Congratulations! If you’re reading this post, it’s because you’ve either:
- Partnered with Finalsite for your website redesign project.
- Or, you’re hoping that understanding the process and benefits might help you gain buy-in from your school leadership to redesign.
With many schools redesigning their websites every three years, there are proven steps that your team can take to meet their goals for delivering a stunning new website that your community loves! Here at Finalsite, the website deployment process can be exciting for some, others find it stressful, and most find it a combination of the two. But with twenty years of experience deploying thousands of websites in over 100 countries, the experts at Finalsite know how to work with schools to minimize stress and maximize results.
“A successful project is more than just delivering a pretty website. How we work together is equally as important. We take a client-centric approach to administering our proven process through collaborative and harmonious interactions.” said Ritsa Lafond, Director of Client Solutions, who has overseen the deployment of thousands of school websites during her decade long tenure at Finalsite.
So let’s get started. Here's a quick overview of what you can expect:
Work With an Experienced Deployment Team
The first order of business is meeting your deployment team who will work with you from start to finish. This team is made up of a project manager, designer, and front-end developer (and potentially some additional specialists, depending on the scope of your project). Finalsite works to assign a team that best fits the scope of your project, the type and location of your school, and various other factors to ensure satisfaction and success.
Your project manager — or PM for short — is your day-to-day contact from your initial kick-off-call to the day your site launches. Some also find their PM serves as their coach, guide, taskmaster, cheerleader, and on occasion, therapist. But it's not all work and no fun. We get to know our clients by sharing stories about our children, grand children, dear friends and dependable colleagues - because we know life is more than just what we do at work.
“Finalsite has dedicated over 20 years to launching websites for schools and have perfected our process to ensure your success. With over 5000 sites launched, we’ve learned a lot. We’ve had some big wins and learned some lessons along the way, but what came out of it was how our team can lead projects with efficiency, effectiveness and empathy. We identify risks before they turn into problems and bring solutions based on a vast array of experience working with schools around the world.” said Ritsa.
Prepare for the Project Kick-off
Once your deployment team is assembled and assigned, your project manager will schedule a kick-off-call. This happens shortly after your contract is signed.
The project kickoff call is like a pre-op. We’ll discuss the finer details of the process, such as:
- Expectations for each person's role and responsibilities.
- An achievable timeline with key milestone dates to help understand what happens at each stage of deployment, and how we’ll continue to move the project along.
- Key points of contact for both parties.
- Mavenlink, our project management tool. Your Finalsite deployment team and your school’s web team will collaborate in the Mavenlink project workspace, centralizing all our communication about the web project helps all of us stay on task. Your PM will build out your timeline in Mavenlink providing you with real-time access to task due dates and who is assigned to complete the task.
We strive for full transparency as we believe that is the key to building a strong working relationship.
Prepare for Your Website Project
Before we can jump into the website redesign project, you’ll have far greater success by doing some preliminary planning and research yourself.
- Determine your web team: Ideally your team is made up of 3-5 team members that can help you throughout the process. From design input to content entry, determine who you’ll want to ask and give them a heads up. They’ll be thankful that you’ve given them advance notice so they can plan their future workload around this new and exciting project.
- Identify the final decision-maker/tiebreaker: Three members of the committee want to use the horizontal logo and another three want to use the vertical version — who will break the tie? Determining the person that will make the final decisions or break ties in your committee is another way to keep the project on schedule.
- Sitemap: Take a look at your current sitemap and start to think about what areas you’d like to change. This is also a great exercise to help you determine which pages you’ll be able to delete or what new content will need to be written. Content work is one of the most under-planned aspects of a web project that can really lead to a less stressful launch if planned properly in advance.
- Photos: take stock of what you have, this is a good time to see if you’ll need to plan for new photography and to make any arrangements to ensure great photos are used at launch.
- Timelines: Look at your school calendar to determine holidays, breaks, and big events that might impact scheduling. Scheduling time ensures that key personnel are available for training, content editing and all the other little things that keep a project on schedule. Be sure to communicate these dates early to your project manager so they can help navigate around key milestones.
Understand the Six Stages of the Process
Stage 1: Discovery
Once we have you up-to-speed on what to expect and when, we get right down to business with our first project phase: Discovery. During the kickoff call your team was given your first tasks to help our team get a better understanding of your school and website goals and vision and the necessary marketing assets to design a site that is uniquely you.
These tasks will include:
- Branding Guidelines: Logos, colors, fonts, mission statement, value proposition – all of these are important to know at the start of a project. Do you have a style guide? If so, we want a copy! Having clear branding rules and guidelines ensures that there is consistency and continuity throughout the website
- Sitemap: Hand us current sitemap with edits or a completely new sitemap based on your needs and purpose for redesigning. This will be further revised, but at least serves as a starting point. Think about main pages and lower-level pages, and how a user navigates your website. Make it easy for a prospective family to find key information or parents to get news, etc.
- Photos: Help our designers learn about your school. Show off everything that is great or unique about your school. Do you have an active social media community? Make sure to share that with the design team! We need at least a dozen of your best images to get started. Don't worry – you'll add tons more yourself during the deployment process, but for now, we just need a small batch.
Once we’ve collected all this information your project team will provide recommendations and feedback on your sitemap before they get the pages uploaded into the Finalsite Content Management System, Composer. That’s right, you get access to our CMS at the very beginning of the project to begin your training and content journey.
Stage 2: Product Training and Onboarding
Our most successful clients can attest that a strong product understanding is the gateway to creating pages and content that are visually appealing to their audience.
We want you to feel like a Finalsite expert in no time, so we waste no time getting started. Our training team developed a five-week curriculum that focuses on the fundamentals of seven functional areas of the software to get new web administrators successfully onboarded to Composer and its core modules.
Your PM will introduce you to your dedicated Onboarding Specialist who will guide you through your five weeks of training, as well as, provide access to an extensive library of on-demand training videos, in-software training guides, knowledge base articles and live group webinar. No matter how you prefer to learn - we have you covered.
The curriculum is broken down into easy-to-follow and achievable segments to get you on your way to creating pages and content swiftly.
Stage 3: Design
This is where your vision for telling your school's distinctive story online becomes real. Imagine an architect showing you the drawings for your new house! Now is the time to give detailed feedback so that your website becomes all that you dreamed of. Our talented designers listen carefully, ask thoughtful questions and use their vast experience in working with all types of schools in order to understand and visualize the story you are trying to convey on your website.
“Our design team works within a culture of innovation,” said Kealan Duffy, UK Production Manager and Senior Designer at Finalsite, who has consulted with over 130 schools across 5 continents on the design of their websites. “We are passionate about exploring new ways to help schools achieve their goals effectively. One of the ways we do this by looking beyond the education sector, keeping our fingers on the pulse of emerging web trends and technologies to explore solutions that make a fresh and long-lasting impact”.
Bringing the vision to life is an evolutionary process through trial and error, thoughtful discussions and innovative design details led by your designer. After your designer submits the initial concepts for the homepage and the interior page design, you’ll enter a series of revisions that will be performed to refine the design and align all the features and aesthetics with what will culminate in the approval of the design.
This is why it's so important to have a designated decision maker! Schools who involve too many people in design decisions end up going in circles over minute details.
For schools opting for a Theme design, the “Design” stage is skipped and we move straight to “Build” to ensure a fast deployment.
Stage 4: Build
Your front-end developer builds the approved design for the home page, interior pages, and any special treatments, turning the beautiful designs into fully functioning web pages that meet the guidelines of today’s web standards — including WCAG 2.0 for accessibility.
This is where you’ll get to see how the special effects like sliding hovers, design details that move along the page, sticky headers that follow you down the page, and other interactive features that really make the site come alive and capture the attention of your visitors.
Stage 5: Review
Our team of perfectionists won't unveil your website to the world until we've reviewed every last pixel twice over.
Once the site is built, Finalsite’s team of quality assurance analysts go through a very detailed checklist (we’re talking between 1000 and 1200 items!) and:
- Review the functionality, setup and accessibility of the newly-built pages
- Process hundreds of checks across each of nine web browsers/devices, including the most popular desktop and mobile browsers
- Perform a thorough review with the designer to ensure the site, as built, matches the approved design
Once our team gives it the stamp of approval we’ll ask that you take the time to review the site as well and make sure you are equally as satisfied with the finished product.
Before we wrap up this phase though your PM will walk your through your website style guide and any special treatments that were designed and coded. This is essentially a training on how to use your design for adding in all those special touches to the content. This includes things like lead-in paragraph styles, content call-outs, buttons, or that cool testimonial feature on the homepage.
Stage 6: Launch
Time for the big reveal! When you are ready to launch your site, our team is there to support you.
We love to celebrate our schools’ beautiful sites! Check out some of the recent launches in our portfolio and follow Finalsite on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn where we share our schools’ innovative ideas!
Map Out Project Timeline
“How long will this all take?” is a question we hear often. Our experience has shown that our most successful clients invest about 5-10 hours per week on the project. The more effort you put in along the way, the better the outcome will be.
Your PM will spend a lot of time upfront laying out the timeline and reviewing the tasks you’ll be responsible for and how many days you’ll realistically be able to commit to. Our goal is to build a timeline that you feel is reasonable and achievable. Knowing any existing commitments that could impact your availability is good to bring up in the kick off meeting. This includes school holidays, important school events and personal holidays for the web team or key stakeholders.
You’ll have weekly check in calls with your PM to review progress and make sure we are all on track. Bi-weekly status reports are also submitted to summarize all the great progress that has been accomplished and lays out the upcoming two weeks of tasks so we can always stay ahead of any potential roadblocks.
However, we know even with the best laid plans, things come up - life happens. Depending on the launch goals and what’s driving that date, we generally have some contingency built in. But it's best to bring up concerns or issues as soon as you can so your PM can help provide solutions that keep the project on track.
Depending on the design scope and the size of your team, here are what our most successful clients have achieved:
- Theme-based designs: 6-10 weeks*
- Theme Plus designs: 11-14 weeks*
- Package 2 (Bespoke) designs: 18-22 weeks*
- Package 3 designs: 22-30 weeks*
- Best-in-Class designs: 24-32 weeks*
*Note that multi-site projects (for example, districts with individual school sites in addition to the district homepage) take on average 3-6 weeks longer.
You control when you launch your new site but we help guide and sometimes push you to keep on track and meet deadlines. Our most successful clients have most of their training and content completed prior to the end of their review phase, which allows them to launch soon after the review phase is completed.
Capitalize on Extra Resources
We know that sometimes it doesn’t matter how good a process it is, how awesome your Project Manager is, or how talented the website designer – still the thought of undertaking a website redesign can feel overwhelming. Finalsite can provide extra resources to help you along the way so you have that extra layer of support and expertise to turn to at any point. This includes:
- Virtual Webmasters are there to relieve you of day-to-day site management tasks so you and your team can focus on completing the work that absolutely needs to be finished on a tight deadline.
- Finalsite Advantage offers individualized strategic support for schools of all sizes to develop and implement strategic marketing plans. Finalsite Advantage gives you access to a range of experts offering tailored help and support covering all areas of your marketing and website development needs.
Transition to Client Success
Now is the time to say good-bye to your Project Deployment Team and hello to your Client Success Manager (CSM)! Once your site launches, your team will be assigned a Client Success Manager, who is the main point of contact moving forward. Your CSM arranges regular meetings with you to make sure all burning questions, current needs and big ideas are addressed. When you don’t know where to start, or when you have questions about new Finalsite features, your contract, or starting a new redesign or digital marketing campaign project, your CSM is ready to serve. You will also receive a monthly newsletter to keep you up-to-date on new product releases, professional development opportunities, best practices and many other valuable resources.
Finalsite's deployment process is proven to launch school websites successfully. All of the steps are here to best serve you. If there's one thing we can emphasize about your role, though, it would be the importance of content! Without your unique and authentic content (photos, words, quotes, videos, infographics, and more) your school’s website is a gorgeous house with no furniture inside.
One of the best things you can do now, before the process even begins, is start lining up your content— how are you rephrasing, rethinking, and reorganizing the admissions section of your site, the community section, and others? Do that, and your website is sure to stand out.