For many school PR and communication teams, the thought of tackling a district website redesign project seems like a significant commitment. Well, I have news for you: It is.
As an experienced school district web developer and consultant, I’ve jotted down some tips to consider before beginning your journey:
1) Understand your needs.
You know your district and community better than anyone. You have the power. Think about what your organization needs from a website. Why do you need a new website? Does it need a simple facelift or will it require a complete overhaul? What specific features will it need to include?
Identify your needs and search for a vendor who can meet them.
2) Use data to guide your decision making.
After understanding your needs, you now need research to guide your project. Research is an essential phase of any school communications project. Consider the following research methods before writing your request for proposal (RFP):
- Focus groups. What does your community like and dislike about your current website? What information can they find quickly/not quickly? What areas of your website are pain points? What “competitor” websites do they like, and why?
I suggest conducting focus groups with two internal audiences (students and staff) and one external audience.
- Analytics. Analyzing data seems daunting to some, but it’s easier than it sounds with tools like Google Analytics. Be sure to explore at least 1-2 school years of analytics from your current website. This data allows you to evaluate the most accessed pages and content and learn more about your audience and their behaviors.
If you need help with analytics, I am happy to help you for free.
- Market research. Find the districts serving students and families well and use their work to inspire your new website. Imitation is the most effective form of flattery, and there is no reason to reinvent the wheel.
3) Understand time frames and commitment.
Projecting a time frame for a new website is difficult. It depends on several factors such as: Will you be working yourself or hiring a consultant? How busy is your schedule? How big is your team? Do you have an intern or a special assistant? How many sites do you need?
Also, consider the time needed for vendor research, request proposals (RFPs), and contract approval. This phase alone could be a one or two-month process or more for some districts.
Email me if you want to learn more about redesign time frames.
4) Focus on solutions and growth, not costs.
My mom once told me that I should never skimp on pots & pans and bedsheets. I would add school district websites to this list!
I strongly recommend investing in a premium content management system (CMS) that will provide a strong digital foundation for years. To get the most out of your CMS, it should:
- Allow you to produce beautiful, friendly content that enhances your district brand. Your website is no longer a cheap storage unit — it is your community’s digital home.
- Be intuitive and user-friendly. Your CMS should allow you and other staff members to make updates quickly.
- Be dynamic and powerful. You should never spend hours editing the same content in multiple places! A quality CMS should all you to update numerous areas of your site at one time, from one easy-to-use dashboard.
- Be driven by constant innovation. Your CMS vendor should be constantly searching for ways to improve their services.
5) Don’t fill your new site with junk from the old site!
Be strategic and thoughtful when migrating content. Focus on optimization. I recommend launching your website at 75% readiness and then migrate older content as it is needed.
6) Enjoy the journey!
Whether you go it alone or hire someone to help, ENJOY THE JOURNEY! Launching a new website is incredibly fulfilling!
When you think school websites, I hope you think of me. Please reach out if you have any questions! – Joshua Sauer, APR