You’re part of the school website design team. The goal sounds simple enough – a modern-looking website; one that’s easier to navigate and keeps parents and the rest of your school community wanting to come back to it. But reaching that goal may not be so simple without some help. Especially if you haven’t built one before.
You know your current website isn’t hauling its weight as a school communications hub. It’s one thing, however, to know what you don’t want; an altogether more challenging thing to create exactly what you want. Designing or redesigning a school website can be a little scary. It’s a monumental task.
A few website providers have some sort of school website design playbook for you to follow, but maybe you haven’t selected your next website design/hosting supplier. Or perhaps you've got a provider lined up, but are looking to be as prepared as possible to create that website that’s sure to wow and engage your entire school community.
Review the following, which takes a high-level look at the 10 steps on the school website design checklist, and you’ll have a head start on organizing your website project into manageable chunks. Complete every step, taking them in sequence, and you’ll be equipped to build a great-looking and effective website for your school.
A checklist is your key to making sure you cover all the right bases at the right time. I wanted, however, to use this article to cover the basics, so you and your team can approach your next website confident that you’ll get the website you need and deserve.
10 steps to a successful school website design
1. Survey parents, faculty and staff.
Understanding the needs of your school community is essential to making the most of your website redesign. And the more effective your school website is, the more it can help you achieve your overall communications goals.
The best place to start when overhauling your school website is those closest to it – your staff, faculty and parents. They’re the heavy users, after all. Besides gaining valuable insight and confirming what you might already know, surveys and focus groups are ideal ways to demonstrate to your users that you care about them – that you want to make the next version of the website something they’ll use and come back to time and time again.
Create a survey and share with the school community. It’s easier to do than you might think. Online surveys and intercepts at school events are quick and painless. Keep it simple, and review the findings for improving the new website. It’s a great way to build enthusiasm for this fundamental piece of your school communications puzzle.
2. Review your analytics
When it comes to giving your next website the best chance for success, history is indeed the best predictor of future performance. Many communications managers spend a lot of time and effort on the content side of their website, but know very little about how it’s performing. They don’t know, for example, who’s visiting their school website, or what pages they’re trying to find.
You can take stock of how your current site is being utilized – or in some cases underutilized – using Google Analytics.
Google Analytics provides a wealth of information that can help you understand what is working and what is not working on your existing website. These findings can be used to improve the usability of the website. With Google Analytics, you can slice and dice your data all kinds of ways and learn valuable insights like what your popular pages are, where visitors are coming from, and what exactly they’re searching for.
This information serves as a benchmark going forward, so you can gauge improvements that you’re mapping out on your site, and have an ongoing way to measure your website performance. What’s more, Google Analytics is free and easy to set up.
See article: How schools can use Google Analytics
3. Write up goals, requirements and roles
The task of creating/redesigning a new website is a multi-faceted one that requires collaboration across many school managers and departments: communications, IT, administration – some schools even have dedicated webmasters. Riding herd on the process can be a challenge, which is why it’s important you steer the project with clearly defined requirements, goals and roles.
After gathering data from your surveys, Google Analytics and other resources, your team should put together a document outlining the goals of the website along with requirements. The third chunk of this important guiding document is a role column. The person(s) responsible for garnering the resources for each task are the team members who can make or break your website’s success.
Just like any great team, you need to well coordinated. Everyone involved in creating your website should have a clear understanding of his or her role, for expectations and collaboration go hand in hand when building a website.
4. Create a website site map
A well-organized website is the most important factor of usability. Your sitemap is that diagram that shows the structure of all the pages in your website. It’s really your fundamental design tool, for at this stage in your planning is when you’re testing the logic and order of your pages, and doing it in a way to visualize how useable or accessible they will be.
Be sure to consult with your website provider on how you organize your page levels and address information hierarchy. If they’re a provider committed to your success, they should be able to share with your team effective sitemap best practices that reflect current trends. For example, the respective user profiles (e.g., parent, student, staff) are pivotal to how content is organized and served up to your audiences.
Before diving into the design, work out a sitemap, get agreement from all your team members, then share it with others outside your team for feedback.
See article: Keys to building a sitemap for your school website
5. Create a list of school websites you love
As Picasso was to have said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” We often get comments like, we want our new website to look just like this school’s or that school’s. While we don’t condone copying or stealing website designs from others, keep your eyes open for great websites that can inspire your own design.
Every good website designer – Campus Suite’s included – stays current with what’s working and not working. You should too. Make a list and be specific on the features you like and might be able to incorporate into your new website.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but be sure to dig much deeper than that homepage above the fold (upper section of the page visible without scrolling). Great design for school website is more than just large, cool photos. Get Steve Williams’ take on great school website design and check out resources like NSPRA’s annual awards listings for inspiration.
See article: Top 10 school district website design examples
6. Gather your assets
Photos here, photos there. They can be, and probably are anywhere and everywhere: hard drives, phones, thumb drives, digital cameras, email attachments, etc. Same goes for video and audio clips. With visual appeal being a very powerful component to your website’s success, you need to get organized and get smart about managing your digital assets. Having all your digital assets assembled will help spur the creativity and identify what content areas you need to bolster with new images.
Start by using Google Drive or Dropbox folders and begin compiling all of your imagery, logos and other assets. It’ll take some time, but it’ll be well worth the effort. By centralizing everything so, you can organize, share and archive all your content, and create tags and filters that your content authors and editors can readily use. No more trying to track down this photo or that video.
Your website provider may even have a digital asset management tool – which will perform in much the same way – built into is content management system. Organize all your assets in an intuitive folder structure, so searching and browsing will be as simple as taking a picture.
7. Plan for ADA compliancy
Inclusion is and should be a hot button for any school, so be certain your website is accessible for all. This goes for ADA (American Disabilities Act) compliance, and other federal requirements that insure your website features inclusive design for all your users.
ADA touches many aspects of a school (e.g., employment, barrier-free accommodations, etc.,) but school websites are often overlooked. This presents quite the liability for a school. Organizations that receive any federal support must comply with ADA regulations on matters such as handicap access – and the website is no different.
While ADA is the regulation most everyone is familiar with, there are other compliance issues that affect school websites. Planning for how you handle ADA website is very important and can make a better experience for those who need an especially friendly website.
See article: How to make an ADA-compliant school website
Download guide: The Complete Guide to School Website Accessibility
8. Determine integration requirements
There’s a move afoot for schools to bring all their digital communications together to simplify administration and control, while making it easier on all your users . Many schools are looking to the simplicity of Single Sign-On to make accessing all the critical school data much less daunting and more approachable for parents, staff and students.
Rather than having multiple accounts spanning student information (SIS), classroom management (LMS) and website content (CMS), your website can actually integrate all these and others – like Google Apps for Education, for example.
Determine what critical data and systems need to be shared, and understand that your website can play a big role in bringing it all together and enhancing your data security and privacy in the process.
9. Set-up Google accounts
Just as Google has become an integral part of our personal lives, your website should come to depend more on all that Google offers for school communicators. The ease and interoperability of Google’s many apps are compelling reasons to plug your school’s website into the multi-faceted features Google offers.
You might already have Google accounts set up for your school, so it very well may be a matter of simply transferring them to the new website. We recommend setting up, at the very least, Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools, Google Custom Search and Google Translate so your school website can plug into all the power and reach Google provides schools for free.
For reasons of security, legality, and simplicity, these Google apps (and other Google Apps for Education) should be part of your website and school communications.
10. Create a launch plan
Now comes the fun part. Maybe your school community’s been clamoring for the new website: staff is curious when it’s going to go live; parents are excited at the the prospect of seeing their survey results come to life in a cool-looking, useful and engaging website; or just maybe your team is more than ready to be done with it.
Set a realistic launch timeline and delivery dates, including developing a Quality Assurance checklist to work out the kinks on the new website. This is where your website provider can prove very valuable helping balance your eagerness and reasonableness with realistic timetable.
Brainstorm on ways to promote the new website, and assemble a mini-communications campaign around it. Lean on all your digital and traditional, non-digital communications tactics to build hype. Also, don’t forget the launch party. It’s a rewarding way to recognize everyone involved in creating your new website.
About the author
As co-founder of Campus Suite, Steve believes behind every great school is great communication. His tech savvy and passion for design fuel his desire to help administrators understand, embrace and seize the power of web communications.