In our technology-rich world today, how long do you think you have to present your message before deciding to continue reading, or move on to something else?

Here’s a hint – how long did it take you to read the first sentence?

5 seconds.

While you may have not found the sentence to be particularly compelling to want to continue reading, the 5 second timeframe has spectacular implications for everything you’re doing to market your school (and just three short years ago, the accepted standard of engagement was 9 seconds.  And, when you consider that you market your school to four distinct market verticals (parents of current students, parents of prospective students, donors/supporters and potential donors/supporters/members of the community), it can be a difficult, time-consuming and draining task to ensure that all of your messages capture the attention of all your audiences all the time.

Perhaps a good place to start is your school’s Web site.  Does it capture the visitor’s attention immediately?  If it doesn’t, 5 seconds later, the parent of a prospective student may be checking out another school.

Your school’s Web site needs to:

1) Look “modern” on both computers and mobile devices

2) Be “interactive,” inviting the visitor to interact with it rather than hunt for information

3) Have pictures that are emotionally energizing and look sharp (not fuzzy, blurry or pixelated)

4) Have lots of white space and a font that’s easy to read

5) Scroll rather than having lots of sub-menus

Here’s a little more detail, if you’re still interested in finding out more.

#1, 3 and 4 – Design Details

When I sold vehicles at a Saturn retailer, I remember one customer entering the facility and saying, “I don’t know what I’m looking for, but when I see it, I’ll know it.”  This gentleman wanted to be emotionally affected by what he saw, rather than walking in and saying, “I’m looking for a car that has good gas mileage, is safe, and doesn’t cost a lot to maintain.”  With Web sites today, if you take a look at one that has lots of white space, a font that’s big, gray rather than black, without serifs and with thin lines, and pictures that are vibrant and sharp, you can see the difference from a site that doesn’t fill the screen, has white, bold Times New Roman letters on a color background, and have pictures that look as if a teacher was given a digital camera and told, “While your kids are working in class, take some pictures with their heads looking at their workbooks.”  Here’s the easy test:  If you were a parent and not affiliated with your school, would you want to send your child to your school?  The first impression your school makes is on the Internet today.  The image of your school on the Internet will convey to the parent how savvy your school is in technology too.  If it looks “dated,” parents of prospective children will assume your school’s technology is “dated” too.

#2 – Interactivity

Big pictures with a compelling headline embedded in the picture capture attention.  When they’re on an automatic slider that set for about 6 seconds, that picture needs to capture the attention of the site visitor, allowing the photo to move to another compelling one before the viewer makes the decision to leave the site.  However, if a picture stays visible for more than 15 seconds, or, worse, is a “manual” slider, you’re depending on visitors to your site to find something that interests them…and they’re not going to do that.  They’ll move on to another school.

#5 – Let’s Scroll

About a decade ago, it was considered good Web site design to have a navigation menu that had drop down sub-menus.  The point was that a visitor should be able to find information in 3 clicks or less…which meant no more than 3 levels of sub-menu navigation.

That was before 2007, when the iPad was introduced, and tablets began to make the notebook computer the new doorstop.  It’s now permissible to have different sections of interest on one page, delineated from one another with different design elements.  If that happens, note there is no left nor right sidebar.  If there is both a left and right sidebar full of information, that would now be an “outdated” design.

While it’s still acceptable to have a right column, the design needs to be responsive so that the site will also provide a compelling viewing experience on a laptop as well as a mobile device, and not simply appear on the tablet as a miniature version of what’s seen on a desktop computer.  A responsive site will self-adjust based on the size of the screen. On mobile devices, the right column of information should move to the bottom of the main body of text.

Want to see if your current site is responsive?  Open a browser, enter your school’s URL/Web site address, and then click the “Restore” box.  That’s the “middle box” in the upper right corner of your browser next to the “red x” box if you’re on a PC, or the “yellow” dot on the upper left corner of your browser if you’re using a MAC.  Doing so allows you to click the edge of the browser and drag it so its size can be modified.  If you continually shrink your browser and find that your right navigation panel moves to below the main body of text, and that your text lines continually adjust, you have a responsive site.  If your site remains the same size, and more and more of the site is “cut off” when you shrink the size of your browser, your site doesn’t provide an enjoyable experience for those visitors viewing it on a mobile device.

Your school’s Web site needs to be “relevant” on a tablet today, and today’s site designers do their work with a “mobile-first” mindset.  If it is not redesigned to be responsive, not only will your Web site be irrelevant on mobile devices, but your school could become irrelevant as well.  Remember that your Web site provides prospective parents with their first impression of the technology capabilities of your school.  You have 5 seconds to impress them.


© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2014-2019 (Original Publication Date: 20140825)