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The Life Cycle of Your School Website

Your new school website just launched! Let the confetti fly. Sound the party horns. And as the samba line moves through your office, ask yourself…will this be the best day of the website’s life? 

No doubt, it’s a huge day and a tremendous accomplishment. But if you think of your website as moving through a lifecycle, you’ll realize the months and years ahead are filled with opportunities to maximize its strengths and chart a path toward an even better future website. 

The average website life expectancy comes in at two years, seven months and 26 days. Of course, this may be unrealistic for some schools, especially considering it sometimes takes two years, seven months and 26 days to convince the powers that be to grant permission to build and launch a new site. 

But understanding the five-stage lifecycle of your school website — along with the steps or choices that come with each stage — will keep your site fresh and simplify future upgrades, whenever they come.

lifecycle of a school website stage 1 create 2 implement 3 enhance 4 audit 5 reimagine

Stage 1: Create

Timing (school year 0-1): 

  • Smaller school sites = 3-6 months
  • Larger districts or custom private schools sites = 12 months (+/-)
  • Average time, from idea through actual launch, including planning, contracting, migration and content development = 9 months

You know you need a new website, and you’re committed to the work ahead. Before you jump into the deep end of the pool to start swimming, narrow your focus on the Discover and Plan steps of this stage. Think strategically and gather feedback about where your website is — and where you want it to go. Let this work inform a thoughtful, well-constructed plan that will guide you through the steps ahead.

As you move from the Plan step into Design, Build and Deploy, it’s time to choose a platform or provider, create a sitemap and develop a content strategy that will meet your long-term objectives and deliver the best school website for your district. Want help navigating this process? Send us a message, and we’ll walk through the steps together.

After a lot of strategic thinking, hard work and thoughtful collaboration, Stage 1 is wrapping up. Push the go live button — it’s Hello World time!

Over the next few weeks, focus on quality control for your new site:

  • Watch analytics for 404 errors and update redirects
  • Fine-tune search engine optimization (SEO) for the site’s 25 most used pages
  • Correct any misspellings or other typos
  • Update your location pages, if you’ve changed domains or subdomains
  • Submit your sitemap to Google search console
  • Review best practices for high quality content and why it matters for SEO
stage 1 create step a discover b plan c design d build e deploy

Stage 2: Implement

Timing (school year 1-2): 

    • Starts the day you launch the site
    • Ends approximately one year later

The site is live, and the name of the game now is Implement. This is when you’ll seek to maximize your considerable investment of time and effort from the Create stage. Ask yourself a few key questions as you get started, to streamline your work and create the best school website for your district.

  • What staff members need additional training or support to maximize the quality and functionality of the new site?
    How will you make sure new content is appearing on your site, at least weekly?
    What enrollment marketing automation processes might create new efficiencies?
    Are your news or blog posts integrated with school newsletters?
    Is it time to review your school system’s content and messaging strategy?

Look for ways your new site can strategically position and market your school. Review the objectives you set as you began in Stage 1, crossing off those you’ve completed and identifying areas for ongoing improvement. Whether you’re focused on enrollment marketing, student retention or re-attracting lost enrollment, your work in the Implement stage, including maintenance and improvements, will determine your site’s effectiveness in the years to come.

Stage 3: Enhance

Timing (school year 2-3): 

  • Starts approximately Year 3 of your site
  • Can begin sooner or later, depending on the length of Stage 1

It’s official — your website has reached the terrible twos! This is an excellent time to conduct user experience surveys, update photos and review search algorithms. Each time you enter a new phase, it’s worth the effort to tidy up. Has your site accumulated any clutter, such as outdated documents or retired resources?

Remember how the average website lives two years, seven months and 26 days? In the Enhance stage, you’ll take steps to extend that lifespan. The varied choices and options for enhancements should be selected to support your strategic needs. Here are a few to consider:

  • Refresh your brand. Did you launch with one primary color? Sprinkle in little drops of a complementary color for a quick facelift as part of a brand refresh process.
  • Consolidate content. Have your pages of content piled up high? Use analytics to identify the most commonly used pages and the path users take to get there. Cut down on the number of clicks, or increase the visibility of that content by prioritizing it.
  • Employee/career portals. Do you have a centralized place to communicate with staff? Is it kept current? Now that you’ve grown accustomed to your site, it’s a good time to consider how you are using it to actively recruit, engage and retain employees.
  • Create templates for seasonal content. Don’t work harder, work smarter and use an editorial calendar to plan themes around seasonal news and events. Design templates that can be used each year to communicate those themes to streamline your effort throughout each year. Seasonal templates are also an effective way to build trust, as users can anticipate where to find season-specific information when they need it most.
  • Add a microsite. Using a microsite layout can give your site the facelift it needs, giving you access to newer design elements or layouts that may not have been available two years ago, at a cost below a complete website redesign.
  • Rid your site of PDFs. We know you’ve heard it, it’s worth saying again. PDFs are not accessible to people with disabilities, and they are not suitable or strategic website content. Have you made your board policies, curriculum, parent guides, meal menus, forms and calendars into a digital, responsive and accessible format? The time is now.

Stage 4: Audit

Timing (school year 3-4): 

  • Starts approximately Year 3 of your site’s life.

Keep one eye toward the future by designing a process to collect feedback from users in the Audit stage. Begin considering your options and determine if the next iteration of your website is going to be a facelift, redesign or total reboot. Review these questions in the Audit stage to help you define the best strategic steps for your site and school system. 

  • Does the sitemap need to adjust for changes in your communications or usage? 
  • Does the top navigation still function well? Consider the changes in technology, especially as they affect secondary navigation and accessibility.
  • Can a visitor reach their destination in two clicks, or has the site gotten too deep? 
  • Have the drop-down menus grown too long?

“Web development evolves at lightning fast speeds, and most organizations struggle to keep up. Change can be hard for everyone, but delaying a needed change often only makes it harder.”

~chelsea janke

Dig into your analytics and school system strategic plan to evaluate your goals of the last five years — and lay out a path for the next five. Ask yourself these types of questions:

  • What’s working and what’s not?
  • How has your enrollment changed? If the families in your community are considering other options that didn’t exist before, build out an enrollment marketing website strategy. If you were focused on enrollment marketing before but have reached maximum capacity, consider a shift to retention strategies, including family communications.
  • How are the interim enhancements you’ve made since launch meeting your past and future needs? Is it time for a broader and more strategic solution?
  • Have your users’ expectations or habits on the website changed, and can the website be improved to better meet those needs?
  • What devices are being used the most to access the site? The navigation, content and design should work well across all devices, but they should function best on the devices visitors most often use.
  • Are all types of users — current families, prospective families, staff, community members and more — highly satisfied with your website as a communications tool for their needs? Is there a clear and intuitive path that connects each audience group with the information they need and want most?
  • Your website is a look into the education you provide. Does it still visually bring your brand to life?

These are just a few of the many questions that should guide a full audit. Just remember that the most effective plans are built on data, and the work you do in the Audit stage will help you identify what’s needed to create and maintain the best school website for your system, now and well into the future.

Stage 5: Reimagine

Timing (school year 4-5): 

  • Starts approximately Year 4 of your site’s life
  • You should be ready to head back to Stage 1 by the end of this year

Whether your school system hires a website platform vendor or builds and hosts its own site, the Reimagine stage is your time to evaluate what comes next. If you work with an external vendor team, be prepared to complete new contracts that outline changes, additions, removals and design needs. This step will equip the team to begin working through design and build steps. 

Leaving behind a website, no matter how well loved it may have been, is a valuable opportunity to think critically about content, design features and a host of other practices that may (or may not) have withstood the test of time. Some practices should be left behind as you forge ahead. For instance, users are visiting your site from all devices — smartphones, tablets and desktop. Directional language, such as “to the right,” becomes irrelevant at the smallest responsive size on a smartphone. 

While the lifecycle of a website could take five years, this timeline could accelerate as the future comes at us faster. One by one, each stage — Create, Implement, Enhance, Audit, Prepare — is a stepping stone for creating and maintaining the best school website possible to meet the ever-changing expectations and needs of your school and community stakeholders. 

No matter how long your lifecycle is, two things are certain. 

First, we are a partner you can trust, no matter what lifecycle stage or step you’re in. And second, you’ll need new confetti and party horns because, soon enough, you’ll be hosting your next re-launch party. And when you do, you’ll celebrate and embark on the lifecycle process once again.

Published on: June 2, 2021