How Effective is Your Web Site?
Greenville County Schools, South Carolina's largest public school system with 79 schools and 65,000 students, is committed to regularly updating its online resources. And each year Superintendent Phinnize Fisher chooses top sites from among the district. This year, she named those of Mauldin and Heritage Elementary Schools, Hillcrest Middle School and Eastside High School as Best of the Web 2006. "The Web is a terrific way to tell our community of the good work that happens every day in our classrooms," Fisher says.
While K-12 schools across the nation have Web sites, and countless education-related applications have been developed for students, staff, parents and the community, building effective Web sites is more than running online pages up virtual flagpoles. Even the best content is worthless if no one knows it exists, so promoting sites and measuring success are as important as development. But schools fail in this regard. Fortunately, there are free online tools you can use to bring these dimensions to your district.
At the simplest level, many schools have inserted counters on their home pages to monitor traffic coming to the site. For example, Greenville's Hillcrest Middle School uses Site Meter to track numbers of daily visitors, total page views, time online, entry and exit pages, and user locations that recently included Canada, China and India. Visit the Hillcrest home page through the district site and click on the Site Meter button to see sample data.
Web site is worthless if no one sees it.
Another valuable statistic is how your site ranks with other districts and with other Web pages, according to the amount of traffic. For example, if you use Alexa to search on the term "school district," and click on "site info" buttons next to each site, you will see its traffic rank-lower means more active-and number of links. To illustrate, the Poway Unified School District in California ranks less than 3,000 among sites on the Web, which is extremely busy, and receives links from some 400 other sites. Check the stats on your district by using Alexa to search on your Web address.
But the most sophisticated data analysis tool by far is Google Analytics, which shows in great detail how visitors found your site and how they interact with it. The tool displays data in graphs, so you can see the changes over time, including daily page views, time spent online, and the numbers of new and returning visitors.
Search engines index and rank sites using robot programs called spiders and crawlers, and a variety of methods. These include noting the placement of keywords in titles and near the top of pages, and "metatag" content words supplied by developers. Search Engine Watch will help you organize and submit your sites to engines so they rank as high as possible, and you should try sample searches to see how your district's sites fare. For example, since a major factor in ranking is how many other sites link to yours, it is always helpful to cross-link your pages with other school and community sites. You can see the links to your site through LinkPopularity, and by searching on the word link: followed by the address of your site (e.g. link: www.greenville.k12.sc.us). Online measurement tools can help you judge the success of your site, and make this your best online year ever.
Odvard Egil Dyrli, firstname.lastname@example.org, is senior editor and emeritus professor of education at the University of Connecticut.