Among the myriad of decisions that need to be made during a website redesign, one of the most frequent questions asked is: what’s actually the best time to launch our school's website?
Well, it’s complicated. Many schools assume the best time to launch is at the beginning of the school year. It makes sense…the start of the school year is an exciting time for educators, students, and parents — it’s a fresh start to the year, a new group of families to wow, and a great time to unveil the latest extension of your school brand.
However…It’s also a time when many schools and districts launch new initiatives, programs, and are busy welcoming new families. While the back-to-school season may seem like the perfect time to launch a new school website, it may not be the best time after all.
School websites are designed with the user in mind, but if going live with your site coincides with a busy calendar and creates confusion and stress for your users and school community, you’re not doing anyone, or your redesign goals, any favors.
Let’s explore why the start of the school year may not be the best time to launch a school website and offer some alternative launch times that work for your team AND your users.
Limited staff and administrator availability
Launching a new school or district website requires a dedicated team to handle website development, content creation, and ongoing maintenance. However, the start of the school year is the busiest time for school staff and leadership as they prepare for the new academic year.
Long vacations, shortened working hours, and reduced staffing during the summer drain the availability for your launch team when important decisions about design, content, and oh yeah, actually building the site needs to happen.
The website redesign process requires time and energy to manage, and this may not be feasible during the back-to-school season. As September approaches, teachers and administrators are slammed with lesson planning, curriculum development, classroom setup, and welcoming new students and families, making it challenging to dedicate the necessary time and resources to assist with the launch.
“We purposely launched during a downtime of the year and I am so happy we did!” said Samantha Scheinman of Barrington Community Unit 220 School District. “It gave us time to refine things (pre-launch) in a slower season, and after the launch we worked out minor kinks before the start of the school year.”
Keep reading about Barrington’s award-winning website redesign project.
Overwhelming students and parents
The start of the school year is a hectic time for students and families as well. Students are adjusting to new schedules, teachers, and classmates, while parents are busy coordinating school supplies, transportation, extracurricular activities, and after-school care. Parents and students may be too preoccupied to notice the new website or engage with its content.
When returning families log in to look for class assignments, bus schedules, teacher pages, health forms, and everything else back-to-school related, only to be greeted by a completely new user experience, they may be overwhelmed by everything that’s changed. Feeling even more anxious about where to go for what only adds to the stress of returning to class.
Launching a new website during the back-to-school season may also mean competing with other new initiatives and announcements. Schools may be launching new programs during this time, which can be a distraction from the website launch.
As a result, launching a new website during this time may make it challenging for the website to stand out and gain the attention it deserves. Imagine: you’ve worked so hard and for so long, only to compete with the announcement of homecoming week, or heaven forbid — the rescheduling of Chicken Patty Day.
After completing its website redesign project, La Salle College High School launched its new site in February and to help catch the eyes of its school community, the school released an amazing site launch video with Finalsite. It covers where to find important information, and highlights areas of its new and improved site, like its student life, academics, and college counseling program pages.
Unexpected technical issues
Launching a website during the back-to-school season means that the website is live during a busy and critical time of the academic year. Completing a redesign requires a lot of planning, training, testing, and more testing.
Even with the most diligent planning and an all-star Deployment team, unforeseen technical issues may arise during the launch. Technical issues can include broken links or missing content, or maybe a tree that knocked out power to your office on the morning of the launch (Murphy’s Law and all…)
The start of the school year may not provide adequate time to troubleshoot and resolve technical issues, and with a wave of website traffic headed directly to your back-to-school web page and resources, it can be unfortunate.
Plus, any technical issues that arise during this time may disrupt the user experience and distract staff and students from their academic work.
St. Mark’s School, which launched its new site in February, used a website notification using a Finalsite Page Pop to not only alert users of its new site, but also help direct users to popular pages if they were having trouble navigating the site for the first time.
Limited time for user testing and feedback
Launching a website during the back-to-school season may not provide enough time for user testing and feedback. Once school begins, your team may not have the time or inclination to engage in user testing and feedback, which helps identify opportunities to improve the website and make it even more effective.
While deployment and web design teams search high and low for any bugs or design issues before launch, user testing and feedback help identify technical issues, usability problems, and other issues that may affect the user experience.
Gathering user comments, and providing forms for users to submit feedback or suggestions is a great way to address any issues with website pages or the user experience that arise in the first few days and weeks after a launch.
After launching in November, Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191 set up a short form for families and users to submit feedback on its district’s website. As the page notes, “In the transition to a new website and content management system, it's common for there to be some broken links…Use this form to let us know about any broken links you find, content that may be missing, or other website-related questions or comments.”
Alternative launch times
While the start of the school year may not be the best time to launch a school website, there are alternative launch times that may be more suitable for your school or district, such as mid-year or before a long break for students.
Launching a website during a quieter time (is there such a thing?) can help ensure that the website is launched successfully and effectively. It can also provide time to gather user feedback and make improvements before the website is widely used.
Launching mid-year, such as January or February, can be a great option. Aside from having more focused attention from staff and administrators, mid-year launches can help re-energize staff and students after the holiday season and provide a fresh start for the website going into the second half of the school year.
Mid-year launches can provide an opportunity to showcase new initiatives, programs, or updates that have been implemented since the start of the academic year.
Keep Reading: The Foolproof Website Redesign Timeline for Schools
Alternatively, launching mid-fall can be a viable alternative just as the dust settles following the craziness of the back-to-school season (and before the holiday rush picks up), and deploying before spring vacation can rally your school community as it heads into the busy end-of-year programming. And, with a new school website launched in spring, you’ll have ample time to market your new school website to a new group of prospective families during the summer months.
When planning a website launch, it’s essential to consider the best time for your school, staff, and students. Limited staff availability, overwhelming students and parents, unforeseen technical issues, and limited time for user testing and feedback can all pose significant challenges to a successful website launch during the back-to-school season. So, take the time to plan your website launch carefully, and you’ll be sure to reap the rewards of a successful launch.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.