4 Big Changes You Need to Make to Your School's Website Before 2018

It may only be mid-September, but 2018 is slowly creeping in on us. And as of right now, we're all doing the same thing: reflecting back on 2017, evaluating how far we've come in reaching our goals, and thinking how we can still reach them before the clock strikes midnight and we have to reset.

And while you most likely have some to-dos and bucket list items left over from earlier this year, recent changes and developments in the digital marketing space are about to tack on a few more you'll have to complete before 2018, or at least within its first 30 days.

2018 Fireworks

Here are four changes you'll need to make to your school's website before 2018:

1. Remove Audio from Your Autoplay Videos

While it may be tempting, adding autoplay audio to a video on your website is a big user experience no-no. Many schools want to "make an impact" with sound, but we advise against it as it disrupts an individual's personal browsing experience and, from a compliance standpoint, may add to your list of accessibility issues, according to WCAG 2.0. Also, you can always allow people to turn the sound "on" if they'd like to hear it. Keep in mind, too, that many of your users are on the phone and in a public place!

But now, Google is stepping up to the plate, to put a halt to this increasingly popular trend before it gains too much momentum. Last week Google announced that beginning in 2018 Google Chrome will turn off the audio on websites that have auto play videos with sound automatically to improve the browsing experience.

While this will only affect website browsers who use Chrome, the move by the search giant is a gentle nudge to schools to mute autoplay videos.

If you want to offer the option of sound, there are a couple of ways to do so:

First, you can show a muted autoplay video with a "play full video" call-to-action. This option is most beneficial when you have a full-length video with a combination of voice and music. For example, on Far Hill Country Day School's website, they have an autoplay video header without sound, that is all the b-roll from the video they link to in the top left corner of the banner. When clicked, the full-length video with sound appear in a shadow box.

FHCDS Video Example

Second, you can show a muted autoplay video with a sound toggle. Because the video will be muted, website visitors can opt to turn on the sound if they wish to add audio to their website experience.

Gwynedd Mercy Video Example

This toggle can easily be added and customized to fit the colors and design of your site, making it a helpful addition to your page, rather than a

2. Improve Your Site Speed

Site speed is quickly becoming one of the most important components of the user experience. Today, 40% of users won't even wait three seconds for a site to load...and 47% of them expect a website to load in two seconds or less. Two seconds!

And while impatient Internet users used to be all schools had to worry about, Google and Facebook are now penalizing websites with slow load times. In Google search mobile sites are under the most algorithm scrutiny, but desktop sites are also penalized when they load slowly. On Facebook, faster-loading web pages will appear higher in search than slow-loading ones in News feeds.

Although no exact number of seconds has been provided, based on research presented by Google and Facebook, a safe bet is any page that takes longer than three seconds to load will most likely be penalized.

Here are a few tips for improving your school website's site speed:

  • Improve your website hosting: How and where your website is hosted is potentially the biggest factor in website load time. Unfortunately, one of the only ways to fix this issue is to switch your website vendor or host. Be sure to ask your website provider how and where they host their servers before signing a contract, and do some digging! Get a list of their clients and see how quickly their sites load. (Luckily if you're a Finalsite client, you can rest assured your website is hosted on a safe, fast and secure network!)
  • Export images at the size they will be displayed on your website: Focus on image size and getting your dimensions right. Uploading a 7000 pixel-wide photo for a 200 pixel-wide thumbnail isn't necessary, and bogs down site speed. While it is an extra step to resize images imported from cameras, you can create Photoshop templates that already have the sizes for each area on the site I update images. That way, the settings are already there, and I simply have to drag, drop, and save!

  • Use Finalsite's New Resources Manager: We took site speed into consideration when we build our new file management platform. When you use Resources Manager, your website will serve up content optimized for the browser and device, ensuring the fastest load time possible.
  • Be sure all images for web are 72dpi: While in print having 300dpi improves the quality of images, this will not make a difference on the web. This is an adjustment that can easily be made in Photoshop.
  • Find an image optimizer tool that doesn't hurt the quality of your images: I use ImageOptim, a free tool that shrinks down image size without harming image quality. On average it saves me about 8-10% of space per image, which adds up when multiple images are on a page. However, it is only available on Mac. Compressor.io is a great tool to use to compress images once they are resized and is available for all operating systems.
  • Be sure all photographs on your site are a JPEG: Only use PNG files when uploading a graphic. Since they are higher quality, they'll bog down site time if you end up using a PNG file for photographs. The tool TinyPNG to optimize your PNG images when they are absolutely necessary. Just drag and drop the image into the site, and they'll reduce the size by half or more.
  • For video, download our Quick Guide for Optimizing Video for the Web for a variety of tips and tricks for improving site speed.

3. Make Your School's Website Responsive

If your school's website still isn't responsive, now would be a good time to make that change. Non-responsive websites began feeling the heat two years ago with Google's "mobilegeddon," when the search engine began punishing any website in search that didn't have a mobile-friendly experience.

Then, just this summer, Facebook turned the pressure up saying that it would follow suit with Google, penalizing non-mobile optimized sites in its News Feed.

With more than 50% of social media consumption happening on mobile devices, and more than 50% of overall website traffic coming from mobile, a non-responsive website faces much lower traffic and higher bounce rates than a responsive website.


Free Whitepaper: Why Your School Needs a Responsive Website

Get My Copy

4. Ensure Your Website is Accessible and ADA-Compliant

By January 18, 2018 any educational institution that receives federal funding needs to have an AA compliant website. After this deadline, all school websites that do not meet AA compliance from the WCAG 2.0 guidelines will receive citations and fines from the OCR.

While this change mostly affects school districts and public higher ed institutions, website accessibility is something all schools should be taking into consideration during the web design process. More than 20% of all Americans have some sort of disability — whether it be dyslexia, color-blindness, blindness or deafness — and the large bulk of school websites do not adhere to all, or even some, of the disabilities of their potential audience.

A simple design enhancement can assist with accessibility if you have a particular target audience. For example, The Schenck School has a font toggle to improve website readability for visitors with dyslexia.

Shenck School dyslexic font togglw

If your school does not receive federal funding, you do have some time to consider how to update your website to make it accessible. However, if you are a public school district, it's essential that you begin the process now (if you have not already). Our recommended partner for website accessibility is AudioEye, as their tool automatically detects and fixes website accessibility issues, and provides a toolbar that allows the visitor to personalize the website navigation experience.

AudioEye on Mansfield ISD Site

The Internet Does Not Wait for Anyone

2018 is quickly approaching, and some of the changes listed above can take days, weeks, and in some cases — months — to achieve. Google, Facebook, WCAG 2.0, and smartphones will no longer wait for your school to get up-to-par with their requirements in 2018 and beyond. So, take this fall, a season of change, as an opportunity to make these changes and get ahead just in time for the near year!

Free School Website Audit
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mia Major

As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, Mia plans and executes a variety of inbound marketing and digital content strategies. As a former TV and news reporter, freelance cinematographer and certified inbound marketer, Mia specialises in helping schools find new ways to share their stories online through web design, social media, copywriting, photography and videography. She is the author of numerous blogs, and Finalsite's popular eBook, The Website Redesign Playbook.