Ask any school communications director, IT manager or school superintendent what the best school website design company is, and they’re likely to tell you it’s the last one they chose.
Then again, if your school web team thinks your school’s website design is a little dusty or dated, or it’s just plain time for a change, you’re going to want get our take on the top 5 school website design companies.
When determining what makes a great school website design, you need to weigh issues like custom design vs templates. The custom design option has a wealth of benefits when time and budget are of less concern. Templates, usually the more affordable and faster option, espouse ease and simplicity: just add colors and logos and “poof” right? (If you’ve ever been part of a new school website design or re-design project, you know that even the smoothest implementations are never plug-n-play, right?)
[Editor's note: Before we give you the ones we like, in the spirit of full disclosure it’s only fair to let you know that I work for Campus Suite, a website design and hosting company. But we’re not going to include us in the mix, for that would certainly be a biased look. Nothing scientific here, but after more than 15 years of designing, building and hosting websites, assisting with content development, and sharing tips, trends and news, we’ve got some definite opinions on what’s working out there.]
This is a high-level look and certainly no review or editorializing. It’s designed to help you get started in your search for a website design firm. After you read this article and review our top five, you might want to download the School Website Planning Guide free ebook that can help you map out a school website with great design.
Our top five...
This a hip company that is pretty horizontal, in that it offers lots services and it offers them to a variety of industries. Besides website design and hosting, American Eagle offers strategy, research, e-commerce and probably some more services that may or may not have anything to do with school websites.
The fact that it serves more than the educational market shows to me AE has created a business model that makes delivery of website services easily replicable. They’ve got a good formula going that works across many markets – from banking and retail to manufacturing and schools, of course.
Campus Suite even collaborated with American Eagle on an award-winning school website for Park Ridge-Niles Ridge District 64 in Illinois. This was a true cooperative effort among the custom designer on the project, David Pohlmeier of Rhyolite Design, Campus Suite, which provided the CMS and hosting services, and American Eagle, which did some foundational research during the planning phase of the district’s new websites.
In addition to working with K-12 schools, AE also does college/university and other educational institutions. It offers a full range of school website features and services including a proprietary CMS, web analytics, and modules such as photo gallery, news and events.
Edlio prides itself on not providing design templates. It boasts that every homepage created is built from the ground up. Now this can be good and bad. Reason being, there’s a reason why templates – if they’re well designed in the first place – are used. They work.
While most school website design teams would like to view each and every website project as a one-of-a-kind masterpiece, truth of the matter is there are some time-tested design standards that good websites use. While these best practices are ever-evolving, there are only so many ways you can do things right.
Teacher or classroom websites are good examples. Just like a teacher’s classroom, where you want to give a teacher the flexibility to put his or her own mark on the look and feel, the same applies to teacher website templates. there are certain standards that apply.
Like many other providers, Edlio offers upgrades to its basic packages. Web forms, online stores and custom apps are part of their offering.
Finalsite is another school CMS provider that promotes it offers much more than some off-the-shelf CMS. Finalsite emphasizes custom web design. Most CMS providers offer a gallery of templates to choose from for coming up with design standards for any given website. Templates enable schools to take advantage of proven formats and layouts, which helps schools avoid common mistakes in designing their websites.
Finalsite also emphasizes its suitability for attracting and recruiting students, and engaging alumni. While these communications functions have a decidedly private school focus, these are important considerations too for an increasing number of public school districts (see open enrollment and magnet schools). While public schools may not be trying to attract more students necessarily, administrators are always seeking better ones that will drive achievement results and attract great staff.
In addition to its sub-branded school CMS called Composer, Finalsite has three distinct product offerings: an LMS; an admissions workflow bundle; and digital marketing design and support. Finalsite furthers their turnkey solution – offering everything you need – by partnering with an SIS provider.
Sharpschool is one of the market leaders in the school website design space. They recently were purchased by School Messenger, a school emergency notification provider, and are offering their product now through School Messenger’s marketing machine in a private labeled version of Sharpschool called Presence™. It’s a good fit really. A provider who can offer the time-critical capabilities of emergency notifications along with a solid website design and hosting, takes care of a big chunk of a school district’s communications needs.
Other website design and hosting companies are either partnering or developing their own notification capabilities as this technology becomes more accessible for developers. In the areas of both emergency notification and mobile apps for schools, some companies (like Campus Suite, for instance) are becoming more comprehensive in their web communications service offerings.
Two cool features that Sharpschool provides are: 1) a document delivery solution that all but eliminates the hard-copies and mailing costs associated with ‘old-school’ document production and distribution; and 2) something they call a social learning management system (LMS) that fosters day-to-day interaction between teacher and student, and serves as an amped-up classroom website.
Schoolwires is another school website design and hosting company that recently joined forces with another major player in the education technology space. Blackboard, a giant in Learning Management Systems (LMS), recently acquired Schoolwires, marking a merger that beefs up Blackboard’s already strong foothold among thousands of schools in the U.S. and across the globe.
Schoolwire’s Centricity™ website and community management system is equipped with tools designed to improve engagement with all school stakeholders. Schoolwires also provides mobile solutions, including a school mobile app and responsive design, which means your school and district websites can be easily accessed and conveniently viewed on most mobile devices without having separate, dedicated design and data for each.
Besides Centricity and mobile apps, Schoolwires offers branded products they’ll bundle with your school website, including a notification system, social and collaborative learning (LMS), file sharing, service request and an innovative online international exchange program.
Planning to select a school website design company
There you have it. Those are my five. I know it can get a little blurry when it comes to trying to decipher all design considerations. Often it comes down to budget and timing. One way to eliminate the blur and focus your selection team is to do your homework and dig deeper into exactly what you want in your next school website.
As you venture down the road of selecting your next school website design company, you might want to check out an article written by Steve Williams, Why School Website Design is Important. That article, plus our School Website Planning Guide should give you a good head start on preparing to select your next website design firm.
Marketing director and content strategist for Campus Suite, Jay’s a former school public relations specialist who’s helped businesses, schools and colleges use the power of web communications to improve their image, generate support, and optimize relationships. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him @jay4schools.