What does it take to win a Platinum Award in the prestigious MarCom Awards, an international competition which recognises excellence in marketing and communications? We asked Head of Communications Nick Ellwood at Tonbridge, how the school went about achieving such great results from its vibrant new website.
Tonbridge was named as the Independent Boys’ School of the Year 2019. Highly respected, both in the UK and internationally, for providing a world-class education, the school is renowned for its innovative teaching and learning, its vibrant programme of co-curricular activities, high levels of pastoral care and commitment to social responsibility.
Why redesign the Tonbridge School website?
The key aims of the new Tonbridge School website were to refresh the design to be in line with new trends, offering a rich, visual insight into the school’s strengths and culture and improving the user experience. The website’s primary role is to tell a story and drive admissions among prospective parents.
At the beginning of this project, Finalsite’s design team worked together with the Tonbridge communications team to compile a creative brief that outlined the aims and objectives of the project. Some of the main components from the original creative brief are highlighted below.
Five Key Objectives
Develop a more robust and intuitive, fully responsive layout.
Improve ease of use through the refinement of the menu structure, pages and features.
Highlight the school’s exceptional standards and successes.
Make greater use of rich media to deliver a highly visual and emotive experience.
Increase the visibility of key dynamic features, including social media and news, and an interactive map of the school.
As forty percent of pupils are day and sixty percent boarding, and with ten percent of those coming from overseas, prospective families were highlighted as the primary target audience (roughly 80% of focus). The website needed to provide dedicated content for this audience as well as a clear visual language and meaningful insights into the school, facilities and location.
The goal was to encourage visitors to request a prospectus, arrange a visit or make a phone call. Other key stakeholders that the website intended to serve included current families, students and staff, job seekers and alumni.
Design and Styling
The approach of the new school website was to reflect the community ethos by making pupils part of the message through videos and images. The homepage was to be vibrant, friendly, happy, engaging and ambitious.
Look and Feel
A stronger use of photos and videos was used to develop a more vibrant visual experience. Additional requirements of the design included:
● Bolder, more spacious metro-style layout for news and social media.
● Areas with testimonials.
● An interactive map of the school.
● An appropriate balance of people (staff and students), facilities and locations and high-quality photography throughout the site.
Bringing a website redesign creative brief to life requires the combination of a content management system (CMS) that performs with dynamism and supports a crystal clear storyline. Nick Ellwood articulates how his team’s focus on Tonbridge’s brand values is at the core of the website’s success, starting from the homepage navigation.
“The hamburger menu represents the four main pillars that make brand Tonbridge: academic excellence, co-curricular depth and breadth, dedication to pastoral care, and a strong ethos of social responsibility. Our goal was to emphasise these pillars and give them prominence on the site,” Nick said, and he also mentioned the importance of being disciplined about promoting these four concepts and resisting too much of everything else!
The Tonbridge School website effectively embraces purposeful motion, a recent web trend. “Motion is the texture of modern web design and it brings an additional layer of depth and meaning to the experience,” says Kealan Duffy, Finalsite’s production manager. “It enhances the personality of your brand and improves user experience by guiding visitors through key features. It also helps improve conversions by drawing more attention to call-to-action buttons and entices the visitor to keep scrolling by immersing them with movement.”
Creative uses of motion that appear on the Tonbridge School website include video footage, hover and scroll-based animations and animated cues e.g., to scroll down, explore a feature or click a call-to-action button.
While it was clear that the new site needed to highlight the school's ethos and qualities, it also became a way to rethink information. “We streamlined and removed a lot of content when moving from the old site to the new, in order to present information in a concise, powerful and dynamic way,” Nick added.
The Tonbridge School website launched in July 2018, and it was towards the end of the project that Nick joined the team. A combination of support webinars, phone calls and on-site training helped him learn how to use Finalsite’s platform. “It was the personalised support that I benefited from the most, but it was also encouraging to see that there were different training options to cater for all different learning styles.”
Website Maintenance: A Team Effort
The CMS is utilised by three different teams within the school: the main school site, under the guardianship of Nick and the marketing and communications team; the vacancies pages, maintained by personnel; and the Tonbridge Together pages which are updated by a unique admin team. The Tonbridge Together pages include the Tonbridge Society, (consisting of the Old Tonbridgian Society, the Parents’ Arts Society and the Development Office), the school theatre, sports centre and facilities hire.
One of the key goals of the site was to be able to include more video and photography. “Uploading and managing content, images and videos is generally straightforward,” Nick says. “Once the website was launched, the intent was to keep it fresh with seasonal photos and the Resources Manager module enables that.” Nick’s process of adding the latest school news to the website has also become more efficient. “I use the Posts module every day and can upload a news article in minutes.”
One year in and Nick and his team continue to refine the site. They intend to further increase the use of video, including slow-mo, and have added various new pages, such as those for the Barton Science Centre, a state-of-the-art building which opened at Tonbridge in 2019. The school regularly updates its carousel of banner photos on key pages, to reflect activities across the Michaelmas, Lent and Summer Terms each year.
In his Welcome to Tonbridge page, Headmaster James Priory writes: “Tonbridge’s mission encourages creativity, confidence and compassion. In the words of the great novelist and Old Tonbridgian, E. M. Forster: ‘Only Connect’.” It’s a mission that reaches out from every page of this award-winning website.
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