It definitely doesn't need to be said: your website is the number one element of your school’s marketing efforts. With recent events, and seeing school marketing and admissions processes move online, your website is crucial, now more than ever! It's the key source of information about your school, and the online equivalent of an engaging and informative billboard, showcasing your brand, community, and values. It should be the best possible representation of your school, telling prospective parents what they can expect before they even step foot on school grounds.

But what if your website isn't achieving this for your school? What if it feels out of date, or the content is tired, or it takes a long time to load (or worse — it doesn't load at all)? It might be time to look into giving your website a refresh. If you've never managed a website project before, it can be challenging to know how the process works, and what you need to do to ensure your new website meets your expectations. That's why we've put together this run-down on how the process works, and some tips to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible.

1. Create a project brief and choose your developer

To start with, you'll want to get all of your website expectations down in writing. This helps you to shape your project brief, which is what you will need to provide to all of the vendors who you will consider to take on the project. You'll need to make decisions around:

  • Timeline — when do you need the website completed by?
  • Budget — how much are you prepared to pay? 
  • Purpose — what does the website need to do
  • Technical requirements — are there any integrations, modules, or unique build aspects that you need added to the website? 
  • Design requirements — do you have a particular design in mind, or are you looking for a design team to create something for you?

Once you have collated this information into a document, you'll need to start looking for vendors who you believe can meet the brief. Ask around for recommendations, or look at other school websites to find developers who you think will do the best job for your school. Once you reach out to them, they will likely ask for a copy of your brief, along with a copy of your logo and brand guidelines. 

Each vendor will then put together some information in the hopes that you will choose them for the project. This might include wireframes (an idea of how they will organize the information), project timeline, information about revisions, and design inspiration to give you an idea of their thinking. Carefully consider the pros and cons of each vendor before making your decision.

2. Start planning your website

Once you've chosen your developer, it's time to put a plan in place for the project This is the point where you will need to work together to confirm the project timeline, deliverables, and final due date, along with the website wireframe and information architecture. Your developers and designers will draw on your website brief to ensure that everything about your website, from the design to the navigation will be working together to meet your school's goals. 

During this phase, it's a good idea to start putting together all of the content that will live on your website. Many schools make the mistake of leaving this step until last — after all, it can't be that hard, right? Unfortunately, content can be one of the biggest hurdles to getting a website delivered on time.

If you're simply migrating content over from your old website to your new website, take the opportunity to perform a full content audit, categorizing your posts into:

  • Page is performing well — move it directly over to the new site
  • Page needs re-writing 
  • Page is no longer relevant — don't move it over.

If you need help getting started, we've written up a simple guide to performing a content audit to help you out. 

You may also like to take the time to write fresh content for your school website. Make sure you leverage our tips for writing effective website copy and keep your school's tone of voice in mind. 

3. Work with the design team on your website's UX/UI

Once you’ve completed the planning process of your website, designers will use their knowledge of UI (user interface) and UX (user experience) to ensure that visitors to your website will have a great experience and be able to navigate it easily. In this phase, you'll receive a design concept and have the opportunity to provide feedback. It's important that you provide as much detail as you can so the designers understand what you would like in the next version of the concept.

The number of revisions and hours spent on design will vary by developer, but generally, you will have more than one opportunity to provide feedback on the design. In this phase, you will need to provide the design team with the remainder of the visual assets that they need to complete your pages. If you are planning on commissioning new school photography in conjunction with your new site, it's a good idea to ask your designers about space restrictions prior to the shoot. Doing this can go a long way to avoiding awkward cropping later or re-shoots later on.

4. Learn how to update your website

Most web developers will build your website using a content management system (CMS) so that you can make updates to the website yourself without needing to ask your developer. Common CMS platforms that you may be familiar with include Wordpress, Joomla, Drupal, and (Digistorm's favorite) Craft. While your website is being built, it's a good idea to organize training for everyone in your team who will need to know how to make content changes to the site.

5. Test & deploy your brand new website

Once development has finished, your developers will give you a link to view your website in a "test environment". This means, no one outside of your organization will be able to view your website, and any changes that you make will not be reflected on your live version. This is your chance to ensure all of the functionality within your brief is covered and that every aspect works correctly. Some common quality assurance (QA) tests you can perform include:

  • Clicking on all of the links — are you directed to the right place? 
  • Filling out and submitting each of the forms — do they perform as expected? Is the form data sent to the right place (e.g. your CRM or LMS)?
  • Viewing each page on a different screen size (you can use developer tools within your browser to do this) — does the page resize as expected? Can you read the text on each page?
  • Check the visual elements — are the menus, buttons, and links easily visible and consistent on each page?

You may also want to think of some use-case scenarios and test to ensure that users will be able to easily complete common tasks within the website. When you've finished testing and any development changes have been made, you have the opportunity to populate your website with content and approve it to go live.

And that's it! The key to a successful website development project is working with a team of developers and designers who understand your unique requirements. If you're looking for a team that has built hundreds of websites for schools around the world, consider investigating Digistorm Websites.

Published May 21 2020