There's A LOT to consider when redesigning a website, and one of the most frequently asked questions is: "When is the best time to launch a website?"
Many consider the summer months the best time for schools — teams can finally have more time to focus on the last details, schedules are more flexible, and welcoming students and faculty back to campus with a new website can certainly be an exciting way to start the new academic year.
Having worked with schools for the past 25 years, summer may be a good target date for many schools. (And for our friends in the Southern Hemisphere - yes, winter!) So if you decide that a summer launch is best for your school, what steps do you need to take?
Here’s the recommended timeline to ensure you launch your website by summertime. The longer you wait, the more challenging this all becomes for your team.
- November: Finalize software functionality requirements and design scope
- December: Review proposal and sign final contract
- January: Kick off the project and assign tasks
- February - March: Finalize design and navigation, get trained, and develop a content strategy
- April - May: Build out pages as the design gets produced and ensure functionality is in place.
- June: Finalize all pages, content, images, and remaining details
- July: Launch! Promote! Celebrate!
By November | Research
We’re going to go out on a limb and say that you’ve concluded that Finalsite is the only provider with the full suite of services, software, and support to handle your short- and long-term needs. Some schools choose to go down the path of open-source/DIY — but this is about building upon a full-suite platform to expand your reach and engage your audiences.
It is also not a bad time to dig through your website and determine what should stay and what can go. Most schools uncover a lot of outdated and not very important content cluttering their site. Considering these factors will make things a lot easier down the road:
- A draft sitemap to start figuring out your navigation
- Branding elements. Is everything in one place and easy to share? Is anything being developed that may hold things up?
- Photography. Do not underestimate the impact of good photography; those sites that are consistently admired always include high-quality, engaging photos.
There are ways to move the website project forward, even if some things are still being finalized. Having worked with thousands of schools around the world who have gone through the same process, we encourage schools to read the Website Redesign Playbook to map out best practices for engaging your website visitors and how your site will factor into your school's business goals and overall marketing strategy.
What to think about when redesigning a website
Have this discussion with your team — even before you even get the contract.
Does the contract need board approval? If so, when/how does that happen?
Will they need a presentation to understand the scope and project? You’ll want to back out a timeline from that approval date and line up any board-level meetings sooner rather than later.
Will your school or district’s attorney or business office need to review the contract terms?
If so, we often send a “sample” contract over even before the project has been approved. This ensures that any key discussion points are flagged. Our contracts are very fair and standard, and we want to make sure you and members of your team understand what they’re signing and have a chance to ask questions earlier in the process.
Who, ultimately, approves the project? Is there a certain spending threshold that warrants more approvals?
If so, try to identify that number and/or how the chain of approvals works. We often spend time with people who may not have any involvement in the project so that they understand the return on investment, purpose, and objections, including business officers, board members, donors, and even outside consultants. The earlier we talk to these individuals, the better.
We also encourage you to collect websites you like and agree on common attributes. Finally, once your team is aligned around a few key objectives, you need to put a bit of faith in your website company to bring your vision to life and sign the contract.
By December | Sign a Contract
Don’t get stuck before you even start! Many administrators eagerly request contracts but get overwhelmed trying to please numerous stakeholders with varying visions. However, by aligning on the project's primary objectives, the contract process can be streamlined.
By January | Build a team & kick things off!
The contract is in hand, the holidays are over, and now the fun begins. Gather your group of key stakeholders and schedule a kick-off call to get the project moving along with both our teams. Shortly after the contract, we’ll share a survey with you to help our designers understand what makes you unique, your goals, and other requirements.
This phase lays the foundation for a successful website launch. Google Analytics is always an important guide in understanding high-traffic pages that should be brought more to the forefront while other pages might need to be removed or recrafted.
With an experienced project manager by your side and an online project management tool that lays out a clear timeline with key milestones — including deliverables for both you and your school — you’ll find the project progresses comfortably and steadily. Everyone on the team knows who needs to do what and by when to meet the targeted launch date. Weekly meetings will ensure the project moves along.
Finalsite’s project managers are skilled in moving teams along to meet their deadlines. On average, schools take five-six months to launch their site, depending on their goals and resources. Transparency about the process is key, so if schools want a new website by next school year, they need to start thinking about what needs to happen in order for them to meet their launch date goal.
By February - March | Finalize design and navigation, get trained, and start adding content
We emphasize training early to demystify the process of putting a website together — it will also enable you to ask better questions along the way. Users love learning new tools and always think of new and creative ways to use our content management system (CMS) and products by experimenting with different website pages.
Learning resources for clients in deployment, developed by the Client Education team, outline all the resources available during your deployment. From office hours and webinars to the training portal, many resources are available.
Most notably, the Finalsite Training portal offers interactive pages, searchable videos, practical exercises, and graded knowledge checks to bring you up to speed. The training site provides valuable tools for learning. Other professional development options to help new users include a comprehensive resource library.
Design and Have Fun!
It’s always exciting when our team starts bringing your story to life; seeing their ideas come to life over the course of a few months is always fun. Signing off on the design is important in keeping the project on track.
Our design team has over 200 awards and is always looking for new ways to showcase all the amazing things happening at schools. They stay up with the latest trends in user interface, navigation, mobile requirements, and so much more. So keeping your committee small and focused and trusting our team is important.
By April/May | Build out pages and ensure functionality
Our web developers are tasked with implementing the design into a user-friendly, functioning, and interactive website. This initial coding phase can last a few weeks, depending on the creative package and complexity of the design.
At the end of the build-out process, the basic design, navigation, and functionality of your website will be in place, and the site will be tested by our quality team. Critical to staying on track is making sure you’re paying attention to the following:
This is by far the one area where most schools underestimate the amount of time required. While some schools copy/paste content to their new site, most schools take this opportunity to rewrite content to make it more succinct and engaging.
With 50% of website traffic coming from mobile devices and search engines, content also needs to be mobile-friendly. Visitors have short attention spans and like more visual content, so part of this process is using images, infographics, and shorter blocks of text and list items.
A common derailment for meeting launch goals is not factoring in the time it takes to gather, create, organize, and move content into the new website. Creating new content can begin as soon as you sign a contract, and having been trained on the product, you are much more capable of creating pages that are impactful.
Data Imports and Integration
If you are looking to integrate with your student information system or admissions software, this is an important piece that requires attention to detail. Our team will review the technical requirements with your technical team and get the process rolling.
By June | Pulling it All Together
Once the design is implemented, your team is trained, content and images are (mostly) gathered, and it’s time to get the pages ready for launch. This means strategically using layouts, reducing pages and content, creating calls to action, and revamping sections to be engaging for your target audience. The most successful teams we work with set this as a priority, work collaboratively, and make timely decisions along the way.
The good news is that you have complete control of updating your web pages. So if you craft a page and decide in a month to make changes to the content, navigation, or layout, you can easily do this. Get version one of your pages up and running, knowing you can tweak them later.
If you need inspiration from other schools, we have plenty of articles, including:
- Does Your Homepage Answer These 5 Questions
- Homepages vs Landing Pages: What They Mean for School Website Design
- 13 Schools with Attention-Stealing Homepage Introductions
By July | Launch!
Launching a new school website can seem daunting. Some schools breeze through it while others struggle a bit more — but either way, Finalsite will stand by your side the entire way. Schools love to share their success stories to help other schools by providing advice, wisdom, and support.
So if you want to launch an amazing website next summer, start now! This is not a linear process but rather an orchestration of many moving pieces, and Finalsite will partner with you along this journey.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Angelo graduated valedictorian from St. Paul's School in Baltimore, MD and from Princeton University. Despite getting his degree in creative writing and English Literature, it generally takes some doing to keep him from programming and breaking websites. Just after graduating, he started Silverpoint, and grew it to over 300 schools worldwide before merging with Finalsite in 2013.
As part of Finalsite's marketing team, Debbie has worked with international schools for the past 10 years while living in both Asia and Europe. She helps schools understand how they can maximize their web presence while partnering with Finalsite. As a parent of three children who graduated from IB World Schools, she has keen insights into the marketing and communication needs of international schools.