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Feature Friday: How Giddens School Transitioned from Open Source to Finalsite
Stephanie Griffin

Open source website solutions, such as Wordpress, are often very appealing to schools for their affordability and ease of use. However, implementing an open source solutions can pose some unanticipated problems and expenses, such as hiring a professional to develop your website, putting your school's data and security at risk, slow load times, and greater challenges with integrating student information systems.

If you also work as a small shop — on a team of one to three people — these challenges become even more acute. That's why making the transition from an open source solution to Finalsite Composer was no question for Giddens School.

Giddens School Website on iMac

Amy Bresslour, Director of Institutional Advancement at Giddens School, started to identify some challenges they were having with their open source solution about two years ago, which put her in the best position to lead the school's website redesign process. As a small shop, she collaborated on content with other members of the school, including Director of Teaching and Learning, Rachel Donnelley, Director of Enrollment Management, Ken Bender; and Head of School, Dr. Morva McDonald, but handled much of the website maintenance on top of her advancement role duties. Amy recently shared her experience of moving over from a platform that was tedious and problematic to one that was more user-friendly, making her daily tasks far more efficient.

Tip 1: Identify Open Source Challenges and Goals for Redesign

Many of the struggles Amy noticed with their open source platform included a website design that seemed plain and boring, difficult navigation throughout the site, and struggles adding content. As someone who updates and adds content to the site almost every day, Amy knew first hand that web management involves a lot of work, and having an easy-to-use platform would make a huge difference.

"We knew in the fall of 2015 that we needed a new website. Our old site had failing technology and didn't allow us to properly tell our story," said Amy. "We spent the better part of six months working with parent advisors and preparing a request for proposal (RFP)."

The RFP noted the school had not updated their site since 2009, so it was time for an updated and refreshed website. Additionally, a major goal for the new site was to clearly outline the school's value to prospective families.

"We will strategically use text, robust images, and video to engage prospective families. Additionally, the site must include a technology solution that allows the Giddens staff to easily and cost effectively update content and modify site design after the initial launch."

To be effective, it was important for the new side to be visually pleasing, informative, safe and secure, and optimized for SEO for instance. Furthermore, they were looking to achieve certain goals with the new website:

Giddens School RFP

Amy shared, "After careful consideration, it was an easy decision to go with Finalsite, especially after learning more about Finalsite Composer and hearing Max Eisl (a Finalsite Educational Consultants) speak at a few local events."

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Tip 2: Start Implementing the Redesign Process With New Strategies

The timing of the redesign couldn't have been better, as they started to build the new website as over summer and launched it in time for the new school year. With the redesign came even new strategies to help the school's marketing and communications overall as they moved their efforts from outdated print publications to more digital efforts.

"We designed a new strategy focused on the neighborhoods in which our students live and actively engaging in events where we knew there could be a lot of potential customers," said Amy. "Using tools shared in Finalsite webinars, we also began focusing our efforts on inbound marketing – using AdWords, Facebook, and Instagram ads. The website redesign was part of this overall strategy."

These new strategies led to 62% year over year increase in inquiries and 80% year over year increase in applications. Amy says one of her goals for next year will be to help enrollment grow year over year as she continues to invest time into Finalsite webinars on marketing and tools in the Finalsite platform that will make a difference when engaging with prospective families.

Tip 3: Take Advantage of Tools Within Finalsite Platform

Finalsite's Calendar Manager and Forms Manager have been two modules Amy has invested much of her time in. She enjoys using these tools within the Finalsite platform because they both help her save the most time and work efficiently throughout the site when sharing information about upcoming events, registration, and more - capabilities that would be more difficult on an open source platform.

The school calendars are nicely organized by color:

Giddens School Calendar Colors

And with the Calendar page accessible under the Quick Links tab at the top of the page making for an ideal user-experience, anyone can find the Calendar of events.

Giddons School Navigation Bar

The Ways to Connect and Speakers Series pages on the website are nicely organized based on event with brief descriptions on each event and a CTA link redirecting visitors to a form to register.

There are even forms formatted on specific landing pages for important events like Tours, Open Houses, and Giving:

Giddens School Tour Form

Giddens School Giving Form

Key Takeaway

Whether you are a small shop or work on a large team, your CMS will have a major impact on your tasks, website management, and overall school's digital presence. That is why it is time to move away from open source solutions onto a CMS that is more user-friendly, secure, and offers tools you can use on a daily basis. For Giddens School, it was a smart move to identify a better web solution based on the challenges they were having with general website management.

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Stephanie Griffin

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.


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