Your school's website is hands-down your most important marketing tool. Whether you are a small school district in Pennsylvania, an elite boarding school in Connecticut, or college on the West Coast, your website is the hub of your strategy and content for marketing, communications, admissions, and development.
Well, at least it should be — since a good website, especially when coupled with good internet marketing strategies, can easily make the difference in terms of adding students to enrollment.
The cost of your school's website is most likely just a fraction of what you spend on landscaping, yet everyone is looking at your website all the time.
Still, many schools struggle with getting the appropriate budget for the kind of website they need to handle bare-minimum communications, let alone compete. And this begs the question — how much should a good website cost?
The short answer: Many schools should budget 1-2x tuition each year for their website as a ballpark – generally there's a higher cost up front than annually, but both are important to consider. There are a few key attributes that make up all website costs:
- The team building it: Is it an in-house side project, or are you hiring professionals?
- The process behind it: Is there a proven, strategic deployment process powering the process?
- Functionality and integrations: How does the CMS you've chosen integrate with the software and other web systems you already have in place?
Now, let's take the time to answer this question a little more thoroughly.
The Cost of Building the Website Yourself
DIY websites are great...you know, if you have a full-time website designer and developer who have signed a life-long contract at the school and will never, ever leave.
We all know that's never going to happen.
So, while doing a website in-house, or through an open source solution like Wordpress, might seem like the most affordable option, it also runs the most risks:
- Security risks: While sites like Wordpress are secure, all those add-ons and plug-ins you want to use for your website may not be, so proceed with caution
- Upkeep risks: Because hosting a website in-house requires quite a bit of web design and coding knowledge, schools run the risk of not always having someone with the right skill set to constantly update the website
- Admin risks: Open source solutions don't offer a ton of granular permissions, meaning you can't just give one person the authority to manage one portion of the website. This often leaves schools with an all-or-nothing approach to website management — meaning only one person has access, creating backlog, or everyone has access, creating a site map nightmare.
- Functionality risks: Remember, websites like Wordpress are blogs first, websites second — so their functionality isn't built for the intricacies of school website, often making your job more difficult than it needs to be.
All of that being said, the cost of building the website yourself can cost as little as a few hundred dollars a year. Yet, the cost of hiring an professional to manage and update the website on a regular basis can range from $45,000-$65,000 per year, or more in some cases, depending on experience.
On-Demand Webinar: 10 Things to Stop, Start, and Keep Doing On Your Website
The Cost of Freelance
Hiring a freelance designer to work on your school's website can range from a couple thousand dollars, to $20,000 or more for a one-time design. While freelance designs may seem like a good way to save money in the long-run, most freelance designers are focused on the aesthetic appeal of your website, only.
Freelance design isn't the most affordable option for schools, and because the design is separate from the CMS, functionality and compatibility is always a concern.
The Cost of Hiring a School Website Company
Ah yes — of course. You knew the blog was going to head here, right? We're a school website company ourselves, so obviously, I'm going to tell you this is the best option. But hear me out.
Finalsite has been around for 18 years, so we've seen a lot of changes, and we've heard thousands of stories from school professionals around the world who have had good and bad experiences elsewhere. We've had clients leave us for Wordpress, and then come back. We've seen new website providers pop up, and disappear just as quickly.
So needless to say, we feel like it's our duty to not only try and advise you to choose the option that without fail, always works best for schools, but also why companies like Finalsite exist in the first place.
Finalsite Senior Front End Developer Tom Schisler and Client Success Manager Sergio Villareal share a moment of fun with one of their clients at FinalsiteU in 2016.
Hiring a company to handle the design, coding, CMS, and hosting is the best, but often the most expensive option for schools. So, when they already have a small budget, it seems out of reach. However, most school web design companies, like Finalsite, have scaled design and software packages to make beautiful, responsive web design and simple website management available to almost any budget.
While this can often be perceived as the most expensive option, the benefits of this option far outweigh the financial costs. What sets a school website company like Finalsite apart from open source and freelance options, is the amount of strategy that goes into building a powerful website that is proven to increase website traffic, inquiries, enrollment and retention.
This process and strategy includes project management, website Q&A to ensure it works flawlessly on every device and in every browser so you don't have to, escalation, CMS functionality that is specific to schools, and the opportunity to work with a new team that knows schools best.
In short, you gain a partner for the life of your website — and that's priceless.
What to look for in a School Website Company
While school web design companies are the preferred options for schools, no two companies are alike. So, there are multiple attributes to take into consideration when choosing the company that will work best with your school.
The Quality of Design
Your website can often be the first impression a prospective family gets of your school, so it is important to make it a good one. While it is important to find a vendor who knows how to build responsive designs that are optimized for all devices, if you're looking for something more, ensure you select a vendor who has design accolades and experience to handle your hefty project.
The Deployment Process
A big differentiator from company-to-company is the website deployment process. It is important to find a company that has a strategic and proven-effective process — especially if you're a small team. A structured and organized deployment process will ensure your website launches on time.
Ease of Use of the CMS
While some companies boast beautiful designs, the CMS used to host them are clunky and difficult. A good CMS means you won't have to hire a full-time person to manage the website, saving you thousands annually. So, be sure to ask for a live demo of how a CMS works before making a commitment.
Most non-school-oriented CMS platforms (like Wix or Wordpress) are difficult to work with. So, if selecting a school website provider, be sure to select a provider that "plays nice" with the applications, software, and data you're already using — whether it via a complete data integration or single sign-on.
Training and Support
One of the major benefits of hiring a web design company is to have a partner. When selecting your provider, be sure to ask questions about availability of training and support.
When selecting your vendor, ensure they have reputable and secure hosting technology.
History and innovation
New school website design companies often offer a competitive price, but don't have the technology and expertise that is needed by most schools. Selecting a company with deep roots in the industry is imperative to the success of your school.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, Mia plans and executes a variety of inbound marketing and digital content strategies. As a former TV reporter, freelance cinematographer and certified inbound marketer, Mia specializes in helping schools find new ways to share their stories online through web design, social media, copywriting, photography and videography. She is the author of numerous blogs, and Finalsite's popular eBook, The Website Redesign Playbook.