School Market Research: The Importance of Copy on a School's Homepage

The main method by which most modern prospective parent will use to establish an initial contact with a school is through their website. The main homepage of a website is a key marketing tool, as it is a way for parents to quickly ascertain a number of pieces of information about the school. While such an interaction is never sufficient to sway parents towards a school, it is definitely important. Homepage copy should be concise and establish differentiation, explaining why a school is there,  its mission and value statements, and also provide sufficient text (copy) for a complete picture of the school. In light of this fact, I have undertaken a small survey of homepages in an Oregon private school district. The results are illustrated at the end of the article. 

Research: Keyword Analysis

Looking at the homepages of twenty-nine (29) preK-8 schools in the Portland Archdiocese school district, an analysis can be made using a standard online web tool (http://tools.seobook.com/) . The assumption is that the message of the school is passed on through multiple media in the communication mix and that the homepage is one of them. A question that the schools should ask is whether their communication mix stays on message?

Results

 Looking at the four (4) most commonly used words in the homepages of the district websites, and removing the names of the schools, and the words "school","portland", and other website terms like one notices that the schools can be divided into four categories:

1. homepages that don't stand out:  They may include the fact that they are a Catholic school, and similar generic information. They include the following schools: 

St. Agatha
Holy Trinity
O'Hara
Queen of Peace
Sacred Heart
Sacred Heart Medford
St. Luke

2. homepages with simple information: They provide information for their current school population first:

St. Francis of Assisi
All Saints
Christ the King
The Madeleine

3. homepages which stress community, with words like "parish", "ministry", "students", and "community":

St. John Fisher
Holy Redeemer
St. Therese
St. Paul
St. Matthew
St. Anthony
St. John the Baptist

4. homepages with a unique position, see the differential word in parenthesis: 

Cathedral (Technology)- connotes a strong sense of technological use. 
St. Ignatius (Ignatian)- focuses on Ignatian spirituality, unique
Archbishop Howard (fundraising)- connotes financial stability
St. Clare (homework)- connotes tradition
Visitation (Jesus, Christ)- connotes faith-based and traditional
St. Mary (Faith)- connotes faith-based. 

Limitations

There are obvious limitations to this study since the top four words on a school's homepage might not mean a lot. The message might be passed on non-HTML text files. Also, the study is only based on preK-8 schools, the district has a number of K-6 and K-5 schools. Also, Holy Family School, St. Paul Parochial School, St. Cecilia and St. Pius X School have not been included due to an execution error from the online software.

Implications for school marketing

Since the Internet is usually the first way people look to make up their minds early on in the , it should be noted that using proper copy is, in fact, essential. While most search engines no longer use the website's copy as a primary means of bringing websites to at the top of the search results, copy is still a secondary way to get close to the top results. Making sure that your homepage reflects your message is key, and this short study of 29 websites shows that only 20.6% of sites have a unique position expressed through the text in their homepage. 

Schools should leverage the power of search engines, and the first impressions that their homepages can make on prospective parents. 

note: if you would like the raw data of this survey please contact Dr. Prevot at drprevot.weebly.com