You’re not a juggler, but you play one in your professional life, right? Chances are, managing a school website project might be one of those balls you initially, at least, didn't plan on juggling. It may not have been in your original job description – being juggled now – but it might be before you know it.
It can be a daunting task to launch a new school website, so as someone who manages the process from the website provider side, allow me to share some 'musts' for successfully managing a school website project.
Below are five things to keep in mind as you navigate the process.
1. Set your course and stick to it
A successful web project begins with a complete review of your site architecture. Will your new site mirror your old one, or are major changes needed? You will most likely want to update some of your features, particularly since technology is fast changing and audiences now expect immediate, 24/7 access.
When setting your course, refer to this handy school website design checklist article written by Steve Williams.
Another important element in securing a good start is knowing your district’s – and user – expectations, particularly with design and function. Is there a module you just can’t live without and need to replicate? Will your board want to see information links at the top of the page? Surveying your key audiences is not a cliché – it’s critical.
Of course there are the inevitable delays – people go on vacation or get sick, information gets misplaced or not finished, etc. Identifying these roadblocks as much as possible in advance allows you to build in cushions of time, to meet your original deadline.
2. Get buy-in
Everyone has an opinion – but who’s matters? Your district superintendent typically wants the final say-so, or perhaps your board wants to weigh in. Whomever gives the final approval, be sure to keep them regularly updated on design and content decisions. Because it’s a bad thing to first learn your administrator hates the color scheme only after you’ve approached them for the final go-ahead on your site launch. Last-minute major changes means blowing your deadline.
And that leads me to No. 3…
3. Create deadlines
Make department heads and schools aware of important dates, and stand firm: Your sites can’t launch without content. It looks bad to users, and above all, Google hates a blank page.
Jason Williams, website production manager at Campus Suite, recommends having a "playbook" to use when planning your school website. Check out his article on how a playbook and a school website planning guide can help you meet deadlines.
Know that sticking to your deadlines won’t make you the most popular person at the Monday morning staff meeting, but it will ensure your site is done on time, with resource in place.
Nothing derails a project faster than radio silence. Make sure you’ve established how you will communicate about your project from the outset. At any hour of the day, you should know where your project stands with your vendor. I regularly check in with clients if I haven’t heard from them lately, even if it’s to let them know I’m here to answer any questions. And some of my favorite clients do send me lots of emails and notes on worksheets; it lets me know they’re really thinking through their site, have anticipated issues that may arise, and are fast to respond to any questions we may have.
On the school side, send those email reminders to people who owe you content or information. Establish a deadline, ask for progress, and don’t be afraid to let them know how their piece of the project impacts the website’s status. And, of course, don’t forget to thank them for helping you make this great new site a reality!
5. Be realistic and focused
Remember, starting simple is the best approach, especially if you are one person in charge of everything. Remind that curriculum director with electronic stars in their eyes that there will be plenty of time later to build those multitude of pages.
When a staff member insists they need a page – or pages – remind them of the need to plan for the here and now. Some questions to keep in mind when colleague requests a page.
- What content is immediately available?
- Does this content fit the needs of their primary audience?
- Who will be providing it, and what is their deadline?
- What visuals will be required? (Photos, charts, and tables all have unique specifications when it comes to fulfilling accessibility requirements.)
- Will you need to link to documents? (PDFs also require special consideration for accessibility.)
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is your new website! Consistent communication, receiving buy-in from necessary parties, early planning, and assessment of immediate needs are keys to successfully launching your new website.
Go ahead, toss me another ball to juggle: make mine a new school website.
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 email@example.com.