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5 hard questions to ask your school website provider

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By Emma Castleberry
Mar 11, 2021 11:56:03 AM

Choosing a school website provider is an important and delicate task, and the decision has perhaps never been more important than it is right now. Schools are leaning heavily on web-based communications to manage all their messaging, and your school website needs to keep pace. It remains the front-facing entity for sharing and engaging your community.

The past year saw a tremendous surge in the need to share urgent and important news, and your school website provider should be right there with you, helping you manage the messaging.

This article raises the questions you should be asking to make sure your website provider is reliable, meticulous, and rigorously attentive to new trends and best practices in school communications.

Here are the easy ones:

You might already have a list of simple questions for any potential provider, such as:

  • How long will it take to build our website?
  • What kind of storage will I have?
  • How long have you been providing website services for schools? 
  • What are your customer service hours?
  • Are your websites mobile-friendly?

These are just a few of the easy questions for a potential website provider. While you definitely need to make these basic inquiries, you also need to dig a little deeper and ask some questions that might pose more of a challenge to a provider. These 5 tough questions for school website providers will help you make a thorough assessment of each potential candidate and choose the best option for your school.

Now for the hard Qs to ask your website provider:


1. What is their customer retention rate? 

This question targets a potential vendor’s reputation. Perhaps the best way to know if a vendor is a viable option for your school is to ask about their existing customers. You should know if they are working with other schools, how large those schools are, and what qualities they share with your school (public/private, urban/suburban/rural, etc).

You can even ask to talk with their current customers who fit your demographic. Another tough question that addresses their usability and customer satisfaction would be: Who was your last customer to leave, and why did they do so? This offers them an opportunity to identify their shortcomings and how they’ve worked to patch up those issues.  


2. What are their last three CMS advancements?

School web communications is ever-changing, so your school needs a provider who is up on the trends – not only for usability and appeal, but also to ensure you are compliant with the ADA and using the most modern user privacy strategies. You want a school website provider who can protect your school from ADA complaints and ensure your users’ data is safe. 

This question, in particular, requires the potential website provider to be explicit about exactly what they’re doing to grow and improve. Your school

"Website providers should be pivoting right with schools' needs to share and engage with their parents especially. Make sure they're up to speed with school communication best practices."

Jason Morgan, chief product officer, SchoolNow.

website provider shouldn’t be stagnant or resting on their laurels – they should be vigorously committed to constant improvement. A great provider will have a ready answer, and might even be able to list more than three things they’ve done recently to advance their practices and services.

Another note: pay attention to how the provider explains these improvements. Are they using excessive jargon, or are they good at breaking down complex web tech topics? This will give you some insight into their training skills, which will become vital as you progress in a partnership with them.


3. How do they help you navigate and maintain ADA compliance?

ADA compliance is a full-time job. Every new piece of content on a website must be monitored and adapted to ensure that it is accessible to users with disabilities. While you want to ensure all the content creators on your site have best practices around accessibility, you also want to be able to rely on your school website provider to catch any hiccups and keep your site compliant. 


4. What kind of uptime do they guarantee? 

If someone tells you your website is never going to need downtime, they’re lying. Or they aren’t keeping your website up-to-date.

Accidents happen and downtime is an inevitability. So come at your website provider with that in mind, and ask about how much downtime you can expect and how the provider communicates and reports on website downtime. 

Also, be sure you understand what is meant by “uptime.” Some providers distinguish between hardware uptime and software uptime – but your users need both to experience your website in full. You’ll also want to ask about their practices around backing up the website – i.e., how often they do so and where they store the backup data. 


5. Just how accessible it their support team?

A vendor’s effectiveness is almost entirely reliant on the availability and quality of their customer service. Even if they have all the tech bells and whistles, they won’t be of much use to you if you can’t rely on them to answer the phone when something goes wrong and explain the system in detail to you and your team. 

This question also opens up a conversation about how your provider will train you and other users on the system they provide. Again, even the best website isn’t going to be functional if you, other administrators, teachers, and staff can’t post and update content on it. 

Ask the hard questions now for peace of mind later.

Even if you already have a school website provider, it’s a good time to ask these questions if you don’t know the answers. And if you don’t like the answers they give, it might be time to change providers.

"Website providers should be pivoting right with schools' needs to share and engage with their parents especially. Make sure they're up to speed with school communication best practices, said Jason Morgan, co-founder and chief product officer, SchoolNow.

Your choice of school website provider should be a decision that fits into your overall digital communications plan. This plan should be explicit, strategic, and intentional. And with these questions, you can find a school website provider who meets all those criteria, too. 


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Topics: Website design

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About the author

Emma Castleberry is an education writer and contributor to the Campus Suite Academy blog. You can reach her at elcastleberry@gmail.com.