Sifting through vendors is not the easiest of tasks for a school faced with selecting a school website provider. Many content management systems look pretty similar on the surface, and distinguishing one from another can be difficult.
Many schools don’t realize the shortcomings of of their CMS provider until a problem arises that affects the educational setting. A website that makes it difficult to engage parents and staff; one that's hard to create and edit content; a hard-to-navigate website or one that's 'down' way too often – these problems can be avoided with the right website provider.
How capable your provider candidates are in design, support, reliability, security, accessibility, scalability, and general reputation are areas that can and should be objectively measured when entering into one of the most important decisions affecting your school’s communications. Compounding the decision on which vendor to go with are factors like the rapid advancement of web technology, social media integration, and mobile device access.
Finding a vendor your school can confidently partner with requires a thorough review of some key vendor criteria.
To take the guesswork out of the vendor vetting process, we’ve put together a Vendor Survey for you to use. It’s designed to enable you to create an apples-to-apples comparison of school content management system providers.
When searching for a new vendor, use the following questions and qualifiers to help your school avoid the shock of having chosen the wrong website hosting provider:
Questions for your website vendor candidates:
- How long will it take to build our new website?
- Do you offer migration services? How much does it cost?
- How do we analyze how effective a school website is?
- Who actually owns the content on the website? What happens if or when we want to exit the contract?
- Will we be assigned a project manager?
- How extensive is your training? Is it provided for all users?
- Provide 4-5 good examples of school websites you’ve designed.
- Name some similar schools (size, number of schools, private or public, urban, suburban, rural) currently or recently under contract.
Accessibility is critical for an effective website.
- Will my site be ADA compliant and fully accessible to those with disabilities?
- Do you offer training to help keep my website accessible?
- Are your websites mobile friendly? Responsive design?
- Do you offer a mobile app?
- Are you set up for emergency notifications?
- Does your solution work well with our school’s social media?
- Can our parents access their parent portal via your CMS?
How strong is your website support?
- What are your support hours?
- Are we limited as to who can call the helpline?
- Are there different degrees of service depending on when I call?
- If I need advanced technical support, then what?
Website software vendor reputation
- How long have you been serving the education market?
- Do you work with any schools or districts like ours (enrollment size, number of schools, public/private/charter)?
- What are your company’s biggest strengths/weaknesses?
- What is your customer retention rate?
- Can we personally talk with three or your current customers?
Track record of reliability and security
- What happens if the Service Level Agreement (SLA) is breached?
- What kind of uptime do you guarantee?
- What is your downtime reporting like?
- When and how do you handle maintenance?
- What will be my site’s backup procedure?
- How do you monitor your network?
Flexibility, scalability, compliance
- What kind of storage space and bandwidth will I have?
- Can I easily scale my plan (e.g., add schools )?
- Are your websites ADA compliant?
- How does your firm assure privacy for all users?
Your next steps:
In the fast-moving world of website software, it's more important than ever your school not only choose the right software but is adequately equipped to make that decision. Your school website is your foundation for school communications, and it's important you choose a website partner that is a good match for your school or district.
Use the questions above, which are available in a ready-made, easy-to-use template as part of the School Website Buyer’s Guide, to grill your vendor candidates. It's your obligation.
Don't be shy about asking the hard questions. After all, it's a big investment of resources to undertake building a new website, so you owe it to all your school's stakeholders to be thorough.
Do you have some questions that should be included in our list?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @jay4schools.