In today’s entry, the issue of creating a GOOD website for a language school will be discussed. Many of the presented pieces of advice are very versatile, but they contain many elements specific only for language schools. This post has been inspired by observation of hundreds, if not thousands, of language schools’ web pages made when performing various activities related to the promotion and development of the Platform.
Unfortunately, what we have seen is not optimistic. From our discussions it is clear that schools are aware that presently a website is often the first contact with the school (even if the students learn about it from “grapevine”, they always check the website first whenever possible), but they completely ignore this fact when the website is designed.
There are many websites that shouldn’t even see the light of the day. There is also a large group of below-average webpages. At first glance, it appears that they were done either in a hurry, or by an incompetent person. In the best case, the webpage is technically correct, but it fails to provide the desired information. Often just a small amount of work and money would lend professional shape to the website, helping it provide the necessary pieces of information and become a kind of a proud showcase of the school. The current poor situation is a perfect opportunity for schools looking for ways to stand out and attract new students. At the end of the article we list the schools whose webpages are model ones. To be objective, we have omitted webpages of our customers, but we still have to admit that many of them are positively distinguished against the background of the entire market. Our mini-ranking will be updated on regular basis in the future, so we encourage you to return to this post from time to time.
The principles, as regards the choice of the domain for our school, are very simple. It has to be as short as possible, and always in the .pl domain (not: net.pl, org.pl; free domains such as prv.pl are also a bad idea; .com, .net and .org are out of discussion – those would be unprofessional in case of a business that operates in Poland only). In the case of schools, we can additionally allow an edu.pl domain name.
2. Logo and layout
The logo is a fundamental issue in creating a website. In this case, no expense or effort can be spared. This is not something to be done on our own or commissioned to our neighbour’s son, as this is the best way to get something we will hate to look at in a month. Unfortunately, this is usually the weakest link, giving rise to cause-and-effect sequence: weak logo -> poor website. A good logo will allow designing a web service which is consistent in terms of colour, but also gives it an appropriate character.
A very good example of the importance of a logo is the case of one of the Steve Jobs’ companies – NeXT.
In 1986, Jobs recruited the famous graphic designer Paul Rand to create a brand identity costing $100,000. Rand created a 100-page brochure detailing the brand, including the precise angle used for the logo (28°) and a new company name, NeXT.
This logo had been created before the company began its operations.
Another example is Pepsi. The cost of the creation of the current logo was $ 1,000,000. These amounts actually show the value of the image, whose foundation is comprised by the logo.
When you already have a logo, you can proceed to developing the layout. At the beginning it is good to know what the current trends in the world are. We start our inspiration search from a very fair statement prepared by the Time: http://techland.time.com/2013/05/06/50-best-websites-2013/slide/all/. Originality is most desirable, but restraint should be exercised, so that the user can navigate through the website easily. The content itself should be original, but in a proper form – one really needs to be careful about the layout.
3. Compliance with standards
It is worth checking whether the website meets the standards generally accepted in the internet. Keeping up with the standards does not guarantee the website’s correct display in all browsers, but it certainly increases the probability thereof. In order to check the webpage’s compatibility, one simply needs to enter: http://validator.w3.org/and enter the webpage’s address. The errors and warnings displayed may be passed to our webmaster to discuss their significance and impact.
4. Webpage structure
It is important to provide the website with proper structure. This will allow the search engines to find our website easily and provide a higher position in the search results. The fundamental issue in this case is the use of the popular content management system (CMS), such as WordPress or Drupal. These systems create search engine friendly links by default.
The most important items (such as „About Us”, „Offer”, „Price list”, „Contacts”) should be available immediately after clicking, so it is best to avoid drop-down menus, which can behave unpredictably in different browsers. A menu built in a simple way is also better handled by search engines.
5. Offer and the Price List
While creating a website, we should constantly bear in mind that a potential customer who visits our page wants to obtain specific information – familiarize with our offer and pricing. Those tabs should be visible immediately upon entering the site. Hiding this type of information can effectively deter potential customers. If they are unable to find what interests them easily, they will close the page and will be lost as customers. Some schools do not include detailed pricing due to fear of competition. First of all, it’s what we always emphasize – the company should focus on its own development, rather than on competing with prices (item 6 on our list – 6 ways to gain advantage in the tough market of language schools), but it is also worth remembering that for our competitors it is not a great challenge to obtain our price list – it often suffices to make one phone call.
6. Application Form
A webpage – in addition to its information function – shall perform a sales function of course. For this reason a form allowing for signing up for the classes should be a mandatory part of the webpage. This can be a simple form where the customers may leave their name, telephone, e-mail address and choice of courses/classes. The best results, however, are brought by a form that has the ability to perform a multi-level placement test. One of the modules of the Platform – called „Registration”- implements these functions. Our experience shows that after switching the registration form on, approximately 10% of the students of the school come from the website.
7. Contact and access map
On its website, the school should have an easily accessible Contact tab, providing the potential customer with all the address information (school name, street address, zip code, city, phone, e-mail addresses and an access map). Let us stop for a while at the last two elements, that is, the e-mail address and access map. E-mail should always be contained in the domain of the school (for example: firstname.lastname@example.org). Unfortunately, free email addresses such as gmail.com are still commonly found. This looks very unprofessional and it also should be noted that generally purchased domains provide the opportunity to establish mailboxes. As for the map – it is best to use Google Maps with appropriately set parameters so that the user can immediately determine the route from his place of residence and see and external view of the school using Google Street View.
8. Responsive Design
Our webpage simply must properly display on mobile devices, such as Smartphones, tablets and netbooks. Until recently, to achieve this goal, separate versions of websites for desktop computers and mobile devices had to be prepared. This approach generated a lot of costs, and the effect was often unsatisfactory, because two webpages had to be managed instead of one, which entailed extra work. The case became even more difficult at the moment of the emergence of a whole range of devices enabling web browsing. They have different screen sizes and different resolutions. The Responsive Design term comes from the ability to maintain control in face of such diversity of devices. Its premise is very simple. A website designed according to the Responsive Design guidelines will look great on any device ranging from low-cost smartphones through tablets, netbooks, to very large monitors. In short: we have one version of the webpage with the same content for all possible devices. We ourselves do not have to know the technical nuances of this approach, but we need to require our webmaster to prepare the website using Responsive Design. If it the significance of this issue is still unclear for you, it is worthwhile checking the statistics of your website demonstrating how many visitors reach it using mobile devices.
9. Social media
It is important to show that the school is doing well, that a lot of interesting things happens there, but we need to bear in mind that the website is not a place for trivia, anecdotes or all kinds of funny pictures. For a more informal exchange of content it is better to prepare school profiles on social networks, such as Facebook. FB is the place where, due to the more relaxed atmosphere, you are allowed to share less serious content with customers, who have an opportunity to get to know your sense of humour. Of course a frame or a link to the social media profile should be placed in a prominent place on the website, so that the customers do not overlook this way of contacting us. A great complement to pictures (discussed further in the next part of the entry) on our website may be comprised by videos placed on Youtube, showing authentic life of our school, important events or snippets of classes.
10. Automatic music and flash technology
Perhaps the most onerous and at the same time a popular element of language schools’ webpages is automatically triggered music. Sometimes it cannot be even turned off! Such nightmare should be avoided at any cost. Surely many of you happened to watch advertising with automatic music or voice-over on popular portals. Please recall the words you used and feelings you experiences when encountering such a solution. Are those the effects you would expected of your website?
Automatic music is often placed using Flash technology. There are many sites which go even further – they are entirely implemented in Flash. Such a website gives an impression of being more interactive, but such solution makes the site very poorly positioned in the search engines. Nowadays, an improved interactivity can be achieved in much simpler ways and the webmaster should know them. If we are offered a Flash website, we should run away as far as possible. Additionally, the current Flash technology is being abandoned in favour of HTML5 (used – among others – by YouTube).
11. Image Gallery
On most language schools’ pages, images downloaded from such portals as http://www.istockphoto.com/ play a key role. If you start browsing the webpages of language schools, you will notice that most of them have used similar or even the same pictures. Emma has already become famous; she is even called the “Face of Polish Advertising”. She appears in so many promotional and advertising materials, that she has become an object of jokes and mockery. It is often better to stay away from high quality pictures from the web and replace them with real shots of the school, showing its daily life. It is very important to avoid photos of empty rooms, corridors and waiting rooms: you do not let office space; you teach people! Customers certainly prefer seeing the smiling face of a child learning than an empty classroom. A child’s laughter can bring a smile to 63 million faces: http://youtu.be/RP4abiHdQpc. Can empty spaces do the same?