Finalsite teamed up with Loft9 Consulting in 2016 to launch Lake Washington School District's Best-In-Class website. As one of the largest districts in Washington State, this collaboration improved the district's online presence, parent communications, and accessibility.
With a background of nearly 10 years in digital consulting and strategy, David Martinez, Senior Consultant at Loft9 Consulting, alongside Finalsite's Client Success Manager of Public Schools Gerard Gustafson, recently led the webinar, "10 Tips for a Successful District Redesign," to share the best tips for the website redesign process, the impact a website redesign has on your brand and communications, and more.
Is It Time To Redesign?
Consider these five common questions to determine when is the right time for your district to begin the redesign process. (If you answer "yes" to any of these, you should begin the process!)
1. Is your website not mobile-friendly?
With everyone using mobile devices for browsing, having a responsive design is a requirement. The majority of Finalsite clients see at least 50% of their traffic come from mobile devices, and in some cases, even more! Plus, if your district loves to use social media, the majority of your users will also be visiting from mobile devices when you post content that links back to your website
2. Has it been more than three years since your last design refresh?
Like your car, your district website requires a little maintenance every so often. Trends change, algorithms change, there are new requirements, and each year, Internet users have higher standards. The three-year mark is usually the right time for a district to begin the redesign process, or at least begin inquiring about it.
3. Have you heard negative feedback from your constituents?
Take it from the ones who are using your site the most: your parents, students, and faculty know your site the best, and if their user experience is getting worse, it may be time to consider their feedback and update your site.
4. Are you relying more on social media accounts than your own website?
Though I personally love social media and know it's a great platform for districts to share engaging content, you should always try to bring these posts back to your website (it shouldn't be the other way around).
5. Is the recent 508 refresh regarding compliance driving the redesign conversation?
The importance of ADA compliance and website accessibility has left many districts with three options: fix their accessibility issues on their own, ignore them and hope for the best, or, redesign and bring in skilled vendors/partners to handle accessibility for them.
The redesign process can be scary, so if you answered "yes" to any of those questions above and you started to feel your heart race and palms sweat at the thought of all that content migration...hang tight. We have ten tips for a successful district redesign that will put your mind at ease, and guarantee a successful project from start to finish!
Tip #1 - Keep Accessibility in Mind from the Start
Many districts are opting for redesigns to ensure they can launch an ADA-compliant and accessible website. It is important to select a vendor who can help you achieve this feat. There are more than 200 WCAG 2.0 requirements that need to be met, so keeping accessibility and ADA-compliant top of mind from the get-go will save you a lot of stress and headaches down the road.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you begin the redesign process:
- Work with your designers on an accessible design that takes into consideration color contrast, font size, and other WCAG 2.0 requirements
- Create an accessibility statement, which will clearly articulate compliance is important to your district with an email/phone number to a contact if someone does have trouble. You can put this in your district's footer.
- Create a set list of standards for maintaining accessibility. Make sure your team knows the standards and signs off on a letter of acknowledgement that that will update the site to be accessible to the best of their ability and knowledge
- Create a governing doc/checklist to help guide your team adding content appropriately
It is important to note that accessibility is an ongoing process. Here at Finalsite, we understand how important website accessibility now is for schools. Dive into more best practices on ADA compliance and accessibility and learn more about how you can achieve ADA website compliance with us here.
Tip #2 - Know What You Want/Need
It's important to know what the purpose of your district's website is: is it for communications, marketing, or maybe a little bit of both? While many districts have historically used their websites as a place for parents to find information, increased competition and national decreases in enrollment has led many districts to redesign with the purpose of enticing prospective families who may be moving to the area.
If you're not sure what your website's purpose is just yet, build out a list of requirements in order of importance to help you determine what information should be the most prominent on your pages. From there, think of the best way to organize this information in one place. For example, using a calendar to share all of your district events.
It's also recommended to take your stakeholders' input into consideration - this being multiple departments, parents, students, etc. By understanding their behavior when visiting your website, whether that's how often they're using it or what they're doing on your website, this can help you determine what the most important information you need to be at the top of your priority list.
Remember, not all important information has to be on your homepage!
Tip #3 - Don't Make a Choice Simply Based on Price
We all know budget plays a role when considering a website provider, but your lowest cost provider won't always provide the best experience. Consider what the cost includes, andeware that some lower cost providers — like open source solutions — require you to do more work with your website than you think, whether that's coming up with the design for the site, page structures, layouts, etc. It may end up costing you more time and effort than you think. Make the most of your investment by going with a provider who is able to help you through each step of the redesign process.
Tip #4 - Establish a Website Team
Assembling the right team will be essential to make your redesign project as smooth as possible. You should consider:
- Who your point person is for the website? This could be a project leader, or someone to represent each school in your district. In some cases, the point person on the project may not have authority to approve designs, color combinations, or other items which can slow down the project. Be sure to put individuals in charge that have the power to keep things moving forward in the process.
- Who are the key decision-makers? Determine whose input/ideas/content you will need to incorporate into this project as these will be coming from the key decision-makers behind what goes into your site.
- Who will be doing the bulk of the work? Be sure to delegate the work of the project before-hand to make your redesign process run much smoother. This can include a breakdown of responsibilities or to-do list.
- What's the approval process for the homepage, content changes, etc. As you establish a solid website team, remember too many cooks in the kitchen can spoil the broth! Get the right people involved in the project, and keep them informed from start to finish. You want your stakeholders to know what's going on throughout the project.
Tip #5 - Don't Just Migrate Content from One Site to Another
Redesigns are like spring cleaning!, They give you an opportunity to look at all the content you have and determine what may or may not be relevant, what needs to be updated, and what can be moved forward without any changes.
It's important to note: do not just copy over the content on your current site without evaluating it!
In most cases it has to be rewritten or re-worked, especially to be mobile-friendly or include keywords you want your site to come up for in search results...and of course, to be ADA-compliant. If your district has always been reliant on PDFs for sharing content, now is a great time to re-evaluate how to turn those PDFs into digital content, or o make the PDFs accessible.
Learn how to make your website PDFs accessible with this step-by-step guide
Tip #6 - Trust Your Designers
Keep the conversation open with your designers during the process. Consider starting a concept board where you can have individuals on your team share websites they've come across with cool features, an interesting design, or fun user-experience to get ideas on what your new site should resemble. You can find inspiration from any website - it doesn't have to be a school or district website.
From there, take your ideas and inspiration to your designers. They spend all day looking at websites, thinking about websites, sometimes even dreaming about websites. Because they're so involved, they're able to come up with solutions that you might not have even realized existed.
Tip #7 - Train from the Get-Go
Don't wait to start your training until the day you need to add content. Start training the first day you can on the new platform your new site will be on. Take advantage of your time with the Project Manager - this time is valuable and is available to help you answer questions and brainstorm ideas with using the new platform.
Watch the training videos and attend webinars as early as you can to get as much hands-on experience in the platform as well. We always recommend to ask questions so you can learn as much as you can throughout the redesign process.
Tip #8 - Don't Wait to Add Content
This is usually the heaviest part of your redesign project, so the sooner you can get started on this step, the better - especially if you have a big district. By this point, you should have determined the most relevant and important content you have prioritized for your website so you have a place to start.
Do not feel overwhelmed - content can always be modified after it's been published. It's recommended that you start with static content and move to more advanced layouts once you're comfortable. For districts, policy pages are a good place to start. This may take some time to move over the content, but it also gives you an opportunity to become familiar with the basic functions and layouts of the platform that you may encounter with the rest of the website. As you get comfortable, then take on the design-heavy dynamic pages of your site.
Tip #9 - Use Your Resources
If you with with Finalsite, you'll have a project manager, designer, and front-end-developer at your disposal during the redesign process, so be sure to ask them questions and make the most of their time with you before the project is over!
Focus on working together throughout the entire process, not only with your stakeholders but with the individuals helping you with the redesign itself. At Finalsite, we're an extension of your team working diligently to launch the new site your district wants.
Take advantage of training videos, webinars, and any hands-on events as additional resources to help you during your project.
Tip #10 - Use the Redesign as a Communication Pillar
Prior to launching, be sure your school's help desk knows (if you have one) to make sure they have the bandwidth to take on any questions. Then, finally, your site will be ready to launch! Yes! After spending a ton of time completing the project, it is now time to celebrate it and share your new site with anyone you can.
You can share it across your social media channels and promote it in an upcoming email newsletter. Since it is a new site experience, be open to feedback from your current users to see how you can make the site even better. Some districts have even recorded videos to show off the new features and sections on the new site - keep this line of communication open with your users.
Are you feeling inspired to take on your next redesign project? Get started with us today!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephanie brings a fresh new marketing perspective with her background in social media, communications, and radio broadcasting. She is a co-producer for the FinalsiteFM podcast network and is passionate about helping schools stay ahead of their marketing goals by tracking new trends and developments. She is also a practicing singer/songwriter and loves to expand her creativity in DIY projects.