How to create a great school website with WordPress
Developing your old website, let alone creating a new one can be a daunting and potentially expensive prospect. Mike Khorev suggests that understanding the basics puts a school in control of the process, while minimizing costs.
Why look at OpenSource alternatives?
In the age of Covid-19, a school’s website has never been more important, but having a great website, keeping content updated and costs down can be a headache. If money is tight (or even if it isn’t!), one way to go is to consider setting up a site on an open-source platform like WordPress. Working with a competent website designer and training in-house staff to keep things updated can produce unexpectedly good results for a surprisingly reasonable price.
WordPress is certainly one of the easiest platforms with which to create an educational/school website. In fact, there are many top schools and universities that already deployed WordPress for their websites including Harvard Law School and University. In this guide, we will discuss five important steps for creating an educational website with WordPress that schools need to understand.
Step 1: choose the right ‘theme’
A theme is a template for your site’s structure, and the foundation of any good website, Creating a successful WordPress site will ultimately depend on the ‘theme’ you choose, because it dictates the essential elements of your site, such as the site’s appearance and layout.
Since the aim here is to create an educational website, you can check examples from various school/college websites and get a grasp for a layout or structure you’d like aim for. You can then browse various sites offering suitable educational WordPress themes like ThemeForest to look for suitable layouts for a school There are so many to choose from, and it can be a bit daunting, but one shortcut is to check various lists and reviews for the best educational WordPress themes available today.
In general, here are some important factors to consider when choosing your educational theme:
- Mobile-responsiveness (how it adapts to present well for phone and tablet use)
- Size and potential load speed
- Customizability (i.e. the ability to use custom layouts that reflect your needs)
- Support for extra features you might want to add later to give special access to certain users such as parents, students or alumni
- Header and footer builder (to control what’s at the top and the bottom of the screen!)
Choose the right theme according to your preferences, needs, and your educational institution’s branding. Yes, with WordPress we get plenty of flexibility to customize the theme (as we’ll discuss below), but having the right theme in the first place will provide you with a solid foundation.
Step 2: customize your site
Once you’ve chosen a WordPress theme as a basis for your site, the next step is to fine-tune and customize this theme to create a unique site that is completely your own.
In general, an educational website should consist of these pages:
- Home Page: fairly self-explanatory, this is the landing page of your site visitors, and you should put the necessary information such as your institution’s logo, important information, event notices, attractive images, and so on.
- About Us: should provide all the information about your educational institution/school such as the school’s history, location, accolades/awards, and other relevant information.
- Courses: detailed information about the courses offered by your educational institution.
- Faculty: display information about the faculty of your institution, teachers, staff, and so on.
- Registration: an important feature of any educational site, this is where you can include a registration form for visitors
- Contact us: fairly self-explanatory, a contact form where site visitors and students can contact you from the website. Also include information about the phone number, email address, and social media handles
Customize the theme to create the individual pages according to your institution’s brand identity and other preferences.
Step 3: develop your content
A website, no matter what, is only as good as the quality of the content within it.
We should think about two different types of content here: static and dynamic. Static content is content that won’t be updated frequently, for example, information on your site’s ‘about us’ section. Dynamic content, on the other hand, will be updated frequently, like your blog posts, event information, and so on.
With that being said, here is some important content that should be included in your school/college website.
- Information about your institution, and contact details. Provide brief but comprehensive information about your institution, the location, accolades, etc.
- A section about classes and courses offered by your institution.
- Gallery, a section to showcase photos and videos of the institution and its activities
- Events and news, dynamic content to showcase upcoming activities, seminars, etc.
- Content about personal information of your students, their achievements, etc.
- Faculty members, teachers, staff, etc.
- Testimonials from parents and students about the school and its activities.
- Self-promotional content, something like “why choose us” section, this section should display achievements, awards, outstanding graduates, your teachers, etc.
- Student achievements, skills, success stories, and so on
- Your blog, here you can post anything from student’s posts, articles, and so on. It’s best to schedule your postings regularly (monthly, weekly, etc.)
Step 4: choose your hosting service
WordPress is an open-source platform. Meaning, you can create your site on the platform essentially for free. However, you’ll need to get your domain name and hosting services separately. Some popular hosting services also offer to get your domain name included in the package.
Getting the right hosting services will be crucial in ensuring the performance of your site, from its load speed to ease of use.
There are plenty of different hosting services to choose from, but here are some important factors to consider:
- Price vs value, fairly obvious. There are very affordable hosting services from below $5/month to above $1,000/month.
- Estimate the amount of traffic (objectively), so you can decide on the amount of storage and bandwidth
- Some hosting services are easier to use due to customer support (but will be more expensive). Decide whether you’ll need this.
- There are several different types of hosting services: shared servers are generally the cheapest option, but also the most limited. VPS (virtual private server) is somewhere in the middle, and a dedicated server is the most expensive but also the most advanced.
- Check whether the hosting service also offers a domain name in the package.
Step 5: optimize your educational site
Last, but not least is to optimize your site according to several important factors:
- Aesthetics: first impressions do matter. Make sure your site is visually appealing and is a proper representation of your educational institution
- User Experience: how easy is it for users to navigate the site menus and find the information they need
- Accessibility: accessibility is a very important factor nowadays, and is in fact regulated in some countries and regions.
- Dynamic: how your website can be updated regularly (i.e. via blogging) to provide visitors with up-to-date information
WordPress remains one of the most powerful and versatile platforms with which to create any website, including an educational/school website. Above we have discussed the important steps you need to go through in creating your educational website.
What’s important is that the school understands the process and the options involved in website design and development. However,. it’s also important to get the help of an experienced professional and to build an effective relationship to take the process forward. Design based on this kind of mutual respect and understanding is likely to produce great results. There will be upfront and ongoing costs, but they are likely to be a fraction of what they will be if you do not understand the process.
Someone at school will also have to have time to manage the site: having set it up, don’t forget to keep updating your website continuously, adding new content, and reoptimize the website elements as required. You will also continue to need the occasional advice of your trusted expert – but you will know the questions to ask, and you won’t have been sucked into a dependency culture in which you pay large bills and have little control.
SEO expert and digital marketing strategist