Content lessons from your primary school

For some reason I ended up browsing my primary school’s website the other day. I still can’t work out how I got there or what I wanted to achieve, but I came away with a lovely warm feeling of reassurance and I think there’s something we can all learn from it.

Primary school was awful, as I remember. I didn’t have many friends, and some of the ones I did weren’t really all that nice. But my Primary School itself was lovely, and I found myself drawn in by the site as if it were offering me a familiar pair of arms to cuddle.

I spent at least an hour browsing through pictures of events, looking closely at the rooms and trying to work out what had changed. Yes, the hall has new carpet on the stairs but no, the library shelves are still the ones which were installed when I was there.

Ignoring the 90s-style-web design through gritted teeth, though, the content itself and the way the school communicates online is pretty impressive.

I say that because having spent an hour or so browsing a site intended for people with a genuine interest in the content or needing to achieve something with no genuine interest or thing to achieve, I hadn’t been bored for a minute.

I’d browsed plenty of the pictures, yes, but I’d also found myself interested in the school’s healthy eating policy, it’s staff list (there’s no one I remember left) and reading about the last few big events they’d held in greater detail than I even know about some of the events I’ve attended recently.

The website had been talking to me, and it felt lovely.

All too often when putting together, or editing, the content for a website it’s easy to become too focused on keeping the information accurate, succinct and keeping internal stakeholders happy.

In working on a Children’s Services website built for parents recently I’ve had no end of conversations about whether the word is disabled or something else, whether it’s “maximise” or “make the best of” and the amount of time that’s gone into walking the delicate line between professional excellence and what is ultimately just good customer service has baffled me.

The quality of web content is as much about accuracy as it about how it makes the person reading the page feel but that’s difficult to remember. It’s not helped when the people with the knowledge are often not the ones producing the content and the people producing the content are trying to please a ‘client’ who isn’t one of the audience.

It’s very easy, because it’s the option of least resistance, to keep the people inside the organisation happy and not argue changes on behalf of the audience.

Becoming too tied up with objectives, getting the key messages in and keeping the influencers – the people who know the subject – happy it becomes easy to forget that the content has to make the audience feel a certain way, as well as keep them informed.

that it becomes easy to forget that the content that makes the audience feel best doesn’t really even have to say much.

Too tied up with the user journey and stakeholder engagement to remember that ultimately, the website is replacing a conversation with a person not a text book.

There’s something we can all learn from our primary school’s website. Go browse yours, and see what you might learn.

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