Your school's website is your most important marketing tool — and the team at St. Andrew's School in Delaware, U.S, knows that well. It's why Director of Communications Liz Torrey and her team put an immense amount of thought and strategy behind every decision, from the site's navigation to photo selection.
It's this kind of strategy that has left the marketing and admissions teams at St. Andrew's reviewing numerous impressive website stats that back up their hefty investment into a new, responsive website.
In a year-over-year comparison, the team at St. Andrews documented:
- A 33% increase in enquiry form conversions and traffic
- A 21% decrease in site-wide bounce rate
- A 24% decrease in homepage bounce rate
- Total unique website visitors up more than 100%
- Total percent of unique new website visitors has more-than doubled from 25% to 52%
So what does all that data mean, exactly?
St. Andrew's School's website redesign increased the number of new website visitors, total website visitors, and enquiries, while decreasing the number of website visitors leaving after only visiting one page. In short — enquiries and prospective family website traffic is up — and that's the whole point of redesigning.
There were two major quick wins for St. Andrew's when they redesigned, which helped with this YOY improvement:
First, their new website is responsive, and their old website was not. A responsive website is favored by Google for branded and un-branded searches, and is proven to lower bounce rates on mobile devices because of the seamless user experience. This means that St. Andrew's new site was easier to find and access from all entrance points, like search and social media, increasing overall traffic and decreasing bounce rates.
Second, St. Andrew's new website is managed using Finalsite Composer, meaning they have access to some pretty awesome Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tools to improve their performance in search, generating more unique visits.
Aside from these attributes that inherently came along with their new website, there are numerous parts of St. Andrew's web design strategy that took their website from just another good-looking responsive website, to a marketing tool packed with strategy.
#1 They Know Their Target Audience
"Our site is primarily for prospective students," said Liz. "In the surveys we did in the process prior to the redesign, we learned that current families use the site as a tool to find a particular piece of information, whereas prospective students explore and try and find out what life at the school is like."
What Liz's team discovered during the survey process is not unique to St. Andrew's School. Today, most schools use their front-end website for marketing their school, and specific public or password-protected portals to act as utilities for current families.
When you take a look at St. Andrew's website, you'll notice a few key elements that make it obvious it is driven towards recruiting prospective families, including the large homepage video, request information pop-out, recent news, and distinct calls-to-action on pages like this one from their Admission section.
#2 They Use Their Resources
St. Andrew's School has an amazing on-staff photographer and videographer that was extremely under-utilized for their previous website — so much so, that during the redesign process, the team had more than 40,000 brand new photos to sift through.
Nope — that's not a typo. The St. Andrew's communications team went through 40,000 photos to hand-pick hundreds for their new website. And if you visit their website, you'll never notice the same photo used twice. It's all part of their strategy.
"Just because one photo is strong — you need to be mindful," she said. "There is a limit, and attention spans need to be considered. We make sure we're not using the same photo across multiple channels at the same time. We really try to consider where each photo will have the most impact—on our website, or on Instagram or Facebook, or in a newsletter, and so on."
While sorting through 40,000 photos seems like a lot, Liz and her team used Adobe Lightroom to tag the ones they like most. "The good photos kind of select themselves," she said.
#3 They Craft Content Strategically
Creating content for the web is harder than ever before because you need to find a way to tell a story and facts, without being too text-heavy or visual-dependent. While some schools are moving towards using a lot more photos and videos than text, Liz said her families appreciate having some solid content to read.
"The hardest part was striking a balance between the perfect amount of text and visuals for parents and students," she said.
The school's old site did not strike this kind of balance. Rather, it was extremely text-heavy. "You couldn't just look and see at a glance what a classroom or campus looked like," said Liz. "The goal with our new site was to give an impression of the life at the school through visuals."
However, Liz stressed the importance of not solely depending on visuals for their school. "We won't ever be an Instagram-only school," she said. "We have a good amount of writing, and a lot of prospective families are happy we took the time to explain our programs, processes, etc. And, the students are happy because there is that visual component."
#4 They didn't just migrate content from their old site to their new site.
One of the biggest misconceptions about a website redesign is that whatever worked on your previous site will work on your new one. While Liz did move content from their old website to their new one, she re-wrote it, re-structured it, and re-organized it for their new mobile-friendly site.
"I took a lot of our old text, and edited down the length and updated it where necessary," she said. "More importantly, I tried to put more content on the website that was in the voices of our students, faculty and parents."
"If you're wondering how to talk about the school in a real way, listen to what other people are saying," she added.
In addition to editing content, Liz also cut the number of website pages in half from 400 page to under 200, making it easier to find content in less clicks.
#5. They update their content frequently.
Liz knows that a website is a living marketing tool. You don't just redesign and forget about it. It's why they have plans to update their homepage video 3-4 times a year, and swap out some photos monthly.
#6. They hired a great partner.
While Finalsite was more expensive than some of the other vendors St. Andrew's reviewed prior to their redesign, Liz said, "Finalsite is more than worth it."
"Our designer was great," said Liz. "I knew from the moment I saw the new framework for the site it was going to be awesome. But, I was really happy when I discovered Composer, the CMS, was super user-friendly on the back-end."