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Unless Web design is your weekend hobby, creating a great presence for your flight school on the Internet is probably your equivalent to doing payroll or dealing with insurance. Good Web design does have an upside though—it can bring in money. Knowing where to start can be difficult, but the process is made easier by starting with a few goals.

Websites can accomplish everything from bringing together like-minded people to selling merchandise. The first thing you have to do is decide exactly what it is you want your site to accomplish for your school. This is true whether you’re starting your school’s first site for if you have one that is long established. A redesign is a great opportunity to reevaluate. If you decide to hire a design firm to do your site, goals are the first thing they will ask. Most flight school websites will probably focus around three principals—information, offers, and brand. Information will come in the form of everything from contact information to inspirational messaging on flying. Running an offer is a great way to get people in the door. The intro flight is an obvious choice, but be sure to add in seasonal offers as well. Valentine’s Day sightseeing flights, Mother’s and Father’s Day first flight certificates, and other creative hooks usually sell quite well. Finally, your site is an opportunity to expose your prospective client to your brand. Are you the fun school or the career school? Do you focus on safety or experiences? Whatever your brand, make sure it comes through clearly on the design.

Once you’ve established goals it’s time to work on the design. Since really good design requires a number of different skill sets, there’s a good chance you’ll go outside for this service. Make sure to look over the firm or individual’s portfolio carefully to ensure they’ve done a job of the same size and scope as what you’re asking. And if you’re trying to save money, there’s no doubt a good designer in your area who is interested in taking lessons.

Whoever it is that ends up doing the design, make sure a few basics rules are followed through the process.

1. The design should be user-friendly. This one is obvious, but too often ignored. It can be hard to quantify exactly what user-friendly means. In general, keep the language and graphics simple but engaging. Make an obvious path where you want users to go. Keep it all to as few clicks as possible. Google and Apple are great examples of this concept.

2. Make it easy to find. Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a strategy in which your website content is targeted to make it come up higher in search engine results. When someone types in “learn to fly Anytown” you want your website to be at the top of the results (called organic searching). There are people who specialize in SEO. You could pay them or pay to advertise in search engines. Either way you need to be seen.

3. Improve it. Most Web hosting services have some sort of back-end metrics for users. Make sure you pore over these so you understand exactly how people are getting to your site, if they’re staying, how long they’re staying, and what they are viewing. You’ll learn how to better optimize your site to better reach your goals, whether it’s selling gift certificates or making the phone ring.

Although some basic advice can help start your journey, most people end up using a design firm. With so many excellent shops out there providing great design, it’s probably money well spent. With so many potential customers starting today on the Web, using good Web design is an opportunity you don’t want to miss.

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly is senior content producer for AOPA Media.

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