What is your message? If you don't have a message, then how can your readers determine whether your school is a good fit for them and their requirements? I can hear you saying "Parents have to visit our school in order to truly understand what it is we do." That's true, but in this age of instant answers, parents make snap decisions based on their perceptions and first impressions.
So, right there on your first page or Splash Page as it is called, you need to make sure your message appears. Let me give you an example: One of the things a reader will see first is the Title Bar at the top left of his bowser. That's one place where what you do behind the curtain with meta tags is actually visible to your reader. Take a look at Andover's web site to see how this works. As soon as the page comes up the title in the top left corner identifies Andover as an independent boarding school. If that's not the kind of school you are looking for, you will know at a glance.
The next thing which puts your message front and center is a well-written menu, strategically placed so readers can't miss it. The first item on that menu ideally should be an About entry. That in turn ties in with your message. Literally with three things your reader's eye is drawn to that all-important understanding of what your school is all about. The old saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" applies here as well. So make sure your pictures on the splash page also tie in with that all-important message of what your school is.
The idea here from a SEO point of view is not to confuse the search engines. If your message is echoed and reinforced within the key elements of your splash page, that is a good thing.
One of the advantages a private school web site has over other sites is that its message is so consistent. Private schools fill a very specific niche in the general educational spectrum. As you review your site, however, look for inconsistencies. For example, anything which is off message or off topic will will contribute to an impression of inconsistency.
If you simply must offer information which is off message or off topic, place that in a lower level page. List it in a directory somewhere so that if somebody needs that information, they can find it.
Organization and consistency complement each other. Being the old English teacher, I tend to look at web sites as I do when I read a How To book. I don't have time to read everything on my first pass. I merely want to find information. And find it fast. So do your parents and others who are looking for schools. Can they find an answer to a question like "Do they offer badminton?" quickly?
So, tell your web site designer what you want people to find easily. Then create the content needed to accomplish that mission. After the content is created, then make it easy to find with a logical, easy to follow index structure.
Great web sites are well built. Like a well-designed office tower, your web site needs to make sense. Everything needs to be in its proper place. Things which don't need to be seen as you walk through the lobby can be hidden behind doors or housed in sub-basements where they can function effectively. Same thing with your web site.
"Do they offer badminton?" is an important question for your reader who is making a decision about whether your school offers that raquet sport which means so much to him. However, on a scale of 1 to 10 rating how important badminton is to other readers and visitors to your site, it probably ranks a 1, doesn't it? So put badminton in the basement in its own room. Then give clear directions to it so your readers can find it.
Here's a very rudimentary example of a path to find badminton from your splash page. Splash Page>Athletics>Winter Sports>Raquet Sport>Badminton
It is very important for you to list all the content you want to have on your web site. Include content which has not yet been created. Then organize that content into categories. Then create sub-categories as needed.
Search engines will not become confused once they determine that your site is well-organized and structured and content-driven.
What are the qualities of good content? Content which has value. Content which answers visitors' questions. After all they came looking for something. Make sure your content provides the answers they need and want. If not, they will look elsewhere. Anticipate their questions and needs as much as you can.
Content takes many forms. It shouldn't be walls of text. But it should be factual. If it is opinion, make that obvious. Tables, graphs, photo galleries and videos are some of the forms of content which give your visitors information they want and need quickly and efficiently.
Remember one of the basics of SEO: the more visitors you have, the more popular your site will be in the ranks.
As I touch on the various aspects of your site which search engines take into consideration, I cannot emphasize value enough. You know your school. Its history. Its accomplishments. If you don't create content which speaks to all of those unique attributes, who will? Value impacts perception. Sometimes value is easy to recognize. Other times you just know that something has value. You feel it.
That's why quality is important. It's not something which search engines care about specifically, yet it drives stickiness, which simply is the number of repeat visits your site gets. Make sure that your videos, photos, written content, graphs and so on are beautifully done and of the highest quality. Quality creates value. Value creates traffic.
Evergreen content is content which is timeless. In the private school world content about the school's history is an example of evergreen content. A list of where your graduates matriculated over the past decade is another example. Evergreen content creates value which nobody else has. If nobody else has your unique content, readers will come to you to find that unique content.
You keep your grounds looking beautiful. Your lobby makes a welcoming first impression. Ditto your web site. Keep it looking fresh. Make it a place repeat visitors will come back to expecting to see something new and interesting each time they visit. Do not let your content get stale. That will turn off first time visitors and discourage repeat visitors.
For a private school the external links you add to your site are usually going to be minimal. For example, you probably will link to the state, regional and national private school associations to which your school belongs. Driving traffic back and forth improves your visitor experience. Search engines like that.
Robert Knox Kennedy is a consultant who has been working with SEO since 1997 which is before SEO became a popular term.