Apr 09, 2019

Counting Down to a New School Website

Would you like to have a brand new school or district website for the next school year? It's not too late to have a new website for fall—but the time to start is now! Here's a month-by-month planning guide for your new website rollout. 

Five Months Ahead: Website Evaluation and Decision Making 

For a fall website launch, these steps should be taken in April.

Make the Decision to Change 

School or district leaders and IT staff should be involved in this decision. Take a look at your current website and determine whether or not it is still meeting the needs of your community and the people who must manage it. There are several reasons you may want to look at a new website for your school or district. These may include:

  • The look and feel of the site

  • Accessibility issues

  • Poor performance on mobile devices 

  • A cumbersome or difficult-to-use CMS

  • Lack of needed functionality, such as directories, calendars or teacher pages

  • Lack of support from the CMS provider

Review Your Alternatives and Choose a Vendor 

Evaluate your options carefully. For most districts, it makes sense to choose a provider that is focused specifically on school websites. Some questions to ask: 

  • Do you like the website design options? Will the site reflect the professional look and image you want for your school or district? 

  • Will the CMS be easy to use for website managers as well as teachers, coaches, department heads and others who may be managing their own pages? How much training will be required?

  • Does the CMS have the functionality you require? Does the site support directories, calendars, news feeds, emergency alerts and other elements essential to a school or district website? 

  • What is included? Does the site include teacher/department pages? What about built-in mobile emergency alerts and notifications?

  • Are accessibility features built in? Will you require a third-party solution to make the siteADA/Section 508 compliant

  • What kind of support is available? Can the vendor help with website design? Content migration? 

  • What are the total costs to implement and support your school website? Be sure to include staff time and third-party add-ons. 

Four Months Ahead: Website Planning

These steps would occur in May for a fall website launch. 

Review Your Current Website 

As websites age, they tend to collect a lot of outdated content and bloated navigation. Before planning your new site, take a look at what you have currently and decide what to keep, what to update and what to leave behind. Look for: 

  • Must-have content: Things like enrollment forms, district policies and basic parent information will likely stay. See what needs to be updated before the move and what can be migrated as-is. 

  • Out-of-date content: Time-sensitive content like pictures from last year's prom, old news feeds, and outdated directories shouldn’t be migrated. Mark these for disposal in the website transition. 

  • Inaccessible content: If you have content that is not accessible for visitors with disabilities, make a plan to develop accessible versions of the content for the new site. 

  • Information architecture: Now is a great time to rethink the navigation of your website to make information easier for everyone to find. We recommend the MECE (Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive) system for organizing navigation menus. 

Plan Your New Site

Now comes the fun part: planning your new school or district website! See what kind of website planning support your CMS vendor can provide for you during this process. Your plan should include: 

  • The team: Who will be managing each school or district website? Who else is authorized to make content changes, and for what types of content? What kinds of permissions will each team member need? Will teachers/coaches/department heads be managing their individual pages?

  • Website design: This includes the look and feel of your site. What kind of design template do you want (e.g. more traditional, more modern, highly visual)? What are the primary and secondary colors for the site? What logo will you use? What other kinds of visuals will you use for the site? 

  • Information architecture: Think about all of the key information people will want to find on your school website. What is the best way to organize that information? How can you structure your menus to minimize confusion and mouse clicks and make navigating the site easier for people using keyboard navigation or screen readers?  

Three Months Ahead: Preparing to Build Your Website 

Now you're ready to start building! Schools and districts should plan to start this step by Junefor a late August/Early September launch. 

Building a Blank Website

The first step is to create a blank site so you can start design, content migration and content creation. This should be on a temporary URL that is accessible only to those working on the new website. 

Site Manager Training

Make sure the people who will be responsible for building and managing the site have the training they need to be successful. This training should include the ins and outs of using the CMS. But don't stop there—make sure everyone involved in school website creation and management understands the design and information architecture parameters for the site. 

Two Months Ahead: Website Design, Architecture, and Content

The summer before your launch is when the heavy work begins. Plan to build and test your new school website in July for a fall launch.  

Website Design

This is the fun part! Make your final selections for your website design theme, colors, fonts, logos, and key images. Your school website should reflect the image you want to project to your community.

Website Architecture 

Build your navigation and menus. Decide what kinds of tools you need to ensure easy navigation for all website users. 

Content Migration and Creation 

Migrate the content you have decided to keep from your old site. Build out the new content that is needed to fill out the site. Use the content plan you created during the website planning stage to guide content migration and creation. See what kind of content migration help your CMS provider can provide. Don't forget to populate calendars and news feeds with updated events and content and ensure that essential items for the new school year, such as enrollment forms, are ready to go. 

Website Testing and Review

Before the launch, go through the site and make sure everything is working as expected. Check all navigation to make sure there are no dead ends or missing pages and check for dead links in the content. These issues are usually easily corrected. 

Test for Website Accessibility 

Test your new site and its content for accessibility and ADA/Section 508 compliance. If you identify issues with website accessibility, make the corrections now before the launch. 

Site Manager Coaching

Do your site managers need extra support during this process? Working with a CMS expert during the initial website build can help you accelerate the process. 

One Month Ahead: Soft Site Launch 

Ideally, your site will be ready to launch two to four weeks before the beginning of school. For many districts, this will mean early to mid-August.

School Website Launch 

Transition your site from the temporary URL to your official school or district URL. This makes it accessible to the public—anyone who visits your website will now see the new site. Make sure you get an SSL certificate from your domain provider to ensure that your domain is secure and prevent users from getting a "this site is not secure" notification when they visit your site. 

Rollout and Orientation

Once the site is launched, you can roll it out to your community and start filling out additional content. 

Parent Orientation 

Tell families about the new website and show them where key information can be found. If you are using an integrated emergency alert and notification systemlike eChalk Notify, encourage them to sign up for mobile notifications and make sure they know how. 

Teacher Training

Teachers can work on building class pages after the website launch. Provide teachers with training so they know how to use the CMS tools. Schools may also want to specify a standard page layout and set minimum standards for the information that should be included on teacher pages so families can expect the same information no matter which class page they are on.  

Coach and Group Leader Training

Coaches, department heads and other group leaders who will be managing their own pages will also need training in how to use the CMS. You may also want to set standardized page layouts and guidelines for the types of information to include on different types of pages. As faculty members fill out these pages, your site will become richer and more useful for your community. 

Beyond the Website Launch 

A school website is never finished; your website is a valuable living resource for your community. Make sure you have a plan in place to keep calendars and news feeds up-to-date, add new content, and retire content that is outdated. 

You should also gather input from your community to make sure your website is meeting their needs. Is the content they need available on the website? Do they know how to find it? Is it accessible? 

Need help planning your website transition? Contact us to learn how we can help. Start now, and you could have a great new school website for fall!