The Major Mistake with Your School’s Online Story (& How To Fix It!)

November 1, 2016 Emily Cretella

Have you ever tried to tell a story to a young child? The process usually goes like this:

“Once upon a time there was a princess..” <No! A mermaid! I don’t want a story about a princess!> … “Ok, there was a mermaid who lived in a magical lake …” <Mermaids don’t live in lakes! They live in the ocean!> … “Ok, the mermaid lived in the depths of the ocean …” <What does ‘depths’ mean?> … “Well, ‘depths’ just means a far distance down from the top of …” <I don’t like this story! Start over!>

 

I’m mom to a six-year-old and a four-year-old, so this exact interaction happens about 10 times a day in my house.

Why? Because kids love stories. They love hearing them, they love telling them. But they’re also pretty particular when it comes to storyline. If a story veers away from their interests, or they can’t relate to what you’re saying, they have no qualms about telling you your story stinks -- or just getting up and walking away.

In this way, young children are a lot like your website audience. They want the information, the content, the stories they’re interested in -- and if they can’t find them, or they can’t understand them, or they can’t relate to them, they’re gone.

Did You Know? On average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.

There are many factors that need to converge in order for a school website to tell a strong and compelling story. But there’s one major issue that tends to disrupt most school’s online stories -- one mindset problem that keeps school websites from sharing their best content:

Most school websites are written for the school, and not for the school’s audience.

The problem with many school websites is that the content is written for internal audiences first -- school leadership, stakeholders, admissions, faculty -- and audience is secondary.

Too often, websites become stuffed with information that is included to appease someone in another department, or crowded with content that’s included just because it exists, or written in a traditional communication format rather than optimized for online readers. And this is a major issue.

Remember: your website is your most important marketing tool. Its job is to get readers to take the next step. And the only way to persuade your audience to do that is to understand and focus on their wants, needs and challenges. That’s the only way your website will work harder for you.

Did You Know? Website visitors have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely.

So how can you tell if your website is written for your school over your audience … and how do you address the issue?

Start by going to any given page of your website and asking yourself:

  • Why is this content included? Is it there simply because someone wants it to be up there, or asked for it to be included? What role does it have in your overarching school story?

  • Do readers NEED to know this? Will this information make an impact on their perspective or their actions?

  • Do readers WANT to know this? Is it something that will capture their attention, make them feel something, keep them on your website?

  • Will this make it easier for readers to take action? How will this content help your audience make a decision or take the next step in their engagement with your school?

You should be able to answer these questions on every page of your website. If you can’t, it may be time to reevaluate that page’s purpose.

Once you know a page is not written with your audience’s perspective in mind, you can begin to fix the problem.

Here are some quick editing tips you can use to improve a subpar page’s content:

  1. Ask for input. If you don’t know what your readers want to know about a topic, ask them! Reach out through an email survey or a parent/student committee and get their feedback. By doing so, you will get the exact words and phrases they use to discuss the topic, which will help you write content that reflects their interests. (Learn more about the art of auditing a school website.)

  2. Address your audience’s needs first. And by first, I mean in the headline and the introduction of the page. Because if your page doesn’t grab readers’ attention in the first few seconds, they’ll be gone. Give readers a reason to linger by crafting strong headlines and opening paragraphs that prove you understand their wants, needs and challenges.

  3. Keep the content simple. Because your audience is most likely scanning your page for pertinent information, make sure every word on that page serves a purpose. Do this by removing any internal jargon words or phrases that may mean something to your team but are meaningless to your audiences. Watch the use of acronyms, cut out extra words, and incorporate the keywords and phrases for which you know your audience is searching.  

  4. Don’t leave your audience hanging. If you leave the next step up to your readers, chances are they won’t take one. Make it clear and easy for the reader to understand what action to take next, whether it be complete an inquiry, read something new, download a resource, etc.

Want to learn more about crafting compelling website content? Join me for the upcoming free masterclass “How to Write a Smart School Website (Even If You’re Not a Writer!)”.

By reflecting on each website page’s purpose and revamping page content to better address your audience’s needs, you can strengthen your school story one page at a time.

Have questions about creating and sharing a school story your audiences will love? Leave a comment below, or tweet us at @emilycretella / @blackbaudK12.

 

About the Author

Emily Cretella

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.

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