Monday, 22 October 2012

7 Steps to Creating a School Website

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Our new school website has just gone live.  Earlier this year I was asked to take over managing our website.  For anyone else embarking on a project like this, here is how I went about it:

1.  Research

I was lucky to be given time to research what makes a good website.  Here are some of the notes I made around good design features:
  • Clear organization, easy to navigate and use
    • Menu system that is clear and concise
  • Eye-catching, visual design
  • Contemporary
  • Easy to return to homepage
  • Need reason to return
    • Regularly updated pages
    • Student published work
    • Photos, videos, school events
  • Fast loading time
  • Cross browser compatibility, able to use on iPad
  • Dynamic news panels
  • Search feature
  • Make sure it is easy to edit content
  • Avoid:
    • Too much content, especially on home page
    • Not enough photos
    • Never updating
    • Lengthy pages
    • Comic sans font
    • Links that don’t work
A memorable quote I found was that a good website should be a "gateway to parental involvement".  I also visited the websites of other primary schools and evaluated what I liked and didn't like about their sites.  As we were considering changing website providers I noted who they were using for website management.  I also jotted down the type of content provided to make sure our site was comprehensive.

2.  Review current site

With the best practice information I gathered I thoroughly evaluated our current site.  My recommendations were as follows:

  • Reduce the amount of tabs so the menu system is clear and concise
  • Add a quick links section so frequently requested information is immediately accessible
  • Include a large slideshow of photos to add an eye-catching visual element
  • Add a search feature
  • Move some of the content elsewhere to streamline the look
Whole Site
  • Ensure the website can work on iPads 
  • Embed maps and video rather than link to them to increase visual appeal
  • Include more photos wherever possible
  • In order to provide a reason to return to the site include student published work and photos and videos of school events (and publicize them on our Facebook site)
  • Ensure that all our links work and all our pages have current information on them
  • Maintain a common style on every page (including font, layout and standard photo sizes)
  • Include short videos on how to help your child with reading, or explaining how we teach maths etc

3.  Compare website providers

I then compared the cost and service of a number of website providers.  At the top end of the scale the school website my principal admired was custom-built for over $10,000.  I talked to salespeople from our existing provider and another company called SpikeatSchool.  In the end I recommended switching to SpikeatSchool because the setup and hosting fees were considerably cheaper than our existing supplier.  The hosting fee was cheaper because our existing supplier gave us the option of sending them content to add to our site.  We didn't use this service so were paying for something we didn't need.  SpikeatSchool provided an obligation free trial and I found that the creation of content was very similar to our existing provider.  This meant that our principal, receptionist and PTA could add their content without too much difficulty.

4.  Create a template

The next step was to work on a look for the site.  I came up with some ideas and made a mock up on Publisher.  I sent this through to Brendon at SpikeatSchool, who got his designer to work on it.  What came back was a bit different to what I had sent through, but it had some lovely features I hadn't thought of.  With a bit of back and forth (I was adamant that our logo shouldn't cover any part of the slideshow), we settled on the current design.

5.  Swap over content

Luckily I was able to transfer over all the content from our existing site to the trial site, so that when we went live the website was fully functional.  This process was particularly time consuming as I evaluated all of the information I transferred over and made a register of anything that would need to be regularly updated.  This included things like staff mentioning how old their children were in their profiles, to uniform price lists and student house leaders.

6. Points to note

  • It will take a lot longer than you think to transfer over content, particularly if you help deploy a school set of iPads and organise a Book Week in-between.
  • Make sure your new website provider can do everything your existing one did.  A bit late in the day I discovered our mailing list would have to be managed by using a third-party provider.  The always helpful Brendon from SpikeatSchool recommended “Mailchimp”, which is a free mail manager.  I had to learn how to use it with a deadline looming and it would have been better to be aware of this from the start.
  • Check and double check information on your website.  It is embarrassing (and confusing for parents) if, for example, you put your personal phone number at the bottom of your school website(!).  Even if I did get it fixed before the principal noticed.
  • Be prepared to make changes where necessary once the site has gone live.  The increased traffic to your new site will mean increased scrutiny.  In my case I received feedback about material that was identical to that on the previous site.

7.  Encourage visitors

When the site launched we used our school Facebook page to announce it and link to it.

We have also used this new website as a good opportunity to revise the way we distribute our school newsletters.  Previously we emailed a link to the newsletter to some parents but the majority still received paper copies.  Now we have advised parents that because the school wants to “reduce, reuse and recycle” we will be emailing the link to the newsletter to all parents unless they contact the office or don’t have an email address.  The good thing about this is that not only does it save time and money but the link to the newsletter takes people to our home page and then they click on the “newsletter” tab from there.  This means that each family should visit our home page every week. 

To capture interest and create that “gateway to parental involvement” my aim is to make weekly updates to the news and photos on our home page.  I also want to feature and link to different parts of the website so parents know what content we have on our site.

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