Dec 19, 2016

Building a Great School Website: Navigation

How long does it take a visitor to find what they are looking for on your school website? 

If it's longer than 30 seconds, you may have a problem. That's about how long the average website visitor will spend looking for information before giving up. 

Every time this happens, it's a missed opportunity to connect with parents, students and members of your community. When critical information is buried, it also leads to high frustration and a lot more calls to the front office. 

Often, the problem is overreliance on the home page and under-reliance on the basics of good navigation. The home page can easily become a dumping ground for all of the "important" information that you want visitors to see. Since so many people in your school community want their information front and center on your website homepage, and decisions about what goes there and how the site navigation is organized are often made without reference to what visitors REALLY need, the really important stuff gets buried.

 How well does your school website meet the needs of your visitors? (from  xkcd.com )

How well does your school website meet the needs of your visitors? (from xkcd.com)

Over the past two decades eChalk has helped thousands of schools and districts build and maintain their websites. Not all of it has been perfect—but we have learned a few things from the experience. Lesson number one? Navigation is the key to a user-friendly site. 

Your website navigation tells the visitor at a glance what the site contains, and if it’s well oganized it gets them to the information they need immediately.  In another post on district website navigation, we walked through “MECE,” a methodology for organizing a clear, consistent, and complete navigation scheme.  If you want to start from scratch, please take a look at that post. I won’t repeat it here – I’ll just cut to the chase and share a navigation scheme that we have seen work well for many schools:

Every school is different, and your school will have information that doesn’t fit neatly in the scheme above, so you will want to customize it a bit.  But in our experience, this scheme should cover 90% of the important website content for a K-12 school.

You'll notice that we don't have main navigation links for "Parents" and "Staff" here. That's because adding these categories breaks the "Mutually Exclusive" rule (more on that here). Rather than giving these groups their own navigation, consider giving them space on the home page with quick links to the information they need most often.  

Of course, navigation isn't the only consideration when it comes to designing a great school website. In our next blogs, we'll provide more tips for making your school website more attractive, useful and usable for your visitors.