Build it and they may come, but will they come back? By Terry Freedman

There’s a great article by Russell Dyas on Refreshing Your Website over at the Technology and Learning website. Regard this post as a bit of an extension of that, if you like.

It seems to me that what every website owner, including a school, has to do is think about the following:

*What is the purpose of this website?

*Who is it for?

*What do we want them to do when they get here?

*How can we get them to return soon?

You might think that these have nothing to do with keeping the site fresh and engaging, and therefore an incentive to get people to return. Surely, you might say, all you need to do is keep updating the content?

I think these questions have everything to do with keeping a site inviting. For example, a school website probably has three main purposes:

*To keep parents informed.

*To celebrate the school’s achievements.

*To entice people to send their kids to the school when they reach the appropriate age.

Therefore, to be successful on all these counts, the school must refresh the content in several areas, not just one.

This raises another issue, that of responsibility. Just about the worst thing a website can have is a news section that is weeks or even months out of date. Someone has to have responsibility for that, but it’s a tough job. In fact, in order to get round this problem on my own website I changed the title of the news section from “News” to “News and Views”. In my own mind, it lowers people’s expectations of seeing up-to-date news all the time: they may just get my views (usually a rant) instead!

As for the question of what you want people to do when they get to your site, that is often neglected by schools. I am looking at your school’s website. I can see that last year you achieved the Elementary School of the Decade Award. Now what? There should be a link so that I can put my kids down for a place at the school next year. Or a form I can fill out to say how I’d like to help the school keep up the good work, or where I can subscribe to a monthly newsletter, or – well, you get the picture.

So how do you get people to return to a school website? One way might be to include on the website a live web cam of chicks or other creatures, or of a flower bed or a pond. Many people love to keep tuning in to see how such things are progressing.

Why not have a weekly poll on some issue affecting the school or education in general? Or a weekly quiz? In fact, why not post questions based on that week’s lessons, like “Could you name 6 different birds you might see in your garden? That’s what our 6 year olds are learning about this week!”

Most school websites I look at are as dull as ditchwater, even if the content in itself is interesting. But with a bit of thought you can get people coming back again and again.