One of Florida’s Best Websites: Admiral Farragut Academy

Jessica Van Curen, Admiral Farragut AcademyA few months ago I reviewed all of the school websites in Florida that are part of the Florida Council of Independent Schools (FCIS). One of the best websites that I identified in my review is the new site for Admiral Farragut Academy. One of the greatest appeals of this website is the focus on storytelling–I really love the section on the homepage that highlights “Authentic People, Amazing Stories.”

Since I know the team at the Farragut very well, I reached out to Jessica Van Curen to interview her about her focused work on launching this outstanding website.

Name, Position and Experience:

Jessica Van Curen, Associate Director of Marketing and Communications, Admiral Farragut Academy

Here is my profile on LinkedIn.

I have been with Farragut since April 2010 and have worked in many capacities including the planning, design and implementation of most marketing materials whether that be in print or online. With my help, Farragut has continued to technologically progress online: website, social media, email marketing, advertising, etc.

What motivated you to pursue a new website?

Since I started at Farragut in 2010, I have been the project manager for three website designs: One which focused only on elementary aged children (which no longer exists), second a redesign for our upper school and boarding (which eventually became for our entire school), and the third our most recent one that launched in October 2015.

Our decision to move to our most recent redesign was because of SEO and page titles, responsiveness, fresh cohesive content and storytelling focused on the entire school, and one of the major factors for all nonprofits – budget. One other reason was to move over to WordPress, so we were working on an open platform with unlimited potential. We have a bit more freedom with WordPress in comparison to our previous system, as well as with custom HTML/CSS by our web developers.

What did you want to accomplish with your new website?

Much more story telling. Responsive mobile friendly platform. Clear and concise writing. Clean branding. Fresh pictures and to be more picture driven. Ways to show information better – columns, lists, etc. Not losing our website capabilities our parents were accustomed to – weekly news, etc.

Describe the website redesign process. How much time did it take? How much time and effort did you have to spend working on the new website?

First I created a Creative Brief. I researched what to include, and once I decided what I wanted to include, I collected all of the data. This probably took a month, because I also collaborated with my team to make sure all the concepts aligned with our school’s goals.

The following is an outline of the items I included in our Website Design Creative Brief:

About the School

  • Mission Statement
  • Slogan (we created a new one with the website redesign–“Only at Farragut”)
  • Core Values
  • Services Provided
  • Services that Set Us Apart Overall/Locally/Nationally/Internationally
  • History
  • Current Enrollment and Future Goals
  • Competitors
  • Challenges (Prospective Parents, Prospective Students, Inaccurate Perceptions)

Website Vision and Objectives/Achievements

  • Target Audiences (Prospective Parents, Prospective Students, Current Parents/Students, Alumni)
  • Overall Vision
  • What Our Target Audiences Want
  • Design Standards and Branding
  • Requirements (what must be included: news stories, calendar, search tool, SEO, etc.)
  • Design Hopes (easy way to display paperwork, giving thermometer, etc.)

Shared current branding/marketing initiatives:

  • Recent Print Publications:
  • Current Top Visited Pages for unique pageviews (besides homepage) for the previous year
  • Current Monthly Funnel: Web Traffic, Inquires, Applicants, Enrolled
  • List of websites we like

Next I started researching companies. I spoke with other school website design companies, along with our current website provider at that time, to see their abilities and cost. Then, I started researching companies recommended by HubSpot for lead generation and personas. I also researched local firms. And of course, I asked other peers through word of mouth. In the end, we chose a local firm who we had a connection with (WOM) called Energyhill. We were their first PreK-12 school, yet they had experience with higher education, so we were able to agree on a price that got them into the education sector and got us a new, improved website.

The entire process took a year. Once we partnered with Energyhill, we started the conversation and concepts in October 2014, and we launched in October 2015. I am a very hands-on type of client so I directed a lot of the design, incorporating what I liked from other websites, and keeping it simple and story/image driven with the help of our staff writer. Through much conversation they suggested the tagline “Only at Farragut” which prompted a main theme for our website and a new promotional video we produced—watch it here. We also hired one of their recommendations for photography and were very pleased with the results.

It took a lot of effort on my behalf. We went through multiple homepage concepts that weren’t encapsulating our vision, so this took some time and a lot of hands-on direction from me. Even though you may have a homepage design chosen, there will be many tweaks that will need to happen during the actual CSS/HTML design portion of it. Once the homepage design was complete, it was basically like a coloring page that needed to be added in with video, pictures, stories, and needed to all be linked to the internal website. Building the entire internal part of the website fell on my shoulders: designing pages, adding content, stories, etc., while I was also teaching myself WordPress. This is where the focus of effort on my behalf came in.

How did you select the company that you chose to design your site?

I interviewed multiple companies (probably 7) and chose a local web design / marketing company because I love to support local companies. We also switched to a WordPress Platform because it has SEO and endless capabilities. We use Focus for our SIS and geared the website to be PROSPECTIVE PARENT/MARKETING driven mainly. We use Mailchimp as our email provider which has RSS feeds populate it from our website posts. Our admissions team is also using WordPress to handle their leads within the Forms manager. We look forward to begin doing automation for lead nurturing with Mailchimp in the next couple months.

Can you highlight some of the key features of your website?

  • I would say the homepage sets us apart — www.farragut.org. Once you arrive you immediately see aerial drone footage of our campus with the tagline “Only at Farragut”, followed with our promotional video called “Only at Farragut”, signature programs that set us apart, and the storytelling of The Farragut Experience which has it’s own page on the website.
  • Call-to-Action on every page. When someone fills out a form, it also includes the page they were on when they decided they were ready to inquire. So far our highest converting page is our homepage—22% of our inquiries so far have came from it compared to other pages like About, Admissions, Tuition and Fees, Boarding, or Campus Life.
  • Testimonials. On certain pages we have testimonials listed, for example our boarding page showcases some of our testimonials.

What has been the response since you launched your new website?

  • People have complimented about how nice it looks.
  • New sessions (first time visits) has increased 9.7% comparing Oct-Jan 2015 and Oct-Jan 2016.
  • We are at a 1.4% conversion rate (Dec 12 – Jan 12) for website visitors who fill out a form. I look forward to that number increasing.

Do you have any advice that you can give other school leaders considering a new website?

Launch in June, when you’re not having to do many stories or updates because school is out. I found that I had to do twice the work to keep our old and not-yet-published new website all up to date before we finally launched. Also give yourself an additional three months of leeway because anything can happen. That’s why I think June is a good time.

Make sure the company you are working with has a ticket or support system. When I started to design the internal pages of the website, I basically had to figure it out on my own. Because I went with a small(er) firm, they didn’t have resources or how-to’s readily available for me. It also took them a long time to design the homepage and the internal page the way I needed to be, and that lack of communication hurt my timeline drastically and caused a lot of frustration on my end because of the time crunch I was put under. I think a solution is having a ticket system, but to also ensure that the company is staffed enough to respond in a timely manner. Although we had some growing pains, Energyhill has improved by leaps and bounds and at the end of the day I am a very satisfied customer.

Check your website on ALL devices! At one point I had no navigation on the mobile website. Good thing I noticed before launch! Also you have to be very conscious of page organization and the way it responds on mobile. You always have to consider what information you want mobile users to see first and make sure it’s organized accordingly.

Thanks Jessica for sharing your outstanding work on your new website at Admiral Farragut Academy. Great job! If you are interested in reaching out to Jessica, you can email her at: jvancuren@farragut.org.

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