technology

Web presence that works

When the world has moved online, the way a school connects through its communication technology is more important than ever.

Each school has a unique story to tell and experiences to offer and branding your school in line with this enables you to present its core values effectively to prospective school families as well as the local community.

It is fair to say many New Zealand schools do themselves no favours in their website offerings. An ineffective, outdated website can speak volumes and it could prove to be an instant decision-maker for families considering the move to your school, especially if competitors offer an impressive alternative.

While a website should capture and market a school’s values and vision, many look out of date and have little information beyond the basics. So, what are some dos and don’ts for school website design and how do schools set their bar high in this area?

To help us answers these questions, we turned to industry pioneer Dave Wood of Auckland-based web design and development specialists, Koda, for his view!

“The decision to refresh your online environment provides an opportunity to deliver a website that aligns with your school community, the values the school offers, with a user experience which delivers these features in a user-friendly interface,” says Dave.

Not only is a new website a chance for a fresh design, but it also provides an opportunity to build in additional functionality and features to support and enhance user interaction. Dave suggests this can include:

  • Event calendars, integrated with other school systems (like Google calendar)
  • Pages dedicated to foreign fee payers
  • Multi language support for multiple translations
  • Job vacancy pages
  • Classroom pages

He says, “The list is endless and that is perhaps where we see the biggest challenge for schools looking to redevelop their websites; how to make sense of the jargon and buzz words and ensure the site they invest in is fit for purpose and meets all of their objectives.”

According to Dave and his team, some of the key criteria a school should consider with their new site include:

Platform

Is the new site to be built on a platform that allows the school team to easily make changes to content? “This is a key requirement of any new website development, whether the site is built on the WordPress blogging platform or a tailored Drupal environment, the ability to edit content is key. Associated with the platform is the question of an Opensource solution versus a proprietary platform that belongs to a developer.” He says he would always recommend an Opensource platform to provide flexibility.

Design

Do you want your new website to utilise a template, that could be used by other schools or would you prefer a custom design that sets you apart? “This doesn’t have to be an expensive decision, a unique design that fits the school and your community can be a cost-effective option for any school,” he says.

Responsive

“A fully responsive website is a given for all new websites. The site needs to be effective on all platforms, from desktop to mobile. This requires more than just making a desktop version of the site display on a mobile device, it requires taking into consideration the content that will be displayed on the mobile device and where it is not usable, providing alternatives that allow a user to effectively navigate the site and access the information they are seeking on a mobile device.

“An example of this could be a promotional ‘call to action’ tile that is easy to read on a desktop. When displayed on a mobile device it is too small to read. Providing a system that will allow an alternative to be displayed when a screen resolution is a certain size will ensure your site is user-friendly and engaging on all device types.”

Performance

“Users expect a website to load quickly. This is a common thread because performance is important. Taking into consideration the content to be used on the site, a good development company will provide options to ensure your content loads fast and that the user experience is enhanced.”

Search Engine Optimisation

An aspect of any new development, and one that is often overlooked, is to ensure the new site is optimised for internet search engines.  “Structure your content to maximise effectiveness in search engines. Of particular importance, is ensuring that the existing index value associated with the current website is not lost.”

Cost effective solutions

“The biggest challenge I see for schools wanting to refresh their online presence is associated with budget. For many schools, budgets are extremely tight.

“While a well-designed fully functional site can deliver savings, the investment is sometimes seen as an obstacle. A quality provider should offer a range of options to tailor both the way the site itself and the way it is financed, to ensure a school is able to have an online presence that delivers on their needs.”

Heather Barker Vermeer

Heather has worked as a journalist, writer and editor in England and Aotearoa New Zealand for over 20 years. She fell in love with words when she received a 'Speak & Spell' tech toy for Christmas in 1984.
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