5 Tips To Get The Most Out Of Your Website

Websites are like magazines for your brand. They provide users with information, they direct inquiries that users may have and that is the first place they go, to know more about your brand. It’s safe to say that it’s important to make sure you make the best use of it! One of our favourite blogs, Finalsite, taught us to pay attention to 5 key things that will let us make the most out of our website. 

1. Make Sure Your Homepage Answers the Five Most Important Questions!

Your website should have the right mix of style and functionality. In short, your websites look great while providing an easy-to-use and navigate experience.

However, looking great isn’t the only thing your website should do. Visitors likely first interact with your website through a search engine result, around 83 percent of visitors to be exact. This means most people that access your school’s homepage are coming in completely blind. Use your homepage to not only create the best first impression, but also answer the five most important questions a new visitor is likely to ask.

  1. What does your school offer?
  2. What makes your school unique?
  3. How can I learn more about your school?
  4. Where can I find your school?
  5. Will I (or my child) fit in at your school?

You can answer these broad questions in a variety of ways. Feel free to get as creative as you’d like while sticking close to your theme of choice. Let’s take a look at how Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis, Indiana uses the Avon theme, which features a standard navigation and utility navigation, to answer these five questions.

Heritage Christian School homepage screenshot

Heritage Christian School uses navigation best practices to simplify the user experience for current and prospective families. Plus, the “Request Info” call-to-action (CTA) button in the top-right is great for acquiring new prospect leads — a simple and effective way to answer questions #1 and #3.

The school then directly answers questions #2 and #4 through the elements at the bottom of the page that links to pages explaining how Heritage’s teachers provide a unique experience, and how the school maintains a 98 percent graduation rate, highest in Indiana.

Heritage Christian School homepage screenshot of "What Makes Heritage Special?"

Lastly, the school answers question #5 with the theme’s footer which contains all the contact information a prospective parent or student needs to know, including a “Contact Us” link to the “Location & Contact Info” page, and social media icon links on the right side of the footer.

Heritage Christian School homepage footer

Heritage Christian School also makes excellent use of the Avon theme to keep its community and new visitors up-to-date with a Calendar element towards the bottom of the page, complete with a custom image background for added flair.

Heritage Christian School homepage calendar element

Similar to Heritage Christian School, Gwynedd-Mercy Academy Elementary in Spring House, Pennsylvania created a homepage with a different theme, East Hartford.

Gwynedd-Mercy Academy Elementary homepage screenshot

Their website also incorporates the same navigation best practices to efficiently guide visitors through the website. Questions #1 and #2 are answered in a way that visually demonstrates how the School uniquely shapes tomorrow’s leaders through an innovative, experiential, and 21st century education,  with links to each.

Gwynedd-Mercy Academy Elementary "Shaping Tomorrow's Leaders" banner

Of course, the website also includes an “About Us” link at the top of the page for those interested in learning more, and the theme standard footer provides contact information with a “Contact Us” link and social media icon links, just like Heritage Christian School.

Gwynedd-Mercy Academy Elementary homepage footer

Both Heritage Christian School and Gwynedd-Mercy answered all five questions in a relatively short homepage by keeping close to their respective themes. Keeping things simple ensures that both schools make finding where you want to go is always effortless.

2. Make the Most of Homepage Content Elements!

When it comes to your website, making the best first impression is incredibly important. Visitors will decide within 10 short seconds if they want to stay on your page, or leave to visit another school’s website. That’s a short window to capture someone’s interest, so the very first things a new visitor sees once your homepage loads should immediately encourage them to stay and read on.

Schools should also pick a theme that matches the content they have readily available. Finalsite has more than 30 theme designs, each offering something different other than the overall aesthetic to match the different needs of each school. For example, let’s take a look at Archbishop Murphy High School in Everett, Washington and their stylistic interpretation of the Westbrook Theme.

Archbishop Murphy High School homepage screenshot

The Westbrook Theme was a perfect match for their school because they had a lot of impressive statistics they wanted to showcase. The staggered statistic grid can be found on other school websites that use the Westbrook Theme (such as Westside School in Seattle, Washington). This stylistic statistics showcase allows visitors to quickly absorb a lot of impressive information.

Archbishop Murphy High School homepage statistics block

Any prospective student or parent that visits their homepage and scrolls down will see their impressive 100 percent graduation rate, small student to teacher ratio, and small class size average statistics. It’s a quick way to present valuable information to those thinking about applying to your school. And on the website backend, this infographic can be easily edited and updated anytime.

Lastly, if the visitor has scrolled this far down the page, they can scroll just a little bit lower to see a highlight of select AMHS staff and students in a visual format with large pictures that truly engage.

Archbishop Murphy High School student and staff section

Clicking through opens a pop-up window with a short informational blurb about the individual (this one being Jordan James, Director of Wellness and Sports Performance as AMHS). You can then read a short Q&A-style interview with the individual. It’s an endearing and personal way for visitors new and old to connect with the school without ever having the need to actually visit or attend.

Archbishop Murphy High School staff informational pop-up

Archbishop Murphy High School did an incredible job of using the Westbrook Theme to pack in a ton of information into a relatively short homepage that presents visitors with everything they need to know in a visually-appealing fashion, all within that important 10-second window.

3. But Don’t Forget About Those Interior Pages!

While the homepage is the single most important page on your website, it’s important to remember that most visitors use the homepage as a launching point to access the other pages spread throughout your website, or even other websites for our school districts.

Creating an awesome homepage means next to nothing if your interior pages are bland and unappealing. It’s like picking up a book with an exciting cover, only to discover the book is dry and boring once you’ve read the first few pages. It’s important to keep visitors engaged throughout their entire journey across your pages.

National Child Research Center, a historic and leading preschool in Washington, D.C., does an excellent job of keeping visitors engaged as they navigate the website through consistent use of amazing photos, interactive elements (such as fillable forms), and unique infographics and charts.

National Child Research Center "Our Story" page screenshot

For example, their “Our Story” page incorporates a “90 Years” graphic to celebrate nine decades of service. Just below the graphic rests a historical photograph serving as a visual time capsule, with a Media Element to the left that continuously cycles through an archive of historical photos. It’s an effective way to engage visitors while reminding them that 90-years worth of parents have trusted their children’s education to their preschool. It’s subtle, yet effective.

National Child Research Center "Our Story" timeline

The bottom of the page also incorporates an interactive timeline through an Embed Element so visitors can further extended their stay on the page by viewing an exhaustive look back at the history of the preschool.

4. Enhance Themes With Liberal Use of Photos!

It goes without saying that liberal use of awesome photography goes a long way in engaging every website visitor, regardless of your school’s photography budget.

It all goes back to that famous expression, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” In fact, we find photos to be so integral to creating a best-in-class website that we wrote a blog talking all about website photography earlier this year.

Heritage Christian School enhances their Avon theme with great use of stunning images on their homepage that automatically cycle through the Media element at the top of the page.

Heritage Christian School homepage photo of student reading with younger boy

This particular photo leverages empty space well and connects users to an engaging story about a specific student. Going the extra distance to elevate your website with great photos is a simple way to improve the overall quality of a website. Think of it like hiring a professional photographer for your family photos. You can always take the photos yourself, but a professional will produce a better result nearly every time.

But don’t waste all your photography on the homepage, and don’t forget those interior pages. Spreading out your awesome photos throughout all of your interior pages keeps visitors engaged during their entire visit.

Landmark Preschool makes excellent use of photos to keep visitors engaged as they check out pages other than the homepage. In particular, their “About Us” page features an adorable photo of one of their preschoolers.

Landmark Preschool "About Us" page photo of preschooler having his foot painted

And their “Vacation Clubs” page features an equally compelling photo.

Landmark Preschool "Vacation Clubs" page photo of two preschoolers painting

Not only do these photos look great, but they also break up the monotony of viewing page after page of text. While some information can only be conveyed through paragraphs, bear in mind that people are able to process information conveyed through images far more efficiently and quickly, with less work, than text alone.

5. And Keep Image and Thumbnail Sizes Consistent Throughout Your Site!

Our final tip: keeping image and thumbnail sizes consistent throughout your website and posts creates a streamlined look that’s consistent across all devices: desktop, tablet, and mobile. Considering half of a school’s website traffic comes from mobile devices, it’s important to go with a “responsive design” when choosing the look and layout for you website.

Fortunately, all of our theme designs are built from the ground up with mobile devices in mind, including a handy preview option in Composer that shows what each page will look like when viewed on different devices.

Let’s take a look at Westside School, which uses the East Lyme Theme, to show how consistent image and thumbnail sizes across all pages can provide a better, more visually-appealing browsing experience. Think of it like reading a book: you’d expect a consistent font size and style from start to end, right? Suddenly switching size or style, or randomly switching between several or more at a time, creates a confusing, perhaps even frustrating, user experience.

At the time of writing this blog, Westside’s blog has various different sizes for the thumbnails scattered through the page. Most are the same size, but that makes the inconsistencies in size all the more noticeable. See how off this row looks when all three thumbnail images are a different size?

Westside School blog photos with inconsistent sizes

Let’s see if we can fix that.

To do so, let’s head into Composer, click on the grey gear icon at the top of the Posts element, and head down to the “Formatting” section. From there, we’ll select the “Shape” option under the “Page Thumbnail” section. This is where you can adjust the size and shape of each thumbnail on the page.

Westside School "Edit Post Element Settings" menu for editing blog photo sizes

The “Size” choice of “Large” is fine as is, but let’s change that “Shape” option from “Original” to “Rectangle”. Now, let’s take a look at the changes.

Westside School blog photos with consistent photo sizes

Much better, right? Now, all three thumbnails in the row are the exact same height and length, creating a visual consistency that makes it easier to look not only across this one row, but up and down the other rows on the page, too. Maintaining a consistent image and thumbnail size on every page across your website makes browsing your website just a bit easier.

We also recommend uploading images and videos to Resources, which allows you to import the same image or video to multiple pages, rather than needing to upload the same content over and over again. Resources also automatically optimizes each image and video to load in varying sizes or qualities based on the device the visitor uses, as well as their internet speed.

Our Thoughts

The perfect website should have the perfect balance of simplicity and customization. By following these five pointers, your school can maximize your choice of theme to design a best-in-class website that is sure to blow the socks off your constituents, staff, and alumni. Share the love and knowledge by sharing it on your social media platforms!

If you’re interested to find out how Finalsite can help you grow your platforms, drop us your email here and we will link you right up with the relevant parties!

Read the full article by Andrew Martin on Finalsite here

Using Eye Contact (Part 2): International School Bangkok Shows Off Its Internationalism

In Part 1 of this post, we explored how we can use direct eye contact with our viewers to connect with them in a way that a traditional off-camera interview just can’t.  We learned that video production techniques actually mimic how people communicate with each other on a daily basis.  If you are looking at me and looking into my eyes, I’m more likely to listen to the words that you are saying and the message that you are trying to communicate (teachers take note: recent studies suggest that despite what your students tell you, if they are not looking at you when you are speaking, they are actually texting their girlfriend!).

We’ve recently had the great pleasure of working with International School Bangkok (ISB) on a series of videos for their marketing and communications efforts.  After spending just a few days on their campus, ISB quickly became one of our favorite schools anywhere.  It combines world-class facilities with the tight knit community of a boarding school (even though it is a day school) because half of the student body lives in close proximity to the school.

When we were shooting their annual International Fair, we heard no less than 14 languages being spoken between friends and families.  And every one of the people holding the flags during the parade were actually from the country they were representing (its not every day you see the flag of Nepal being carried in a parade!).

One of the things that makes ISB so unique is that it celebrates its internationalism in deed and not just word.  ISB supports its native language speakers as well as its second language learners to a greater extent than any other school that we’ve ever seen.  I mean, who would’ve guessed that there would be an Urdu class in a school in the middle of Thailand?

So, how do you best communicate the unique nature of ISB’s internationalism and its support of so many languages in a video?  Stand back, and let it speak for itself.  Literally.  And that’s exactly what we did in this video:

In Part 1 of this post, I talked about our creative toolbox that we use in video production.  In this video we used three tools together to create a very simple but impactful video (sometimes, less is more!).  The most obvious tool that we used – and the one that this post is all about – is direct eye contact.  The subjects are confidently looking straight at the viewer and feeling very proud of their heritage, their nationality, and the languages that they speak.  But most of all they were proud of the fact that ISB celebrates and supports who they are as unique people making up an incredibly international community.

They are not looking off camera speaking to an interviewer.  They are speaking to you!  They want to communicate with you!  And they want to communicate in their own language.

The second tool that we pulled out of our creative toolbox was audio.  Its sounds so obvious to that that but it is often overlooked.  Its been said that you can have a good video without good pictures, but not without good audio.  Audio is at least 50% or more of the success of any given video.  Here, we used very simple audio – in several different languages – to draw the viewer in to read what the subtitles in English were saying (unless you happen to be one of the very few people in the world that actually speak all of these languages…).  We’ve got your attention now.  The viewer needs to pay attention to not only what is being heard – the foreign language – but also to what is being written in the subtitles.  I don’t have statistics to back this up, but my guess is that most people view this video several times.  Which is a good thing.

The third tool that we used, I’d like to say was long in the planning, was very expensive, and is a high tech tool that few know how to operate.  But I’d be lying.

It was a simple piece of black felt that we happened to find hanging on the wall in the room that we were about to shoot in.  It was a total fluke.  And it saved our butt.  We were shooting several videos back to back in a very short timeframe and we needed to somehow make this languages video feel and look different than the other videos we were shooting that day (one on arts and one on athletics, two of the best ones that we’ve this year…  I say humbly…).  So we used a large softbox light and shot the kids against the black felt.  We took away anything else that would distract the viewer from listening intently to the multiple languages that they were about to hear and the connection that they were about to make with some very talented kids from around the world.

Sometimes, less is more. 

Our creative toolbox is vast.  And there’s a lot of cool stuff in there.  Eye contact is only one of them.  Hold on tight while we explore some of the other tools that we use in future posts.

Using Eye Contact (Part 1): Give Your Video Greater Impact

Its often been said that we speak with our eyes, not with our mouth.  When we talk to someone – or listen to them – we naturally look into their eyes, not at their mouth.  The eyes are the entrance to the soul and its what we use to connect with people.

This is true for video production as well because video production is all about connecting with people, with your audience.

Exactly where the subject is looking is critically important as it sets up the rest of the video for the viewer.  Their eye direction tells the viewer who they are talking to and what kind of conversation this is going to be.  Is the subject looking at and talking to an interviewer that is sitting off camera somewhere?  If so, then the viewer is being invited to listen in on their conversation.  Its a comfortable place to be for the viewer because they are just invited to listen and not required to react or respond.

This is the most common form of video interview and we have many examples of this, including this video that we did several years ago for Woodstock School in India:

As a video production company, MotionPicturesAsia has a creative toolbox that we use to produce the best content that we can for our clients.  All tools have specific applications and not every one works in every situation in the same way.  So let’s look at another tool we have that might connect our viewers with our subject in a more impactful way – eye contact.

“When we talk to someone – or listen to them – we naturally look into their eyes”

In normal day to day life, when someone is looking directly at us and talking to us, it is hard to ignore them.  And we are generally required to not only listen, but to listen well.  Think of the difference of when a teacher is talking to an entire class generally or when he or she is talking to a specific student.  If you are that specific student, you’d better listen up!

The same is true for video production.  When the subject in the video is looking right at the camera (and therefore right at the viewer) they tend to connect more with the viewer because there’s a subconscious feeling that what they are talking about is more important.  Think of newscasters.  They hold the mic up to their mouth and look directly at the viewer.  The news is important and the eye contact gets your attention.

Take a look at another video that we did for Woodstock School and take note of how different you feel watching it as compared to the first one:

The students are talking to ME!  I feel a personal connection with them right from the first subject.  I want to get to know them a bit more.  They look interesting, they come from all over the world and have different accents from mine.  And guess what?  They actually ARE talking to me!  They are inviting me to become a student of Woodstock School (and I actually was a student of Woodstock School in the 80’s, but that’s a whole other story…).  And they are inviting me personally.  They are looking at me and talking right to me.  They are trying to make a connection.  And then, at the end of the video, the entire school (well, most of the school at least) is welcoming me to their school!  How can I refuse an invitation like that?

And guess what?  It worked!

We launched this video for Woodstock several years ago during our first series of productions for the school.  A few months ago, we were invited back to start work on a second series of videos for the school.  And something really surprising happened.  Students and teachers alike stopped us in the hallways and on the mountain paths (Woodstock is 7000 feet up in the Himalayas in India) and said, “Your videos are the reason that I’m here”.

We were humbled by the response but we were amazed when we asked for details – every single one of the people that we spoke with said that this student recruitment video was by far the most impactful and the one they remember the most.  Why?  Because it felt like the students were speaking to them personally.

“Connection.  Its what not only video production, but much of life, is all about.”

Stay tuned for a future post where we will share another example of how we used eye contact to create more impact in a video for International School Bangkok.  In the meantime, let us know what you think.  Share your experience and thoughts in the comments below.  We’d love to hear from you.