A Peek into the Private School Digital Insights Report
What do 95% of private school websites have in common?

They use title tags as a common SEO practice.


Did you know that only 22% of private schools have responsive websites?
Or that only 8% of private schools place links to Instagram on their homepages?


These statistics come from a study recently released by WhippleHill and Blackbaud. The Private School Digital Insights Report outlines several web trends as a result of surveying the sites of nearly 3,000 private schools.


The report looks at five key areas of websites: Homepages, Responsive Design, Navigation, Social Media, and Search Engine Optimization. These five essential components of web design were part of the process for the recent redesign of Cheshire Academy’s site. Let’s look at a few of them and how they drove our redesign strategy …

Homepage Design

Contact information is king according to private schools. The top two most common elements on private school homepages? Address and phone numbers. Makes sense, you need to be able to locate and contact a school easily. Here at Cheshire Academy, we placed contact information in the footer of our site, just above the site map. We also included social media links, and SEO optimized content there.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 10.27.01 AM

When designing your homepage, it’s important to make sure you meet the needs of your audience. What works for one school may not work for all schools and sometimes going against the trends can backfire, so in addition to looking at what other schools are doing, it’s important to ask your constituents. Surveys and focus groups are great ways to test out your ideas. We included our most popular and most active social media links in this footer also. This way, they are on every page of our site. You’ll see, for example, that YouTube is not included in the screenshot above. Since our channel has been in need of much more regular attention, we opted not to promote it while we work on increasing frequency and consistency of posting. We anticipate adding YouTube to the mix soon.


Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 10.28.03 AM

For example, at Cheshire Academy, we considered not including calendar events on the homepage, something 70% of private schools include according to the study. But, when we tested a design without the calendar, the feedback was clear. Bring it back! Both current and prospective families told us that they like to know what’s going on and be able to easily access the full calendar.


Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 10.32.13 AMResponsive Web Design (RWD)

I was surprised to see that only 22% of private schools surveyed have responsive sites. With the increased usage of tablets and phones, having a site that is optimized for responsive viewing is essential for customer satisfaction. Moving to a responsive platform was a driving force for Cheshire Academy’s redesign, particularly with the ever-increasing usage of mobile devices by our users, according to our analytics data. Check out the Report for details on RWD broken down by state, school type, and size.



When it comes to academic websites, it seems there are several standards of practice typically followed by private schools. From horizontal navigation menus to login buttons in the upper right corner, schools are sticking with the traditional layouts for websites. User behavior dictates some of these trends, such as the tendency to look for important information in the top right corner of our screens (including shopping carts, login information, and even the date and time).


In my experience, getting creative with navigation isn’t always a successful venture. When we looked at the navigation options for our redesign here at Cheshire Academy, we tested two options: the traditional school navigation menu, and our marketing-inspired call to action navigation menu.


We found that with the exception of Support for Alumni & Development, users struggled with figuring out where to find information with the Call to Action menu. It seemed that since most schools used similar menu structures, users quickly learned where to go to find what they need. We also found that reducing the number of L1 options hindered the user’s ability to locate certain items, like athletics and arts, which could live under multiple menus. This left us with a more detailed and traditional L1 navigation than we originally anticipated.



Find out which top navigational items schools are using and the calls to action that are most common, plus learn more about common domains, HTML5 adoption, social media usage, and SEO in the full Private School Digital Insight Report. I look forward to seeing how other schools use this information to drive their website strategies.


Stacy Jagodowski

Director of Communications at Cheshire Academy

Stacy has worked in education for more than 10 years, including positions in communications and admission at both boarding and day schools in New England, Virginia and California. She currently serves as Director of Communications at Cheshire Academy in Connecticut. Outside of work, she is an aspiring photographer.