How to Design a Private School Website for Longevity

March 12, 2015 Daren Worcester

At Blackbaud K-12, we’re fortunate to work with private schools of all varieties. Some of our schools have the flexibility to redesign their websites every three years. For many of our schools, however, it’s a necessity to be more conservative with their online marketing budgets, and a redesign is only feasible every five or six years…or more.

If the latter scenario sounds familiar, this article is for your school. Consider these recommendations in your next redesign, and your school’s website will be good for the long haul.

Insist on Responsive Web Design (RWD)

It used to be that the width of a website indicated its age. Today, any site with a fixed width is behind the times. Blackbaud’s recently released report, Private School Digital Insight: Enhancing Web Navigation and the Rise of Responsive Design, shows us that only 22 percent of private school websites are responsive.

This means that 78 percent of independent school websites are appearing outdated to the ever-growing contingency of mobile users, and not in the good, “vintage” categorization of old. With the growth in RWD amongst schools, any unresponsive site launched today will be sorely behind the times in a couple of years.

private school responsive websites

We’re especially proud at Blackbaud K-12 to say that every website created on our onMessage content management system is responsive—both on the public website and in the management console—at no extra cost. Whether your school’s design budget is big or small, we’ll back your site with RWD, because we know how critical it is to your site’s success.

Resist the Latest and Greatest Design Fads

In an age where many schools have iPad programs and programming classes, a tech-savvy design helps send the message that your school will prepare students for bright futures. The trouble with trendy web-design functionality such as animations, parallax, and vibrant design is that the fad fades. Sometimes fast. Remember Flash?

Let me clarify that I don’t think the above trends are bad for design. On the contrary, when used in the right situations, they can have powerful effects. When the goal is longevity, however, you’ll want to think twice. For all of the immediate “cool” impact a parallax site can have today, if your school isn’t prepared to move on when the fad starts to fade, then the tail-end of the site’s lifecycle can work against the school’s marketing efforts.

This isn’t to say the site has to be boring. Features that add functionality and eye candy, but are more deeply rooted in content strategy, such as image carousels, mega menus, and CSS transitions, are more likely to pass the test of time.

private school mega menus

Don’t Let the Website Imprison Messaging

The secret ingredients to website longevity are flexibility and control. It’s challenging enough to determine the school’s current online messaging during the website development process, which makes trying to predict the school’s communication needs two, three, or four years down the road impossible.

Hard-coded sites—those that require programming changes for alterations—make it cost prohibitive to continually update the website’s structure to meet the school’s evolving communications. It can feel like your school’s messaging is doing hard time in website prison.

You won’t need an orange jumpsuit with onMessage, because the code driving the design is centralized within the platform, which frees-up content and design styling to be easily edited by the school’s website managers—no programming knowledge necessary. Navigation, page layouts, and content containers, are merely a few examples of what you can control.

How’s this for flexibility: with onMessage you can swap-out the home page with any other page through a simple checkbox:

onMessage  “Set as Home Page” feature

Why is this useful? Let’s say it’s the last day of an annual fund campaign and you want the home page to display a video appeal, a giving progress meter, and a call to action for the giving form. With onMessage you can set this page up in advance, get it looking just right, and then turn it on during campaign day. Simply reactivate the regular home page the following day and everything will be back to normal.

Now that’s putting the power to communicate at your fingertips.


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