When looking for a new school website hosting provider, there are some areas to consider before making your selection. In addition to the obvious areas like the specific needs of a website design for schools, service provider reputation, services provided, and the ability to maintain ADA website compliance, you’ll want to consider the security and reliability of the actual hosting service itself (not just the website editing software, called the CMS or content management software).
Because selecting a website provider can be a time consuming and expensive decision, you’ll want to be strategic about your choice. You don’t do it often, so doing it right can save time and money and help you avoid more serious problems down the road. So, whether you are managing your own servers or are using a content management system (CMS) through a school website provider, be sure you understand how your sites are hosted and secured. Here are a few tips from our server engineers Rob and Sam:
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What to consider in hosting services
To start with, you’re going to want to make sure that your school website is always up and stable. Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are becoming easier and easier to run, and more sites are becoming victims to this type of attack. What happens is that the attackers will flood your school sites with fake requests, causing it to overwhelm your servers so that they fail to respond to real calls from actual visitors. These attacks can go on for hours and repeat day after day. So, what’s the solution? You need dedicated DDoS protection, such as CloudFlare or Akamai. This will ensure that if you become the target of such an attack, your site will stay up and your visitors will be able to use your site.
When your visitors reach your site, you want them to rest assured that they are talking to you and not to some nefarious hacker pretending to be you. For this you will need an SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificate. This is installed on your server and proves that the data comes from you, your approved site and isn’t being spoofed by someone pretending to be you. This is the little green lock in your browser URL bar. It is becoming expected by savvy Internet users, and now Google is requiring it for optimized search engine optimization (SEO). Keep your visitors safe and your web page ranking high. Get an SSL cert!
Hosting Security & Reliability
Next, you need to make sure that your data is safe from hackers. Ransomware, SQL injection, and Cross Site Scripting are all methods of stealing your data, locking up your data, or stealing your visitor’s personal information. In order for you to be sure it can’t happen to you, you must have a secure website. Having a well-built website is the start, but nowadays that’s not enough. To be sure your data is safe, you’ll need to be sure that your servers are kept up to date with the latest security patches, and that they are set up securely. Also, you should be running a Web Application Firewall (WAF). A WAF is a firewall like you run on your PC, but it protects your website instead of your computer. This is your first line of defense against malicious actors.
More tips for selecting the best school website provider
When you are ready to select a website provider for your next school website, you will want to take the time to apply strategic measures to get the site and services that your school needs. In addition to finding out what their server/hosting strategies are, here are the steps to selecting the website vendor who will match your school needs:
Use survey feedback
Create a survey to help you understand what your customers (parents, students, staff, and community members) prefer in a school website. Make this survey available from your website, send out links using parent notification systems or e-mails and your social media platforms. Include questions that will let users share what they like and what they don’t like about your school websites. If you have both a district website and grade level school sites, ask questions appropriate to both audiences. (Sample website survey)
Define your website goals
Based on the analytics from your website surveys results, create a list of the primary goals you want your school site to accomplish. (You want to focus on meeting your audience needs.) Now, prioritize these goals. For example, you will want a school district website (or main office website) to act as a primary recruiting tool for quality staff as well as a marketing tool for new students. A grade level school website will be focused on information pertinent to parents with children enrolled in that school, so it will include up to date calendars, engaging news articles, contact information for teachers, and extracurricular opportunities.
Evaluate the website provider’s technology & services
There are certain requirements that you should expect from any website vendor. They are: responsive web design (mobile-friendly site), cross-browser compatibility (displays correctly in all browsers), ADA compliant software and website compliance training, and rock star customer support services. If you are using a CMS platform and doing all the work in-house, then annual training must be provided as well. If you are using a school website provider like School Webmasters, who provides services and not software, you won’t require any staff training.
School website design options
Since your school websites often give your audience its first impression, it is critical that it be professional, intuitive, and branded to your school’s unique mission. Most school website providers will offer you a choice of template designs, but you will want to find out how much flexibility you will have in customizing your site to fit your needs (if any). Ask each website vendor for a list of live client sites, and check them for website compliance (run them through http://wave.webaim.org/) and responsive design functionality as well as in multiple browsers.
What the development process would entail
Ask the potential vendors what the website development process will be like. How long will the design and development phase of your new site take? How much assistance can you expect for content development, consulting for intuitive navigation, and implementation of best practices and ADA website compliance? Do they provide professional copywriting or only migration of your existing content? Do they provide you with a dedicated project coordinator and team for each site they will design? Will they reach out to each department’s content expert (if necessary) to obtain up-to-date content? Will they recommend a sitemap to meet your school communication needs based on your school’s mission and goals? Will they provide quality control, link checking, grammar, and spellchecking prior to taking the website live? It is important that the website process your selected vendor uses involves a strategic and proven process so that your website project launches on time.
Check out other school clients (of similar size and focus)
In addition to doing a bit of online research (like checking out testimonials, social media, and the Better Business Bureau), ask each website provider for a few references and contact those references. Create a list of questions to ask, like why they like or dislike this vendor, why they switched to this vendor, and who they switched from and why.
Whether you hire us to become your dedicated staff or you select a CMS website provider, your next school website development project is more important now than ever. With ever-increasing competition for students (school choice, homeschooling, online classes), the success and effectiveness of your district site and each of your school sites is critical. As the umbrella for all your communications, marketing, and public relations efforts, and in conjunction with your social media platforms, your school website can drive engagement, build trust, or decrease trust. Your website can attract new students and staff or push them away to keep looking for a better fit. So, do your research and invest the time to make the right choice for your school.
One more thing
What can you expect from School Webmasters as your school’s website provider?
We’ve been serving U.S. and International schools since 2003. Unlike all other major school website providers, our focus is on service and not software. We’ve learned that most schools don’t want to learn and manage yet another software product but are more concerned about the experience they receive.
That is what School Webmasters is all about—to provide you with the best affordable communications and website design and management services, social media support, and school public relations available. Our development costs are similar to most other providers, and our comprehensive hosting and update services are only $149 per month for everything described below.
- Our project team will work with you to select or design the site you want with both responsive school website templates or fully custom websites.
- Our professional copywriters will consolidate and write content that is inviting, friendly, and intuitive.
- Our designers and user interface team put it all together, ensuring that your responsive website is ADA compliant and easy-to-use.
- Our dedicated team of website updaters (both for content and graphics) will handle all updates quickly, even offering suggestions to keep your site current and professional daily.
- Our quality control team checks for accuracy.
- If you need additional support, we also offer social media and public relations support services.
- And, your staff will never have to sit through another CMS website training again!
Bonnie Leedy, CEO