7 Key Findings from 89 Virginia Independent School Websites

VAIS Conference2This week I had the opportunity to present a full-day workshop at the Virginia Association of Independent School’s (VAIS) Admissions Conference. This organization is comprised of 89 independent schools throughout the state of Virginia.

As preparation for my workshop, I reviewed all 89 of their school’s websites. I discovered some interesting findings.

1.  43% of the VAIS websites are responsive in design. As you may have heard, Google just announced a new algorithm shift that took place on Tuesday, April 21, which begins to penalize websites that are not mobile friendly. Google even suggests that a responsive website design is a best practice. For a great article on this topic, see Clark Morgan’s blog post.

2.  24% of the VAIS websites have a blog. I was surprised that very few of the websites had a blog. And, for those that did, their content posts were infrequent. Blogging is a great strategy to generate dynamic content that is relevant for current and prospective parents. It will also help to drive traffic to your website.

3.  18% of the VAIS websites tell stories about their parents, students, faculty and/or alumni. This stat concerned me the most. I believe that it is critical to utilize your website to tell the story of your school. Your school can be brought to life through effective storytelling.

4.  61% of the VAIS websites have an online application. In our technology-centered world, parents expect to be able to apply online. While nearly two-thirds have moved in this direction, there is still opportunity for these schools to integrate online applications on their websites.

5.  38% of the VAIS websites have a video on the homepage or one that is easily found. Video can bring a school to life. Many of the schools are missing this opportunity to create compelling videos to showcase the school.

6.  The average grade given to the VAIS websites is a score of 54 by HubSpot’s Marketing Grader (scores can range from 1 to 100). This tool helps to measure your website and its online effectiveness, especially with content marketing and search engine optimization. Realizing hat 54 is the average score, many schools need to focus on these strategies to increase their online presence.

7.  In my review of the all of the websites, I graded them on a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest. The average score is 2.5, which means that there were several graded at the lowest level as well as some that received a high score.

It might seem like I am being harsh, however, I felt that it was important to provide an honest assessment of their school websites. Also, in my experience, I believe that this association is comparative of other school associations here in the United States or across the globe. In a recent study conducted by Peter Baron, Enhancing Web Navigation and the Rise of Responsive Design, he found similar results. He actually found that only 22% of school websites are responsive.

On a positive note, there were several websites that stood out to me (I gave these websites a higher grade):

Chatham Hall—I like their focus on telling stories about the students and faculty connected to their school. Click on the box that says, “What makes us different?” and you can go to a section on “Our Voices, Our Story.” This opens up an interactive online viewbook. Also, click on the box that says, “Meet the Faculty” and you can go to a section that tells stories about the faculty. I really like their creative approach to bringing their school to life through stories.

The Madeira School—The homepage provides several options for the viewer to pursue including a social media dashboard, virtual tour and progress on the dorm modernization project. In addition, a special Voices of Madeira blog shares stories about the school experience. A day in the life video helps to bring the school to life for prospective students. The admissions section also includes a Welcome to Madeira video for new students.

St. Margaret’s School—The website features an online viewbook that shares stories about the school and student experiences.  Two additional features on the homepage provide links to student testimonials and a video newsletter. Video is an important component of the St. Margaret’s website.

Stuart Hall School—The homepage features rotating testimonials in the main photo banner, stories about their expertise, Stuart Hall by the numbers, Faculty By-lines, and a student spotlight. This interactive approach helps to tell stories about the school.

Wakefield School—The homepage highlights two testimonial videos, key stats, and a school blog. The admissions staff recently just launched their own blog in the admission section.

How does your school’s website compare to the 89 Virginia Independent Schools?

What website ideas and strategies can you implement on your school’s website?