If you haven’t changed your Web site in 2 or 3 years, it’s probably time to consider doing so.  Why?  Because the online world continues to change.  If you walked into a Staples or OfficeMax in 2014, 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 or folding it to the back of the screen) are what computer manufacturers are moving the market toward.

The other reason is that Web sites have progressed to a new “look.”   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 the preferred manner of content delivery is a mobile device today.  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.”

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 to the site’s “back end,” and have someone be adept (and qualified) to post information about your school.  Remember, once it’s on the Web, it’s accessible to, quite literally, the world – and it doesn’t do your excellent educational program a bit of good if your site has a misspelling or malapropism in its text.

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 “2019” and not “2010.”  If it looks like sites you’ve seen back when the iPad was released, it won’t resonate with today’s parents, and they’ll perceive that your school is not a “modern” place to learn.  If it looks like something you would access from desktop computer with a dial-up modem back in the day, you’re probably wondering why parents aren’t calling your school anymore.

“Mobile-first” design has been a mantra for a number of years now (more about this in item number 3).  Rather than designing a Web site to be viewed on a computer, and then developing a mobile Web site specifically for mobile devices, Web sites have been designed with an eye to how it looks on a mobile device first.  The danger, however, is thinking that if it works on a mobile device that it will also be effective on a computer.  There are a number of Web developers, tools and companies whose products look great on a mobile device, but when they’re accessed on a computer, look like a blog rather than a Web site.  Further, there are still Catholic parishes and Christian churches that give their school a Web page as its face (as well as other pages) instead of giving the school it’s own site and distinctive URL.  That’s another potential problem, especially with item #1, since changes to your school’s site may need to go through the individual that coordinates the parish/church site.  Emergency data needs to be posted quickly, and not wait until someone gets around to doing it.  Today’s parents expect immediacy and “responsivity.”  More about that in an upcoming article too!

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.  Similarly, if it looks great on mobile device, but looks like a blog on a desktop, that’s a problem.  How can that be?  Because the mobile experience can allow the device to display information either in portrait mode (such as a mobile phone) or landscape mode (if you turn the mobile phone on its side).  Some of the horizontal displays will mimic the desktop experience.  Additionally, some schools opt for the “Pages on our parish/church” approach because it will save money.  Considering your Web site is usually the first experience parents of potential students have with your school, saving money will cost you in the long run.

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 2019.  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. While they may not have a computer, they probably have a mobile phone with a dataplan (since it’s really a hand-held computer).  If they don’t, Wifi-ready tablets are now available for as little as $50.  Buy them one.  It would be another distinctive differentiator for your school.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2014-2019 (Original Publication Date: 20140804)