School websites are complicated. Behind each pretty interface is an amalgamation of choices, decisions and technical know-how (and one or two migraines, let’s be honest).
Yet the purpose of your school website – the reason you put all that time and energy and headspace into creating one – is pretty simple:
Your school website exists to help your audience take the next step.
That’s it. Your website is there to connect with your audience, regardless of the stage they are at in their relationship with your school, and convince them to build upon that relationship.
When you consider your website’s purpose – as well as the fact that 96% of people are not ready to buy, or make a decision, the first time they visit your site – it’s clear that continuous connection with your audience is important.
So how can you capture the website visitors who are just beginning to explore their options online? How can you stand out, be remembered … and convince visitors to come back for more?
You sell the inquiry.
In website speak, an inquiry is simply a request to learn more; to take the soft next step in building a relationship with a brand. There are many reasons to submit an inquiry online, such as:
- Ask a question
- Request a call
- Schedule a visit
- Access additional information
Because each inquiry can be as unique as the visitor submitting it, it’s important to give your website users varied and flexible ways to connect on your school website.
Ready to make your site more inquiry friendly? Here are 7 ways to boost inquiries (and audience connections!) on your school website:
#1: Explain them – and ask for them.
Having a standard “INQUIRE” button in the footer or sidebar of your website is a good start – but it may not be enough to entice someone to click. Because what does “INQUIRE” mean, from the user’s perspective?
If you want visitors to take that first next step, it’s important to explain their options either within the content of a page, or with unique calls-to-action in various section of the site. Here are some examples of how you can handle this in different website sections:
In the “About” section … “How does this story come to life on our campus? Schedule your visit to experience the [School Name] difference for yourself!”
In the “Admissions” section … “Interested in attending an upcoming Open House? Submit our Pre-Visit Form so we can make your visit as worthwhile as possible.”
In the “Academics” section … “Want to learn more about Grade 9 at [School Name]? Access a sample curriculum and class schedule.”
Often, users don’t know what next step they want to take until we tell them. We need to understand our audience’s concerns and needs, and reflect those questions or challenges in our possible inquiries.
#2: Simplify the process.
“1) Submit your inquiry, and we will contact you if there are openings 2) Before submitting an inquiry, please schedule a visit the school 3) Before scheduling your visit, you must submit an application …”
When there is a disconnect between the processes and procedures we require internally, and those that we require of our website visitors, the inquiry system fails. If there are too many steps, or too many barriers, there will be lower engagement.
Take a look at your processes for inquiry and admission – or, better yet, have someone who is not familiar with the processes take a look at them. Are they streamlined? Easy-to-follow? Logical?
If possible, try to remove, simplify or consolidate steps in your most important online processes to make it as easy as possible for your new visitors to take the next critical step.
#3: Create a flexible inquiry form.
Once you entice your site visitors to click your call-to-action, lead them to an inquiry form that allows them to express, or select, their intended next step.
For example: rather than only having form fields for name, contact information and an open-ended question such as “What can we help you with?”, also include a drop-down menu that lets users choose from pre-populated options. This will help the unsure visitor understand all of the ways she can connect with your school, and select the most appropriate next step for her current situation.
#4: Offer something valuable – for free.
Want to connect with those visitors who don’t know what they want to inquire about yet – simply because they haven’t completed their initial research? Create a piece of gated content that helps them with their decision-making process.
“Gated content” means communications – such as an ebook, worksheet, video or other piece of valuable material – that are only accessible after the visitor submits some personal information to receive it. This information can range from simple (name and email address) to complex (ages of children, current school, etc.).
Offering a very valuable piece of gated content that is designed to truly help your audience is a great way to grow your email list and stay connected to these initial browsers.
#5: Grab them at the exit.
Want to make one last-ditch effort to capture the inquiry before a visitor leaves your site? You can do so with an “exit-intent pop-up”, which is a window that appears when a user’s movement across your site demonstrates that she is about to exit. The window has a singular, focused offer or call-to-action that makes it easy for the visitor to stay connected.
These types of notifications are popular and effective because they help simplify the visitor’s decision-making process while providing value. (Want an example? Go to any online retail website. Before you leave, you’ll often see: “Don’t go! You still have something in your shopping cart!” or “Before you go … get 15% off your next order!”)
So what can your exit-intent pop-up promote? There are a variety of initial inquiries you can offer, such as:
- Your latest piece of gated content
- Subscription to your newsletter
- An upcoming open house or campus tour (“Schedule your visit! There are three personal tours left this month – book yours today!”)
#6: Make the next steps clear.
So now you’ve captured attention, and your visitor has submitted any inquiry. What happens next? You should know – and you should tell your new connection.
The perfect way to set expectations is on the “Thank You” page that appears once a visitor submits an online form. This page provides valuable yet often overlooked opportunities to connect with your audience.
On your “Thank You” page, let the submitter know when to expect a response, from whom the response will come, and in what format (email, call, etc.). And to promote an even deeper relationship, offer yet another way to connect with your school, such as following on social media or subscribing to your newsletter.
#7: Keep track of every inquiry.
Once the initial inquiry is complete, however, the real work is just beginning.
In order for an inquiry to be successful, it needs successful follow up. Make sure you are keeping track of your inquiries over time. The goal: to know if any given inquiry resulted in an application and, eventually, a new student.
By paying close attention to your data, you can discover any breakdowns in communication and continuously make your inquiry process work harder for your admissions team.
Those are seven ways to make your school website more inquiry friendly. Have others to add? Let us know how you’ve created a deeper connection with your website audience by leaving a comment below, or tweet at us:@emilycretella / @blackbaudK12. We love seeing how school marketers get creative with their online content!
And for even more online storytelling advice, sign up to access the Story Audit Challenge, a free 5-lesson email course that will help you review, organize and transform your school’s website.
About the Author
Emily Cretella is a marketing strategist and copywriter who helps her clients create and share stories that make audiences take action. As owner of Cursive Content Marketing, Emily provides consulting, copywriting services and workshops to independent schools and higher education. Read her stories at cursivecontent.com.Follow on Twitter More Content by Emily Cretella