Five Things to Keep in Mind When Designing and Developing Your School’s Web Site

If you haven’t changed your Web site in 3 years, it’s probably time to consider doing so.  Why?  Because the online world has changed.  If you walked into a Staples or OfficeMax earlier this year, you were seeing clearance prices on notebook computers.  That’s because notebooks will soon become paperweights as tablet computers (or tablets that you can turn in to a notebook by attaching a keyboard, or notebooks that you can turn into a tablet by detaching a keyboard) are what computer manufacturers are moving the market toward.

The other reason is that Web sites have progressed to a new “look” – again.  When Web were first published, they tried to be all things to all people, and were full of text.  Then, the text became organized, and the Web page evolved into the Web site.  The viewed screen was where all important information was to be displayed.  Borrowing a term from the newspaper industry, “Above the fold” meant the headline and the most important information was kept “above the fold” of the daily newspaper.  Below the fold were the stories of secondary importance.  In Web design, the important information appeared on the screen when the viewer visited the Web site.  If there was more information that the viewer needed to scroll to see, then the information there was of secondary importance.  Since Web sites were accessed on a desktop, laptop or notebook computer, it was acceptable to click a link or a drop-down menu to get to more information, rather than to scroll.

Today, scrolling is acceptable, because of the manner in which content is delivered on a mobile device.  It’s a 180 degree turn from what used to be important, completed by the fact that a drop-down menu should go no further than 2 levels.  Scrolling is in; menu nesting is out.

Today’s Web sites also have a look which contains lots of white space, pictures, minimal text in a larger, thin, gray and “sans serif” font.  That’s a font which is very straight and plain, without the “tails” on letters like “a,” “d” or “y.”  If you’d like to see an example of a modern site, visit http://www.edu-cat-ion.com.  Right now, there’s a template in place, but soon, it will launch as a place that speaks to the challenges of education today…and not just the financial ones.

As you design and develop your school’s Web site, here are 5 things to keep in mind:

1) Make sure you’re able to edit your content. Some Web designers will offer you their services to save you time and energy by updating your site with the content which you supply them.  If you want to outsource to them, that’s completely up to you and your school’s budget.  However, if you need to update the site quickly with an emergency notification, you’ll need to have some sort of access.

2) There is a difference between design and development. The design is the look, feel, and interactivity of your site. It is the face of your school, and for some parents, the initial impression they’ll have.  It needs to look like it’s “2014” and not “2008.”  If it looks like sites you’ve seen back then, it won’t resonate with today’s parents, and they’ll perceive that your school is not a “modern” place to learn.

Web site development is where you start adding content, pages, and menu access. Make sure your design will enable you to add content where you want to add it. If someone does a customized WordPress design for you, you may not be able to “just add a widget” so you can post a Facebook “Like” box without destroying your Web site’s design.

3) Make sure it’s intuitively responsive. Responsive design allows the Web site to determine what type of device is being used to access it, and sends the viewer an appropriate experience. You may have a great looking desktop site, but if it’s accessed by a cellphone and looks just like it does on the desktop but in miniature form, parents will be reluctant to access it.

4) As described above, scrolling is good; menu page depth is not.  To reiterate, it used to be that scrolling was bad, and you could go as deep as 4 sub-menus to get to organized information. With the advent of the mobile device, scrolling is now preferred, and if more than 2 clicks are necessary to get the visitor to the information they’re looking for, the site will feel “outdated,” and their perception of your school will be tarnished.

5) Consider an “app” for your current parents. There’s always been a debate relative to the target audience of a Web site; is it primarily for marketing to prospective parents, or is it an information storehouse for current parents?  This has been recently addressed by allowing current parents to have a password-protected portion of the site as a place to sign in to access their child’s homework, view lunch schedules or other information like grades and attendance. Today, your Web site is for parents of prospective students; your school’s app is for your current parent community.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that question that always seems to come up when talking about parents and technology:  “What about those parents that don’t have a computer?”   This is 2014.  It’s your opportunity to give your school’s parent community a distinctively differentiating experience by inviting them in for a training session to learn Internet usage and security. If they don’t have a Smartphone with a dataplan, Wifi tablets are now available for as little as $50. Buy them one.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2014 (Original Publication Date: 20140804)