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Revamp Your School Website: Design, Content, and Accessibility

A thoughtful, effective website can elevate your school district’s digital presence and build trust with your community. When redesigning your website, you may be tempted to have your new website provider migrate your content over 1:1—but website migration is a fantastic time to re-evaluate your website content, design and navigation to ensure it’s an enticing, informative and up-to-date platform for your school community.

Design Like You Mean It

Web design goes beyond aesthetics; it’s an expression of your identity and values. Choose a website theme or design that resonates with your school’s identity and future aspirations. A well-thought-out design fosters a sense of belonging and trust among visitors, establishing a strong emotional connection with your brand.

Brand consistency is the essence of ensuring that every encounter delivers a consistent and cohesive experience. Whether individuals engage with your brand through social media, your website, or a printed publication, they ought to encounter an experience that authentically reflects your brand’s voice, tone and persona and has a consistent brand identity. 

Consistency is Everything

To create a polished and cohesive user experience, establish clear design guidelines. Decide on button styles, font choices, and heading sizes early on. Using templates and style sheets, you promote uniformity and save precious time that can be redirected to more meaningful aspects of website management.

“These sound like small decisions,” warns Andrew Hagen, CEL integrated communications coordinator. “But if you don’t make them in advance, it can take far more time than you planned going back and changing things.”

Andrew suggests that teams factor in both their current state and future growth when making website choices. “There may be some complicated decisions. For example, for schools and businesses already actively sharing photos on social media, there’s potential to integrate existing compelling visual content into the new website. Conversely, you may not have visual content to share, but you have a goal to grow competency in that area. Instead of opting for a visually lightweight theme, consider a phased approach where you can add future elements to your website design when you’ve developed your library of visual assets further.”

Less is More

Keep it simple. Decluttering your website empowers users to navigate effortlessly, find what they need, and engage meaningfully with your offerings. 

Staff may feel pressured to share everything they do on your website, but your website is not a filing cabinet. By thoughtfully pruning content, your website can effectively convey the “what” and “why” of its initiatives and spotlight achievements for your community without burdening them with unnecessary details. Using fewer words ensures your website serves as a dynamic and engaging platform rather than a static warehouse of information.

Reminder: Not all clutter is written content—if your website uses too many contrasting colors, fonts, font sizes, graphics and more, it may overwhelm users. Every page should have one focal point and one goal.

Homepages: Your First Impression

Each homepage is a virtual gateway to your school culture and community. Be meticulous to leave an impactful first impression on potential families and visitors. A compelling homepage should offer an intuitive navigational experience, providing visitors with a clear roadmap to explore further. Create an inviting and user-friendly entry point.

Your website is a digital showcase for your accomplishments and endeavors. Proudly highlight key initiatives, whether groundbreaking educational programs, successful technology integrations, or forthcoming milestones. Celebrating your triumphs engages your existing community and entices potential newcomers to join your journey.

Additionally, aim to create a consistent experience. If you’re designing for a school district, pretend you’re a family, new to the district, with children in elementary, middle, and high school. Can you easily navigate through each school site, finding what you need? Is your experience across sites and buildings consistent? Deploying page templates across your site will help you ensure a consistent family experience across sites and make future updates easier. 

Leave Out the Old

When migrating content, will you bring over outdated pages so that you have something on the site? Not so fast, says Andrew. “Launching a new website you already know is outdated feels terrible. Rather than migrating old content, create page templates ready to add the correct content. You can hide pages and navigation links until they’re ready to be public facing.”

Set an Accessibility Goal

Ideally, your website and all content are already accessible. However, if accessibility improvements are needed, it’s essential to establish a clear goal. This goal should encompass legal requirements and embrace inclusivity to ensure that all users can navigate and engage with your website effortlessly, regardless of their abilities. By setting a well-defined accessibility goal, you commit to enhancing user experience and fostering a welcoming digital equality and diversity environment.

When migrating website content, you may be surprised at the sheer amount of content that doesn’t meet accessibility standards. “Over time, your website may have gathered a surprising number of PDFs, graphics with poor color contrast, videos that lack subtitles, unclear links, buttons that aren’t descriptive, tables, inaccessible form fields—the list goes on,” said Andrew. “It can feel like grounds to panic, but it is important to set an accessibility goal and a roadmap to get there. Make improvements where you can when migrating content, and note what requires improvement for the future. Aim for continuous improvement, and schedule website training for those who maintain pages so everyone knows how to meet your accessibility goals.”

All Hail the COPE Philosophy

The COPE philosophy – create once, publish everywhere – is a game-changer for streamlined content management. By adopting this approach, you maximize efficiency, consistency, and productivity. It’s also a huge time saver when something changes—make the change in one place, and it updates everywhere. 

Think of COPE as a copy machine. When you have an important document, you don’t rewrite it every single time you need a copy. So why would you do that on your website? With COPE, you create content once and then use it across your website in different areas.

Your website provider may include a COPE-driven mass notification system, making sharing information across all channels even easier when urgency is critical. 

Example: The school district has just announced a change in the academic calendar due to unforeseen circumstances. Instead of manually editing the calendar everywhere it appears, you can update the calendar information in a single centralized location. Thanks to COPE, that change instantly updates your entire website everywhere the calendar is used, ensuring students, families, and staff receive accurate and consistent information. This approach saves time and effort and enhances overall user experience by eliminating confusion and reducing the potential for error. 

Timing Isn’t Everything: When to Launch Your School Website

Timing can be pivotal in your website updates. Strategically plan website updates to coincide with significant events such as enrollment drives, recruitment periods, and community engagement initiatives. Additionally, optimize key pages for search engine visibility, ensuring your website appears prominently in relevant searches, thereby enhancing your school’s online visibility and reach.

But what happens if you just can’t get it done in time for your deadline? “School districts often plan website launches for the summer, aiming for things to be ‘finished’ by back-to-school time,” said Chelsea Janke, Vice President of Integrated Marketing at CEL. “But it’s okay to launch a new website at other times of the year. Your community will value the improvements you make. If you didn’t get started on website upgrades in time for the new school year, that’s okay! You can still make it a priority during the school year.”

After Launch: Update and Revamp

“It’s important to recognize that your website launch marks the beginning, not the end,” advises Chelsea. “Your launch day should serve as a stepping stone—not a finish line. Continuously enhancing and refining content and design over the life cycle of your website is key.”

Regularly update your content, links, and photos to demonstrate your commitment to staying current and relevant. Over time, broken links, PDFs, and hidden pages accumulate. Set an annual reminder to review public-facing content and file organization in the back end. 

  • Check for accessibility
  • Look for broken or outdated links
  • Remove or update old content
  • Consolidate repetitive information
  • Update photos and banners
  • Clean up files, folders, and hidden pages

Crafting an impactful school website may seem overwhelming. Still, through strategic planning and setting milestones, you can create a website that is truly a dynamic representation of your school’s identity, values, and achievements. Your website can become a powerful tool for fostering engagement, building trust, and communicating effectively with your school community.


Published on: August 25, 2023