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Building a Support Website

Occasionally I get asked how I would recommend an improvement to a website for a homeschooling support group or other homeschool resource site. As I don’t have all the answers, I have started an email list for homeschool webmasters. All of you who have a site (or wish you did) about and for the homeschool community, and wish to “talk techy” about making and improving your websites, are welcome to join.

Here are some samples of sites that get across various essential elements for a truly useful homeschooling support site. It is by no means an exhaustive list of links and one could certainly go beyond these elements and have a great site.

I am not going to get into design here. I realize that many putting up these sites are not professional website designers. What I look for is just how each sample site conveys essential homeschooling information.

All the basic contact information should be on the top page. I can’t emphasize that enough.

Do remember the basics of good journalism and make sure that the questions: “who, what, when, where and how” are answered briefly on your welcome page.

It’s a treat when I find a link page with loads of local resources, such as good field trips, museums, and discounted learning materials where homeschoolers can find what they need and at good values.

I like when I see a contact list, but it concerns me when actual home phone numbers are used. If you do put up phone numbers, make sure you have each person’s permission to do this online. They may prefer to be contacted via email. A good way to list a contact is to put up that person’s first name and link it using “mailto:account@isp.com” This way all a visitor need do is click on it to bring up an email form, and in the meanwhile, spammers can’t collect the email addresses very easily.

Recently it was reported to me that people listed in a homeschool newsletter were being harrassed by phone by a nut with a dubious “educational” resource. It was suggested that those wishing a free 800 number for use in connection with their support work might visit the uConnect website and sign up as a precaution. There is a fee associated with how much time is used with this service.

Include some original content to draw people in on a regular basis. I sometimes just look at email I’ve answered and use that as a starter for a new feature. You could ask other people from your support group who like to write to provide some material. Make sure you label each essay with the author’s name and email address. You might be pleasantly surprised to be asked for reprint permission from a major publication. Some sites put up kids’ work. Under this circumstance, use only the child’s first name and no email contact. Remember to link back to your index from your content pages.

One essential piece of original content is an essay on how homeschoolers can comply with state homeschooling or attendance laws, and how, locally, they are applied. If specific forms are required in your locality, do include a sample form on a site! Show how questions can be answered minimally so as not to reveal more than necessary.

I like seeing a calendar of events that is kept up to date. A simple list with the event coming up next on top, going down chronologically, is fine. Just remember to remove the past events at least within a week of the event. Have a handy way for people in your support group to add events to the calendar. Some sites use Bravenet as a “engine” for update submission and other resources.

If you are having a conference this spring or summer, get a page for it up early. It takes quite awhile after submission to search engines for the page to start showing up. Do submit the page to all the aggregating homeschooling sites, such as mine and others who keep calendars. Search on homeschooling events or homeschooling calendar. You don’t have to have much information on the starter conference page even, just enough so that vendors can email you about booth information and so that homeschoolers might be able to make vacation plans to be in your city around conference time. Consider a shared online calendar.

To get your site “out there” you’ll want to submit to as many search engines as possible. Later, when you add a new page or significantly edit an older page, you’ll want the “spiders” to come back. When I have created a new page, I like to use a free online service called “Submit Express” which submits my new page to the top search engines all in one blow. Of course, what the search engine then does is re-spider my site (relook at all the pathways). Some of the search engines “rank” sites by how new the files are on the site; another good reason to put up new material on a regular basis: you’ll begin to show up higher in the search engines.
Google+ Profile

Web Links

Contact on Home Pages

Home-Educators of Alabama Round table
HEART is a well thought out website loaded with organized information and links for Alabama homeschoolers and others, too.

Local Resources

Things to do in Brevard County
From a day at the beach, to visiting colleges or state government buildings, this homeschool resource site has lots of great field trip ideas.


Contact Lists

HSC County Contacts
Contacts alphabetical by conuty. Email addresses are are spelled out and hyperlinked. Home phone numbers are provided.


Original Content

Complying With Laws

Eight Reasons Not to Register
Because there is no requirement to register in Illinois. Period. By Harvey Bluedorn.

Calendar

LA South Bay Homeschool Calendar
Nice wall-calendar format. Click on an event to go further down the page for information.

Web Calendars
Share your homeschooling plans online, coordinate with others, even store files.


Conference

Homeschool Conferences Calendar
An international resource calendar of homeschool conferences, conventions, workshops, etc.

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