Much like a good New Year’s resolution, the start of any big project offers the seductive opportunity for a clean start. However, add the thrill of emerging website technology and a 24/7 need for immediate access to current information and things become complicated.
Thus, it’s important to set the tone early in the process by determining the scope of what you have time and human bandwidth to manage (See "The essential school website design planning checklist"). By tempering expectations with the reality of daily management post-launch, the end result is a fabulous new website that will benefit your entire organization.
“But the (superintendent/board/parents/schools) want …”
Melissa (yes, I’m using my own experience as a cautionary tale) is project manager of her sizable district’s website. She has grand visions of revolutionizing an old website CMS and design, giving everyone access and bringing her district into the 21st century. She plans for 26 individual school websites in addition to the district’s main site. Those schools will name a webmaster, who will then train their schools’ teachers to manage their own pages. It will be fantastic!
1. Biting off more website than you can chew.
It quickly became apparent very few of the schools would have staff available to manage their individual sites. Everyone has their own priorities and responsibilities; for education professionals who must prepare future generations for success, website management tends to fall to the bottom of the list.
As a result, all of those websites became Melissa’s responsibility. Managing updates for a website system the size of the Death Star on top of her other communication responsibilities predictably led to outdated sites. Outdated sites don’t make Google happy. And when Google isn’t happy, no one is (particularly search rankings and analytics).
Keep these points in mind when determining the scope of your new site:
- Who will manage this site/these sites, post-launch?
- What will be the time commitment from others? From myself?
- Do I have a plan that clearly details expectations of other website administrators (ie. updating frequencies, removing old information, growing their sites)?
- Is the new site CMS designed to accommodate a broad range of user skills and needs? (How can we expand, if needed? Is the site editor WYSIWYG friendly or does it accommodate inline editing?)
2. Just say no and make your directors happy.
My primary mistake was trying to meet everyone’s needs, which resulted in a mixed bag of success and failure. That’s why it’s critical to consider the items listed above and plan for the realities of site management.
At Campus Suite, as part of our overall process, we typically recommend districts start with a single homepage for each school, which may contain a number of modules for news, events, blogs, and more. This creates a unique presence for the school without the sheer scale of a full website.
The reality is that we’re moving in a very fast-paced, technology driven environment. Anecdotal evidence available online points to most website refreshes occurring every three to five years; as such, the system in place today might not be the same in a relatively short period of time. So it’s essential to create a workflow that is vital and makes everyone’s life easier.
Success, in this case, can be achieved through limitations. Don’t be afraid to have honest, thoughtful conversations with your web partners about the time and effort involved to maintain different elements of a quality website. I often compare website management to tending a living, breathing organism, one that requires constant care and upkeep in order to thrive. And when that "organism" is neglected, everyone suffers. Outdated information leaves parents, staff, and other website visitors confused and annoyed.
3. When it comes to your website, think small.
A website is never “done,” even after the launch. The best systems will allow you room to grow, with available widgets to meet the needs you may not yet know you have.
In addition, by creating a sustainable framework for your new website, you’re setting everyone up for success. You’re giving your district the necessary time and space to find out what’s working - and what’s not. Not surprisingly, when the initial glow of a new website has worn off and staff return to the day-to-day business of everything else, most clients find their initial setup is completely satisfactory, or only requires small adjustments/additions.
In order to create a successful, relevant website, it's best to start the process with reasonable expectations. Be sure all team members are aware of the time and effort involved in maintaining websites. Don't be afraid to start small, with the understanding your website will grow - and thrive - along with your district's needs.
Melissa is a copywriter, editor, reader, thinker, and motivator who works for Stephens Direct, a marketing agency in Dayton, Ohio. She worked for 12 years in school public relations and digital communications and is a former product manager and project manager with Campus Suite. Reach her via LinkedIn or at firstname.lastname@example.org.