The Western Academy of Beijing (WAB) was recently recognized by the 2017 AVA Digital Awards with a Gold Award for their stunning new website. This prestigious worldwide award honors excellence in digital creativity, branding and strategy.
WAB is a leading non-profit, independent IB World School in China. Founded in 1994, WAB prides itself on innovative and highly qualified teachers, world-class facilities, diverse community, warm and supportive environment and service-oriented culture. 1,400 students from over 50 countries are the focus of WAB's learner-centered atmosphere, and are encouraged to take their place as responsible citizens of the world.
One word that often is used by WAB parents, students, and faculty is "spirit." The passionate spirit of the WAB community, both from current families as well as those who have graduated or moved on, is strong and inspiring. This spirit of diversity, family, and life-long learning manifests itself in their new website through the use of engaging videos, vivid hero photography, graphic elements and much, much more.
The Website Redesign Playbook
We talked with WAB Communications Department team members Suzi Roberts, Director of Communications and Advancement, and Kyle Bueschlen, Communications Specialist, to learn more about the winning method for rolling out this amazing website in just three months, Finalsite's fastest Best-in-Class launch to date.
WAB's old website was created and maintained using Drupal, a platform that fulfilled many of the school's needs but only their experienced in-house web developer, Sam Manongga, understood or knew how to use it. When Sam decided to leave the school in the summer of 2016, Suzi was forced to look at different options and systems that were built for schools and their unique needs. (This is a common issue for schools around the world.) Sam's exit, while a loss for the school, was also an opportunity to recreate WAB's website and other online portals from the ground up.
Finalsite was always the first choice for outsource development. During Suzi's tenure at another international school in Beijing, she pioneered Finalsite's first website launch in China and maintained a warm relationship with the company through web strategy workshops in the capital.
Reaching out to Finalsite, a speedy decision was taken to engage them for their website redevelopment in June of 2016. With the summer holidays fast approaching and their web developer leaving, Suzi moved quickly and efficiently to put plans in place to meet the team's ambitious launch deadline in the fall. To take the website project forward, WAB hired Kyle Bueschlen, a communications professional with extensive web design experience.
A Foundation For Success
Rolled out earlier in 2016, the "11 Reasons to Come to WAB" branding and advertising campaign masterminded by Suzi and her team provided a strong foundation and guide for the design and content of the new website.
A mock-up of the new site was initially based on these eleven points, while also following WAB's branding and style guide. This preliminary work laid a strong foundation for a successful and timely implementation, and provided the framework for the main navigation and content.
The focus was narrowed to be outward facing for admissions, marketing, advancement with the main navigation including action words like "Learn, Discover and Apply."
Great attention was also given to interior pages starting with each individual school. Suzi worked with the principals of each section to create unique and targeted content. For example, eleven reasons for joining the Middle School addresses the unique needs of this age group while still incorporating the school's overarching message.
Key landing pages, like the Admissions page, were also strategized to capture a visitor's attention with an engaging school video, student profiles, how-to steps and the very important call-to-action buttons, all integrated seamlessly into the layout and design.
Successful Project Management
From beginning to end of the project, Suzi used her leadership and expertise to oversee all aspects of the website's creation, both from a planning perspective and on the ground.
Kyle, who joined the team in August with a strong background in project management and digital communications, worked full-time with Sam on the website deployment. He successfully juggled many tasks, including creating a new site map, writing content and designing pages using the excellent Composer tools provided, all while keeping in constant contact with the Finalsite team despite the 12-hour time difference.
From August to October, Suzi and Kyle focused on creating engaging content that utilized bold, vibrant images to tell their unique story. The iconic colored squares used throughout the site in both static and parallax effect are inspired by the "11 Reasons to Come to WAB" and reflect the school colors, logo and web experience and are integrated throughout the site, providing unique connectivity. Suzi worked with Exposure Media Productions to create 7 unique videos for the site, and toured WAB with her in-house photographer Domingo Cui to shoot bold, purpose-made photos for the new website.
"The project was like putting together pieces of a fun but complicated puzzle," Kyle said. "All of them were crucial to the completion of our site and it truly encapsulates the essence of WAB."
Interactive Campus Map Showcases Amazing Facilities
One of the more popular features of the new site is their digital campus map which incorporates both photos and WAB's 360 virtual campus tour to provide a truly interactive experience.
For prospective families who often don't have the opportunity to visit the school before applying, it enables them to not only see the facilities but also showcases what goes on both in and outside the classroom in an easy, comprehensive visual format.
Kyle manages the website on a daily basis and said he loves using Finalsite's CMS Composer compared to WordPress. Since www.wab.edu's launch, the Communications team has expanded the website, began an SEO campaign with Finalsite, and also launched an internal alumni portal. Kyle is excited about his current project, moving WAB's Athletics and Activities portal from Drupal to Finalsite.
"Finalsite offers schools some excellent tools to create content. Using Composer is a joy and the new eNotify makes life much easier," said Kyle, who is looking forward to re-developing the rest of WAB's online systems to Finalsite.
One benchmark the WAB Communications team uses to measure success is lack of complaints – which they can proudly say they have had none. They have also measured an increase in website traffic by 50% since last year at the same time. WAB families, faculty, and members of the international education community have all remarked that the new WAB website truly embodies the warmth and vibrancy of the school. These efforts have culminated with a 2017 Gold AVA Digital Award given to the Western Academy of Beijing and Finalsite for www.wab.edu.
"The site launched successfully with many well-wishers. A clear vision, a dedication to excellence and much love went into creating the website," Suzi said. "It was not just work and we're all extremely proud of what we accomplished together with the Finalsite development team. We look forward to moving our web presence even further."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As part of Finalsite's marketing team, Debbie has worked with international schools for the past 7 years while living in both Asia and Europe. From conference planning and presentations, to association events, and client success stories, she helps schools understand how they can maximize their web presence while partnering with Finalsite. In her free time she enjoys traveling and attending events at her children's school in Berlin, Germany.