When I speak to independent schools that are keeping very good statistics on where their applicants are coming from I hear that as many as 35% of applicants make first contact with the admissions team and school when they submit their application… that’s ONE THIRD.

Now think about all of the people that looked at your school website and decided not to apply? In today’s world, prospects will be learning about you on your website and through social media before you ever talk with them directly. Sometimes you won’t have the opportunity to talk with them directly. So, unless you’re connecting with them through these outlets, you are missing a big opportunity to broaden your audience.

Who to Target on Your School Website

For better or for worse, younger and younger children are making the decision on where they’ll go to school. It used to be college, then high school, now it’s middle school – sometimes even as young as 5th grade. I spoke with one school that had a parent decline an acceptance offer because her 8-year-old daughter told her that she didn’t want to attend. So, how do you deal with the fact that kids want to see different things than their parents do? How do you connect with one audience without alienating the other?

Let’s think about what story kids want to see on a school website. In most cases, they’ll assume the education is good enough and they’ll be looking for the experience. They want to see pictures of students to see what they are wearing to see if they’ll fit in. They need to envision themselves there. They’re looking at athletics, fine arts, and unique electives… things that glitter.

It’s pretty different than what parents want to see. They care about their child, to whom they’ve dedicated their lives, being prepared for a rich and rewarding life. That can mean a great, well-rounded education, creative or spiritual growth, or college preparation.

Given that, deciding who to target is tough. It’s going to vary for your school – but here are a couple of strategies:

  1. Pick a target and focus. I spoke with the admissions director at an all-girls high school in Dallas because they had a really engaging website. So, I asked, “How do you decide what to put on your site?” The answer, “If it will compel an 8th-grade girl to attend the school, it’s GOING on the school website. If not? I don’t want it.” They recognized who makes the decision for attending the school and decided to focus
  2. Ask them who they are. Not everyone can afford to target a single group, but you can still be targeted in your approach. One school I talked with, on their home page, simply asks visitors who they are. Based on how they respond, they then present a completely different website. With this strategy, you can still communicate the parts of your story that will resonate.
  3. Talk to your Visitors. In this case, that means parents and prospective students. The Winston School in Dallas takes a different approach. I talked with the Admissions Director about her strategy for her site and she said that she asks parents, “When you look at my site, can you envision your child at our school? At first, glance, is your child a fit?” When she gets feedback, she incorporates it into her website. This is something anyone can do.

Once You Figure Out Who to Target You’ve Got 30 Seconds to Keep Them. 

It’s true. Studies show: People decide within the first 30-60 seconds whether or not to stay on a website. What’s more alarming (if you don’t have it right) is that people make their first impressions in the first 7 seconds. And we all know that first impressions have a funny way of sticking around once they’re made.

The ask at hand may be a hard one, but it’s not impossible.

Here Are Some Fun (and Free) Resources to Help:

  • Inspiration Edustyle (edustyle.net) is a great resource for seeing other examples of what schools are doing with their websites to make great first impressions. Browse a catalog of website images and see them ranked by popularity.
  • First Impression Testing FiveSecondTest (fivesecondtest.com) and ClueApp (clueapp.com) both allow you to perform first impression testing with remote users. Enter one or more links to web pages you want to test, and they will show that web page to people and ask them for their first impressions. You’ll get a simple summary report of what their first impressions were.

Read about where to find extra time – so that you can focus on your website.

Happy recruiting!


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