How to Plan a Successful School Website Redesign

When it comes to redesigning private school websites, there are many ways to measure success. For starters, most schools are looking to boost admissions applications and yield. If we want to get more granular, increasing organic search traffic and overall website visitors is directly correlated to admissions success. Then there are the actual project objectives—did the redesign finish within the desired timeline and on budget? 

What’s remarkable about all of these goals is that they share a single linchpin for success: planning. To ensure that your school’s next redesign measures up to expectations, follow these tips from the Blackbaud K–12 eBook, How to Design the Best Private School Website.   

1. Form your website redesign team. 

Let’s face it, school website redesigns are multifaceted endeavors that take a lot of work. While marketing and communications members are typically steering the ship, stakeholders from admissions, academics, development, and IT also need involvement from the beginning to ensure buy-in and ownership of their deliverables (i.e., content).  
 
Beware of the fact that there will be differences of opinion on the committee. Overall, this is a good thing, but to keep it from derailing the project schedule, work out with your head of school in advance who has the final say over aspects such as design direction. It’s also important to assemble the redesign super team at least six months in advance to work through our next tip regarding research. 

2. Establish a game plan. 

Knowing the brand and communication goals of the website before engaging the designer will help ensure these objectives are met and keep the project moving. Pre-project research can take many forms from conducting an analytical content audit to surveying parents and holding focus groups. If your school is undergoing a rebranding initiative, make sure that is fully complete before starting the website redesign, or it will surely derail the schedule and cause budgetary repercussions. 
 
Also, meet with each redesign team member to discuss their opinions of the current site and wish list for the new site. Keep thorough notes on who said what, because when it comes time to present the design to the committee, you’ll be able to articulate how stakeholder feedback influenced the design. If someone had a strong opinion that wasn’t incorporated, you can get ahead of it and explain how it didn’t fit into the overall design strategy. Showing how their input helped create a design that represents the school’s mission will keep everyone focused in the right direction. 

3. Gather raw materials in advance. 

When it comes to creating a website design that wows admission candidates and current constituents alike, photography and videos make the design. Nothing stops a website visitor in their tracks and makes an immediate, indelible impression like beautiful imagery. Designing with existing media that’s “like the photos we’ll get” is not the same as working with the final website imagery, and only new, unseen photos will give committee members a true appreciation for the new design. 
 
Spend at least a year in advance of the redesign project gathering photos and videos for the new website. Take the best of the best and hide them away from everyone until the redesign. 

4. Rethink the website redesign process. 

Most private schools redesign their website every three to five years, combining SEO, navigation, content, and design and development into a massive undertaking. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of packing everything into one long, arduous project, rethink the process as a series of smaller, ongoing workstreams, possibly as summer marketing sprints.   
 
By maintaining and refreshing SEO, navigation, and content at regular intervals, the “redesign” will become just that—design work. This approach can also help from a budgetary standpoint by extending the website’s shelf life (by keeping information from getting out of date) and spreading out the development costs. 

5. Plan around the school website redesign season. 

If the goal is to launch the redesign on a specific date such as the start of school, it’s critical to understand the timeline and plan accordingly. The average custom website design project for schools takes six months or more to complete. Follow the advice above, and it’s possible to condense the redesign into as little as four months. 
 
However, you also need to factor the sales process into planning. If your school is sticking with its existing website content management system (CMS) and design agency, add a month for sales discussions; if you’re evaluating new vendors and platforms, add three months. Also, plan for at least a month between signing the sales agreement and the project kickoff. 
 
Finally, factor in seasonality. A design agency such as Blackbaud K–12’s professional services team that works exclusively with private schools is busiest in the spring and summer ramping up for back-to-school launches. Also, don’t forget to account for your web team’s summer vacations. Take all of this into consideration, and schools starting in March or April are hard-pressed to make a September 1 launch. Rushing the process is possible, but it won’t deliver the best results. 
 
The ideal scenario is to complete the redesign ahead of the summer and soft launch the site, providing time to gather feedback before making the grand announcement at the start of the new school year.   

The Ideal School Redesign Timeline  

  • Sales: July – October  
  • Project Kickoff: August – January  
  • Site Review: March – May  
  • Launch: June – August 

Review our eBook, How to Design the Best Private School Website, for more tips on navigating the school website redesign process.

 

About the Author

Daren Worcester

Daren Worcester has been a member of the Blackbaud K-12 team for 17 years, assisting hundreds of independent schools through a variety of website development roles. A former copywriter and a published author with an appetite for SEO, Daren currently serves as the senior content marketing manager for K-12.

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