- General Best Practices
Your school’s website is the single most valuable marketing tool you have. Nearly everyone who discovers your school or district will do so through a search engine. Even for those who don’t discover your website through search, the theory is the same: Your website needs to make a strong first impression to win them over within the first ten seconds of them landing on your page.
An older website with outdated design trends, an unresponsive website that provides a subpar mobile experience, or a website that fails to meet modern accessibility standards (especially important for districts) can do irreparable harm to your brand and reputation.
On the other hand, a sleek and responsive website can make your school stand out from your competitors whose websites fail to impress with outdated or uninspired design choices.
We usually recommend that schools begin to reconsider a website redesign around the three- year mark, and consider it an absolute necessity at the five-year mark.
If you’re still uncertain about whether or not your school’s website needs an update, here are six tell-tale signs to look for:
Your website is not mobile-first
Your website feels outdated with old design trends
You recently rebranded your school
Your website is difficult to navigate
Your website is not ADA-compliant
Your website is difficult to update
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1) Your website is not mobile-first
People spend more time browsing the internet on their smartphones and smart devices than they do on their desktop or laptop. That means more people see your school’s mobile layout than they see they desktop and laptop layout.
Having a responsive website is no longer optional. It’s a necessity. Responsive websites better maintain your brand, provide a more memorable and engaging experience, and most importantly, your audience expects it.
More than half of internet users said they won’t make a recommendation based on a poorly designed website, while 38 percent of users said they will stop interacting with a website altogether if the content of layout is unattractive.
Responsive websites guarantee that your website is optimized for viewing across every mobile device by automatically scaling the page layout and content to best fit each mobile device’s screen size. Responsive websites also help with search engine optimization (SEO) since search engine algorithms favor responsive designs and quick load speeds on mobile devices.
It’s also essential to consider if your website is truly mobile-first. While “responsive design” is the result of the way your site is coded, mobile-first design refers to the way your site is designed. A mobile-first website considers the mobile experience before (or at the same time as) the desktop experience.
Because we know how important this is, we’ve made numerous modifications to our process and products:
We take a mobile-first approach to design, build the desktop and mobile experience at the same time, with modifications to each to provide the optimal viewing experience.
Our Resources module helps maintain quick load speeds thanks to automatic image and video optimization that serves up smaller files on mobile devices.
Composer, our content management system (CMS), was setup to build responsive sites with built-in device preview tools that make designing for mobile devices quick and easy. Composer also makes it easy to optimize each page for Google to place your school to the top of the results page.
2) Your website feels outdated with tired design trends
Websites older than two or three years old could use an aesthetic refresh, if not a complete redesign — and patching up individual pages can only do so much as time marches on.
Take a look back at some old school website designs and you’ll find:
Reliance on Flash that abandoned due to a lack of mobile support
Heavy use of clip art instead of actual photographs or video
Tables and charts to organize content that was ditched due to a lack of mobile support
An overuse of bold text and drop shadows that was dropped in favor of proper headings and accessibility stylings
Lots and lots of PDFs
Designs that are not “full-width”
Most first impressions (around 90%) are design based, so even the smallest of aesthetic decisions plays a major role in what people think of your school or district.
We speak confidently on this issue because we have the design experience to back up our work with more than 100 design awards. That kind of recognition doesn’t just happen without an expert team of designers and developers who know all the intricate ins and outs of what makes for a beautiful website, and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight. Try more like 20 years.
Websites are predominantly a visual medium, and the average visitor spends less than six seconds looking at your website’s written content.
That means you should show your school’s story as much as possible through photos, videos, and infographics to really paint the picture in the mind’s of each visitor that your school is the place for their child or children. Fail to do so and potential applicants are likely to abandon your site forever.
Interested in learning more? We share 20 years of design experience and knowledge in our weekly-updated blog with examples to inspire your next redesign in blogs such as:
3) You recently rebranded your school
If you have recently updated your branding and core messaging, you need to redesign your website. Your website is your most important communication and marketing tool, and keeping your message and visual identity consistent is important.
Any design and brand change made to traditional forms of marketing (such as printed marketing materials) should be reflected on your digital marketing tools. That means your website, too!
A school rebranding needs to be reflected as soon as possible on your website. Otherwise, there is an immediate disconnect when visitors arrive on your website expecting one thing, only to see outdated logos, colors, and other visual forms of branding and messaging.
For example, Parish Episcopal School recently redesigned and rebranded their website to deliver content more efficiently with a larger focus on mobile visitors. Courtney Joyner, Parish Episcopal’s Webmaster, discusses their rebranding and redesign in a recent podcast with Educational Sales Consultant for Higher Education and Independent Schools and Senior Client Success Manager Lorrie Jackson.
4) Your website is difficult to navigate
Poor website architecture and equally poor navigation can make interacting with your website a nightmare. If someone can’t find what they need in a reasonable time, they’ll take their search to another school with a website where they can.
Keeping a close eye on your website’s analytics is one of the most important jobs for anyone who regularly updates the website. The following metrics can give you a good idea as to how your website is performing:
Bounce rates: Shows where users are leaving your site without visiting another page. High bounce rates can be caused by non-responsive design, broken links, slow load speeds, or and an overall poor design.
Average visit duration: Shows how long users are staying on your site. A high visit duration means your visitors are engaged with your website’s content. A low visit duration means they are not.
Top entrance and exit pages: These are the pages where users most commonly enter and exit your site. Top entrance pages with high bounce rates need to be updated — especially if your homepage is at the top of that list.
One navigation trend that we see expanding over the next few years, and one best demonstrated on The International School of Brussels homepage, is giving visitors a prominent search bar that allows them to craft their own customized search experience with quick links to the most popular pages and an easy way to find any other page they want.
5) Your website design and/or content is not ADA-compliant
Web accessibility equalizes website usability for the 12 to 20 percent of Americans with disabilities. There are more than two hundred specific requirements in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 (WCAG 2.1), an updated repository of technical details that designers use to bring their website into accessibility compliance.
Currently, public school districts only need to meet WCAG 2.0, but the continued push for complete website accessibility has made the topic one of the biggest hot-button issues for districts. And even though independent schools aren’t required to meet the same accessibility standards as districts, around 100 independent schools have decided to make their website accessible to all with Finalsite.
Failing to comply to the standard accessibility guidelines can result in serious fines and Office of Civil Rights (OCR) complaints. These fines can rack up quickly and costs schools or districts hundreds of thousands of dollars before the problem is addressed.
The only sure-fire way to avoid an OCR complaint and fines is to ensure your website’s content and design is accessible. It’s a problem that may not affect your school right now, but it certainly will become a problem down the line. It’s better to eliminate the potential issue sooner than later, especially considering the solution is much cheaper than the fines associated with the problem.
Finalsite has also partnered with AudioEye to provide schools with an added layer of protection against accessibility complaints and fines through with their proprietary technology and processes, which include:
Turnkey Solutions and Speed to Compliance
Beautiful, Functional, and Fully Accessible Websites
Automatic and Manual Remediation of Errors
AudioEye Toolbar for greater usability for all visitors
6) Your website is difficult to update
if you’re avoiding updates to your website because it is too time-consuming, or your webmasters are complaining, it’s likely time to search for a new website provider.
Choosing a CMS for your school is an incredibly important decision. For every school and district, the list of requirements may be different. Composer, Finalsite’s CMS, makes it as simple as possible for website admins to make updates to their sites through an intuitive “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) editor and interface.
Composer enables users of all skill levels to contribute content. Resources takes that one step further by allowing trusted constituents to upload photos, images, and documents to help build a large library of website content.
Even if your school has just a handful of the design problems outlined above, it might be time for a website redesign. Your website represents a significant investment for your school, and the first line of brand awareness for most people who discover your school. Make that first impression as strong as possible with a redesigned website that accurately shows off your school’s excellence.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As Finalsite’s Product Marketing Specialist, Andrew writes blogs and creates videos to share information about all the latest and greatest Finalsite products. Andrew has more than 10 years of video production experience and a journalism education from the University of South Carolina. He is excited about bringing his experience and expertise to Finalsite.
- Web Design
- Website Redesign