Most of us can only dream of getting around seventy thousand unique visitors a week, but one website run by one woman is doing just that.
Mandy Barrow is an inspirational figure who has turned the website for one school, Woodlands Junior in Kent into an international success.
Not only is Woodlands web the most visited school website in the country (by far) but it regularly hits the number three spot for all educational websites in the UK.
On pancake day last year nearly 250 thousand people dropped by the site.
Yet Mandy, a former Year 4 teacher at the school, does it all in her spare time and makes no money for herself. There are plans in the pipeline though, to introduce discreet sponsorship to make the site pay for itself.
“Do it because you have a passion, not for money,” that’s her philosophy. Mandy has made her site the go-to resource in her niche and that alone makes our web chat something you can’t afford to miss. Here it is:
LT: Remind us what your vision was when you first started and how much you knew about setting up a web site from scratch?
MB: I knew very little about computers when I set up the website 10 years ago. In fact, I bought my first computer in February 1999 and launched the website in October the same year. I taught myself from scratch and wish then, I knew what I know now.
I wanted Woodlands to have its own special place on the internet where the students could find help with their homework and also play games. The homework pages were originally subject pages with just links to other websites. I then realised that I was sending students to websites with loads of text and adverts and so started writing my own homework help pages.
Project Britain (an international facing sister site) started life when I took a year out of teaching at Woodlands to teach in Thailand. I realised there was no website that explained about life and culture in our country, hence Project Britain was born.
LT: Was it ever part of the plan to become a resource that would be used beyond your own school?
MB: No, I wrote the website initially for the Woodlands students and for me! All the content I have created on the website apart from the school information pages, reflect my interests. I have a thirst for learning.
The way the website is set out is the way I prefer to learn. It seems that my way is also the preferred way for many children and adults.
LT: I hear you spend at least an hour a day working unpaid on the site. What motivates you ?
MB: I work a tremendous amount on the website. At least an hour every day just responding to emails and moderating the guest book and blogs. This does not include the time required for updating pages and creating new ones.
For example, my latest Facts of the Day Calendar on the website is taking me one month to create one month. Lucky I am ahead of the game as I have nearly finished April.
It is the comments from visitors that motivate me. Without the feedback I would not continue. The sheer number of visitors also helps. What I publish today is seen by tens of thousands of people tomorrow.
LT: You have hit upon the internet holy grail, to become the go-to web site for information aimed at school children. Do you have any plans to turn this internet gold into real money for the school. How would you do it ?
MB: Surely that would be top-secret?
At the moment, there are adverts but only on the Project Britain pages. This generates a monthly income for the school. The school also gets world-wide recognition for being an outstanding school because of the website.
My vision is to be totally self funding so that my expenses for running the website can be paid for. I am currently an ICT Consultant working for Kent LA. If it was my full-time job, just think what could be achieved.
I believe the website can be self funding with the correct sponsorship and marketing. I don’t want to plaster my content with adverts. Instead I want to advertise software/hardware through students work on the website e.g. look at our animation created using ….
The Olympics is just around the corner. It would be lovely to have students supporting students in learning about Britain. That was and is my vision for the Project Britain website, my own domain which at the moment runs alongside the Woodlands website.
I want the students to manage the website and for it to be part of their lessons e.g. where visitors come from, total number of visitors, answering emails, writing articles for website etc.
There is no better motivation than having your work read by thousands of real people every minute of the day. Exercise books are yesterday and are only often read by a teacher and parents. Websites, blogs and wikis don’t get thrown in the bin or lost and are read by millions of people.
LT: My children were recently pointed towards your site for help with homework and as a suggested learning resource when the school was closed by snow. With such a wide user base does it still function on the basic level as a school website ?
MB: Yes, it provides information for parents, showcases students work and supports the learning and teaching that goes on in school.
LT: From your experience, do you have any advice for budding entrepreneurs hoping for web success in other fields ?
- Don’t plaster your pages with adverts.
- Do it because you have a passion for it not for money.
Follow her on Twitter:
British Culture http://twitter.com/ProjectBritain
Teaching & ICT http://twitter.com/mbarrow
School News http://twitter.com/woodlandsjunior
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