What is a responsive web design and why does it matter to your school?
A responsive school website (RWD), which is also referred to as a mobile-friendly website, detects the size and orientation of the site visitor’s screen and uses built-in, flexible layouts to change the website view to match the device. This all happens magically and should be seamless on whatever device you are using. If you are on a desktop, using a large monitor, you can see the effect by dragging your browser window to a smaller size. You will then see the various transitions built into your school website design. If it doesn’t change layouts, then you have a static website instead. This means that it will be difficult to view and navigate your school website design on a smaller device.
Responsive school website templates done right will first design for the smallest screen (typically a smartphone) and work up from there to the full desktop design, with various transitions in between. This is called a ‘mobile first’ concept, it basically indicates that the designer is truly focused on the user experience. It’s a great example of instilling customer service into websites for schools.
Advantages of responsive school websites
Since as many as half the people visiting your school site are on a mobile device of some sort, the best school website designs are responsive. . So let’s look at a few of the advantages as well as the few disadvantages:
#1 Navigation ease
In order for a responsive website design to work, developers often use a grid layout that allows the specific elements to be rearranged and resized to adjust to the screen size. That is one reason you see that responsive sites tend to have a similar pattern of stacking, especially in the phone and tablet views. This is both good and bad. It’s good because your site users will understand how they work and will quickly feel at home navigating through the site.
The downside of this is that with this familiarity you may lose some of the unique design ideas that come with a total design shake-up. But in the case of school websites, your site visitors aren’t there to be impressed by your tech savvy web skills; they are there to find information as quickly as possible. So, don’t sweat the fact that your website design might not be a totally new experience for your site visitors. It is actually a good thing, considering your audience needs.
Other navigation problems you avoid, which are common on a static site that is viewed from a phone, are usability issues from links that are not clickable, text and navigation that is too tiny to read, images that take up your entire screen, and all sorts of scrolling problems.
#2 Higher ranking in Google
Back in April 2015, Google, the mega search engine that we all cower to if we want to be found in any search, started giving higher rankings to sites that were responsive. And, since one of the main reasons to have a website in the first place is to help you be found, this is a pretty big deal. Businesses, and some schools, pay a lot of money to get and maintain those top rankings to increase enrollment, recruit teachers, and show off their good works. So, having a responsive website helps you get found.
#3 Save Money & Time on Mobile Development
A few years ago (some schools still struggle with this), in order to have a mobile-friendly site, schools developed a separate mobile website. It was basically another version of their district website. Often it meant that they were now managing two sites with the same information (twice the work for school website content updaters), and it also meant they had to manage two URL (web addresses). Talk about confusing for parents and staff, right? Well, responsive school websites ended all of that bother.
Also, when school’s managed two sites, they were often penalized by Google for having duplicate content. If the same articles were duplicated on your website, it was penalized as looking spammy, and Google is not a fan of spam, so your search engine rankings were adversely affected.
#4 Future Adaptability
Being responsive means that this approach will provide you with the best likelihood of being able to support new devices and screens that will be developed in the future. Because they are fluid and flexible, they are much more likely to adapt to whatever becomes available in a few years, regardless of size. And we all know how quickly technology changes, so don’t be caught with an out-of-date school web design that will no longer meet your audience needs.
#5 Website Accessibility
As most schools are now aware, website ADA compliance is a requirement. Well, you’ll be happy to know that both a responsive design and an ADA compliant website are all about creating a school website that will work with different devices. Because it allows for easy reading and navigation on different-sized devices, this complements accessibility devices like screen readers. Fluid designs like responsive web designs (RWD), allow for reflow of content when resized by users who are visually impaired. Adapting a site to the device helps users who require magnification and can reduce the amount of zooming required. These are just a few examples of how responsive design will assist with accessibility standards.
This is not to say that responsiveness and accessibility are the same thing, because they are not. But the two are very complementary, and it is ideal to develop both at the same time. The strategy involved in making a site that adjusts to various device needs requires coding a site to standards, which moves us toward website accessibility as well. You can have one without the other, but going responsive is a good step in the right direction toward school website accessibility. If you need to become accessible, do your responsive redesign at the same time.
Effective school websites must be responsive. If you’ve been putting off a redesign because you think it doesn’t matter to your audience, think again. Even the most rural schools with limited Internet access find that their parents and students may not have much, but they have a smartphone with Internet these days. If you don’t have a responsive site, you are making it difficult for parents and students to stay connected. You are limiting a critical method of communication. You are ignoring your customer needs and hurting your school’s reputation. So, no more excuses. Be one of the best school websites around, and do it by getting a responsive design. Whether you select an affordable responsive website template or have the funds to get a custom responsive website, you simply can’t afford NOT to take this step.
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