other Forms of Advertising</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> 

At the very least, each medium should have its own unique URL. Many people still are utilizing their primary Web URL in TV, newsprint, direct mail, radio, and other traditional media. We see anywhere from 10 percent to 30 percent residual lead generation from standard sources to the Web. If you are using your primary Web URL, you are attributing leads to your Website that, in fact, have been generated by other sources.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Many people have "drop-down" lead tracking mechanisms on their sites. While these do work, they do not catch 100 percent of the residual volume. Having "unique URLs" for every media source, if not every media channel, gives you up-to-date information on what truly is generating leads for your school.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>7. Have Predetermined Criteria for Measuring Success</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> As with all advertising, you will want to know how the success of your Web-based campaign will be measured. You already should know daily traffic counts to your site, as well as unique visitors and lead volumes. Make use of Website reporting tools to track visitors and referrals. Review the reports and make changes to the site's content, tags, and designs to see if acquisition can be improved. Re-test to measure the changes. Then rinse and repeat.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> As you spend money on further developing your site, you will want to know if that money was put to good use and if the traffic, unique visitors, and leads increased.

Know the basics:<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> &#x2022; What is an acceptable cost per lead?<br clear="none" /> &#x2022; What is an acceptable cost per enrollment?<br clear="none" /> &#x2022; What is an acceptable conversion rate?<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>8. Run an Ongoing SEO Program</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Writing good content-rich copy for your site that search engines will perceive as relevant to consumer searches is as important as having a Website itself. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of Web page development that focuses on optimizing a search engine's ability to "read" a Web page and determine its value to consumers. SEO should be seen as an adjective to describe the technical presentation of a Web page's content. SEO is most effective with monthly review and refinement. SEO should focus on legitimacy and relevancy, in terms of both local and national searches on all search engines.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> The most important point here is to make sure you are utilizing a sophisticated SEO program or SEO specialist to stay on top of this. This program is expensive, but all of our SEO clients have seen a minimum of 30 percent growth in annual traffic and leads. That is our expectation.

Obviously, there are many other items to consider when developing your site, but these are the basics. If you start with these, you will be on your way to harnessing the power of the Information Super Highway.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <i>A 20-year veteran of the advertising, interactive, and marketing industries, Gregory Gragg worked for both large and small agencies prior to his founding of Gragg Advertising in 1992. <br clear="none" /> Gragg has worked with clients such as Cingular Wireless, Time Warner/ HBO and Cinemax, EDMC, Rasmussen, and Keiser University. </i>