While a school website redesign can feel like a Herculean task, not worth the time or the money, keep in mind that your website is your most important marketing and communications tool. It will have the highest return on investment of any of your marketing efforts, and that doesn’t even include what it does for your communications, customer service, and reputation. So, what are the steps you should take to make sure your website redesign pays for itself?
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What’s the redesign goal?
A school website redesign is your opportunity to take your website from bad to good, or good to great. Are you not sure which category your school site fits into? Well, a poor school website is one that doesn’t address your primary audience (typically, parents) needs . It must recognize and address the fact that parents today expect to get the answers they need about your school from the website (whether they have an enrolled student or are just shopping for the right school).
Parents feel crippled and powerless when they can’t get the information they need (and from their device of choice). We’re all drowning in an ocean of TO DOs and responsibilities for ourselves and our kids.
The parent lifeline is to get quick, accurate help. The website is that lifeline. If yours is more of an anchor than a life preserver, a good website redesign can make you a hero. What is good will and parental support worth? You will find out next time you need donations, budget approval, a tax override, or a bond election.
Meeting your audience needs
You have a variety of audience needs with a school website. During a website redesign is the time to make sure you’ve targeted the unique needs of each audience. There are:
- Current parents: It is SO important to keep your existing parents engaged and supportive. That means your website must be convenient (responsive and mobile-friendly), informative (all frequently used information handy and current), and have lots of news that highlight all the great things happening at school and how their children are benefiting from it.
- Prospective parents: The goal of marketing for a school website is to help prospective parents envision their child fitting in and reaching their potential at your school. Stories with examples of how this happens at your school is the most effective way to attract new students.
- Current students: For your current students, it is going to be all about the frequently visited information (lunch menus, calendars, sports schedules) and lots of great news stories. When they can see their friends, and themselves, highlighted in stories, activities, and successes, your website will be a VERY popular attraction (along with your social media sites that drive them to your website articles and photos).
- Prospective students: Much like the strategy for prospective parents, the stories you tell on your school website will enthuse students as well. You want them to feel excited about being a part of the new school and able to see themselves succeeding there.
- Prospective staff: Much like prospective parents, you need to have a website that helps prospective staff envision themselves as a part of your team. Share your values. Provide stories that represent the areas of which you are most proud, and that includes highlighting staff members who represent the best you have to offer. Encourage quality prospective staff to aspire to be one of these outstanding individuals.
- Current staff: Make it a tradition to share the kudos about your staff on the public-facing website. Stories about the successes within your school, and how your staff makes those successes possible, will improve morale and speak volumes about the standards of achievement for which your staff will strive.
- Community: For this audience, think about taxpayers (success stories show how their tax money is being put to good use and producing outstanding citizens), volunteers (you can always use some free help, so let potential volunteers know how much they can help and how they benefit when they make a difference in a student’s life), preschools (same needs as prospective students and parents), real estate agents (give them a landing page with all the pertinent stats they can use when selling prospects on the benefits of purchasing homes in your area—give them some bragging rights to talk about), churches (incorporate any information you have on character or value-driven instruction or service-oriented projects included in your curriculum).
- Alumni: Make sure some of your testimonials include comments from successful alumni. This can be a very effective marketing tool, especially when alumni can share stories about how influential and caring teachers helped them reach their own potential.
- Media: A good school website is a wonderful resource for the media to use. News stories that highlight your successes or articles that explain current issues your school is facing can be the go-to resource for your local education beat reporters. The only additional step is to let them know the information is there, which is as simple as sending your local reporters links to newsworthy articles. Then, watch the local media give you the type of coverage you hope to have. Just make an effort to make their job easier, and when you do, you’ll get more positive coverage.
By meeting your customer needs, providing outstanding customer service, and engaging all of your audiences with superior communication channels, the long-term benefits will go far beyond the monetary. Just ask any company or organization that puts its customers first (think Nordstrom’s) versus those that didn’t (think Blockbuster).
As Shep Hyken said in a recent Forbes article Are You Part of the $62 Billion Loss Due to Poor Customer Service, “If you want to be successful, you have to be willing to step up with a level of service that is in line with what the customer expects.” School website visitors expect to find a website that provides them with easy access to the information they need, in a way that is inviting and audience focused.
What will it cost?
Depending on your school and your budget, the cost will vary wildly. Some school website providers recommend budgeting 1–2 times annual student tuition for the website redesign (for public schools, this is the annual per-student funding amount). You can easily justify the expense by realizing that just one or two new students offsets that initial expense. And over the life of the student (12 years), it becomes a negligible expense as compared to the long-term revenue.
An effective website can certainly increase enrollment decisions, if managed right. But what if you could do it for 1/3 of that cost? Now, that is worth checking out, right? We can’t speak for all other school website providers, of course, but we know what we can offer, and considering what you get, there is simply no value comparison. So, get a quote and find out. Or, if you want, we can even give you a list of other school vendors to check out. There are lots of options out there, depending on your needs.
How often should I do a redesign?
Most schools do a redesign every 3–5 years. However, you’ll want to do it sooner if you’ve rebranded your school recently and your site needs to match your new logo or mascot and colors. If you are on a CMS system that is not an ADA compliant website or responsive, you need to do a redesign NOW before you get in hot water with the Office of Civil Rights when the legal costs of fixing your issues will be many times the cost of the nicest redesign.
If your website management has just become onerous and your site is constantly outdated and ineffective, that is another sign it is time for a change. If it isn’t the hub of your communications efforts, building your school brand, attracting new students, and building trust and loyalty, your school website simply isn’t doing its job. That will mean it is costing you much more than you can afford.
Think strategy and plan ahead
At this stage, be sure you have a strategic plan for updating your website. That means, know what you want to do to keep it current, informative, engaging, and attractive. A static website sends a terrible message to your site visitors. It says that you don’t care, don’t have great things happening, and aren’t proud of the job your school does. I know; none of that is true. But, perception is reality. An out-of-date website leaves just such a perception.
Your audience does not care that you are busy and wear many hats (which we know is true). Communications matter and your website is the hub of all your communications and public relations efforts to a variety of audiences. Make sure it is serving you well. Good communication is good marketing, and effective marketing pays dividends on many fronts.
Also, don’t add elements to your site that you won’t be able to maintain. For example, don’t start an administrator’s blog, put it front and center on the home page, and then not update it for months at a time. Be realistic about what you can commit to. If you have an area for news on the home page, but no one submits stories or articles for the website, the failure will be extremely noticeable.
Ideally, you will have a strategic communications plan. You will commit staff resources to information gathering, set deadlines, and follow up with those who are assigned to be sure your site is as informative, dynamic, and as interesting as it can be. (If you don’t have such a strategy or the staff to support it, we have a solution called PR4 Schools that can provide you with exactly such help and put someone from your community on the job for eight hours per week—and it includes your social media management. Let us tell you how it works!)
Planning steps for your redesign
- Survey or interview parents, staff, and students.
- Review Google Analytics (most important pages, highest usage, bounce rates).
- Integrate school communications strategies with the website’s purpose and goals.
- Create a sitemap that supports the district communications, PR, and marketing goals (and maintains consistency with the brand).
- Find other school websites you like (based on design, intuitive navigation, layout). Test a few of these favorites, and try to find common information the parents will seek out. How quickly can you find what you need? Is it intuitive, logical, and no more than three clicks from the information you seek?
- Add copywriting, gathering assets and reviewing existing content and documents.
- Conduct ADA website compliance training and implementation.
- Document your launch plan, select your team, and set timelines/deadlines. Train everyone involved on the development of the goals and purposes of the website and how it ties into all communications efforts. Let them know the importance of their role in this effort.
- Interview/research school website developers (vendor selection questionnaire).
- Conduct quality control before you launch. Complete ADA website compliance review. Integrate social media.
- Develop a launch marketing plan (use social media, inform local media, create a contest to involve students and parents—like a website Easter egg hunt with a drawing for one lucky winner, etc.
- Plan the next few months of news articles, success stories, staff or student spotlights, videos to create, marketing efforts, and make assignments to staff to contribute news and successes.
- Create a website update schedule (including assignments to those generating informative articles). Consider areas like: calendars, regularly scheduled events, stories, good news, forms, menus, contacts, and common procedures. Be sure to include stories about the strategy that takes place behind the scenes, those fun and informative “why we do this” stories will provide transparency and validate the wisdom for engaging in the methods your school uses (like testing, staff development, field trips, assemblies, etc.). If you have a school webmaster, this can be one of their primary objectives. If you don’t, consider hiring School Webmasters (it’s what we do!).
Avoiding the pitfalls
There are a few common areas where schools make mistakes with their new website redesign and its launch. Learn from their mistakes and avoid the following:
- Migrating your old website content into your new site (this is your chance to consolidate, clean house, focus on messaging and tone, and get the information out there that your site visitors want and need.) Otherwise, it’s just putting lipstick on a pig. No matter what your intent was, it’s only going to be a prettier pig. Take some time and do this right. Clean house. Think strategically and put your audience needs first. Remember, in addition to communications, your website is also your main customer service tool. Use it well. Having a bloated, unfriendly, convoluted, and out-of-date website is far from customer friendly. It’s your first impression, so make it count.
- Launching an unfinished website. Don’t launch it until it is complete. If there are a few pages that you are waiting on information for, either hide those until you have completed them or complete them, but do not put “under construction” on any page of your site. Very amateurish.
- Not doing quality control before the launch. Fix broken links, set-up 301 redirects, add Google Analytics, all which help avoid confusion for your site visitors.
- Creating content that is NOT focused on your audience. See our above recommendations for audience focus. Seriously. It matters. Your content, news, and stories should be about how your school provides value to your audience. Stop talking about yourself, and start talking about the benefits you provide to your audience. Instead of “we offer quality educational…” talk about how “we help your student reach their potential and develop a love for learning…” Your intent is the same, but the message is targeting your audience needs, and that is effective communication!
There you go! It is worth the effort and will pay for itself if managed right. Whether it is building trust and confidence, increasing enrollment, or attracting quality staff, your website matters. Building a strong brand for your school brings you years of benefits.
Consider putting a school website redesign on this year’s to-do list. If you don’t have the staff or the time though, we may know someone who can roll this project out for you in as few as six weeks. Give us a call!
Bonnie Leedy, CEO, School Webmasters, LLC.