Technology

6 Tips to Redesign Your School's Website

Redesigning your school’s website can feel like a gigantic undertaking, but with a solid plan, it can be an opportunity to reconnect with your community.

Your school’s website is the first introduction most students and their families will have to your school. In this era of increased school choice, with competition from charter schools, online learning, private schools, and even greater ability to transfer within a district, it’s important to make sure your site accurately showcases your school community and programs for potential students.

Overhauling your school’s site can feel like a daunting undertaking, but it can be a painless process with no downtime. Here are a few areas to focus on to ensure a smooth transition to a beautiful, up-to-date, and informative website that serves your needs, connects your community, and shows your school in the best possible light.

When to Begin a Redesign

Your website likely needs an overhaul every three to five years, but it’s a good idea to dig in and evaluate it each year to make sure there haven’t been any crucial advances in website technology that have rendered it obsolete. Once you’re aware it’s time to redesign and the sooner you can begin, the better.

Your current website will be live while the new one is built, so there’s no downtime to worry about. If you’re contracting with a small or local company to build your site, they may need you to do some legwork for them. In that case, you’ll want to plan that work for when their point of contact from your organization is going to have enough availability. But if you’re working with a big company with a lot of resources and plenty of practice guiding schools through the process, there’s not much reason one time of year is better than another.

Assessing Your Needs

One of the first things schools should do before a redesign is take a look at what other schools with similar size and demographics are doing. What kinds of tools are on the best websites of similar institutions in other areas?

It’s also a good idea to start talking to the internal stakeholders. Communications, public relations, and admissions usually know for quite some time that their school needs a new website before those gears start turning, and they’re going to have some pretty good ideas about what they want on it. Charter and private schools that market to prospective students or organize donor activities will need to bring marketing and alumni relations in at this point as well. They’ll also likely be eager for a new website and to provide feedback on how it can help them accomplish their mission.

This is the point where a lot of schools start asking themselves if they can just handle a redesign in house with a tool like WordPress. While platforms like WordPress are free, they are often time consuming and require many third parties.

Who Is on the Team?

The same stakeholders you’re turning to for early input on what they’d like to see on a new site should be involved in the process going forward.

The communications team needs to know how to update content and whether the new site has tools to present the kinds of information they want to share. For example, once you’ve posted content to the website, how easy is it to take that news and repackage it in a newsletter?

The IT team are going to be the technical facilitators, so they need to be on the team, not necessarily to decide what the site will look like, but because they need to know the ins and outs involved.

If you have marketing and fundraising teams, they’ll need to be involved too. Marketing will make sure the site is ready to assist prospective students through contacting the admissions team, and fundraising is going to have lots to say about tools for accepting donations and signing up for events and otherwise communicating with the alumni network.

Lastly, someone is going to have to sign off on everything.

Altogether, it’s a big group, and that can lead to the common stumbling block of having too many cooks in the kitchen. Having every single person sign off on their piece can lead to delays. One way to overcome that is to have someone from each stakeholder group take responsibility for their constituency’s final approval.

Meeting Community Needs

More broadly, it’s a good idea to get input from current families before diving in. They’re the ones using your site without any inside knowledge, so it makes sense to survey them and see if they have any common irritations. Do they find the site easy to navigate? Is the information they need easy to find? At Edlio, what we hear most often is that the community wants simplicity.

Some schools come to us with 300 pages of content. A site redesign is the time to pare that down and make everything simpler. To that end, a redesign is also an opportunity to review your navigation. How many clicks does it take a prospective student to find an enrollment rep? What about an alumnus looking for the next donor event? Digging into those kinds of things and taking a few notes is invaluable in planning a redesign.

Vetting Your Vendors

We find that many schools will send three or four staff members to vet a single vendor each when they’re ready to begin talking with providers. They should know the budget and have a general idea what your school is looking for in the new site. If you have a specific target date by which work must be completed, that will be key too. Staff members who are doing the vetting should get the completion date in writing in the proposal they bring back to the wider team.

Overcoming Common Challenges

One of the most common stumbling blocks I see with schools redesigning their sites is too many team members getting too particular about small details. Attention to detail is great, but when you have too many people focused on minutiae that they’re only looking at from their own perspective, it can bog things down.

Another common issue is that sometimes people will get hung up on content. They feel like it needs to be 100% complete and ready to go the moment the new site goes live. You can build pages, add dropdown menus, add pictures, or even add whole new sections to modern websites quite easily, so there’s no need to have all of your content ready the moment a new site is launched.

Any delay is bad news, especially if you have an outdated site, because it can aggravate users to the point that they just give up. At some of the schools I work with, 65% of their first-time visitors are viewing the site on mobile devices. If the site isn’t mobile responsive, it’s as outdated as dial-up internet and it won’t function properly for the majority of visitors. Presenting some of your content beautifully gives a better impression than presenting all of your content poorly.

About the Author

Jason Kerbel is the private school sales team lead at Edlio. He can be reached at [email protected]