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Responsive, mobile-friendly school websites

Visitors to school websites often require quick information while on the go - checking times of events, school meals, and plans for trips out are just a few examples. While getting their kids ready for school or while they are out and about, enabling parents and guardians access to information in an easy to read format is vital. They now need this information so it can be read on their mobile device, thus reducing the calls to reception, and reducing requests for information. It’s about making the information on your website accessible and enabling it to really work for the school and all the stakeholders. The user benefits of a mobile-friendly website also contribute positively to a school's Ofsted examination.

But why has it all ‘gone mobile?’. To get a little context on why a responsive website is a vital tool for schools it’s best to look back a few years.

The Post-PC Era

For the Personal Computer (PC) Market 2012 was a very unusual year. PC sales for were lower than the previous year for the first time in a decade.Consumers had been buying other devices - tablets, and smartphones at the time - all now devices of choice for the hungry internet audience out there.

I'm sure if you’re reading this you’ve been aware of the growth for some time now, but in 2015 it now looks like tablet sales will finally surpass the sales of PCs.

Steve Jobs predicted this, and according to Gartner his prediction will come true this year. Smartphones of course are also exponentially rising in popularity and sophistication, and research shows that it’s only going to increase, in the UK and globally over 1 billion people will access the internet on a mobile device. But not everyone can predict where this is going to go – the venerable Mr. Jobs also said Apple would never produce Phablets …but they do now, and they’re big sellers for them.

The shift to mobile is happening at an extraordinary speed (even Mr. Jobs couldn’t predict it). Today, 50% of some of our clients’ traffic is mobile. By the end of next year, we expect to exceed this figure considerably across the board - especially for schools.

Responsive Web Design

The solution, of course, is to make a website that works equally well on every device. This is where responsive web design comes in.

In simple terms, we develop a responsive web design to be ‘intelligent’; when someone visits your website, it actually figures out the resolution on their device though identifying the type of browser it is using.

Over the past couple of years, responsive design has been adopted by some of the largest organisations, as they have realised the benefits. Time Magazine was one of the first examples, as are the Westfield School and Sandal Magna websites site developed by us and many others in our responsive website portfolio.

If you’re at a desktop PC, open the sites on your browser, and make your browser window smaller.This simulates the effect of the responsive design, flexible images and ‘fluid’ grids which size correctly to fit the ‘screen’.

The benefits are obvious - you build a website once, and it works seamlessly across thousands of different screens.

2015: A Responsive Year

The rapid adoption of tablets and smartphones and the usage habits of stakeholders and consumers make it inevitable that responsive design will continue to be a major requirement of schools in 2015. It offers the simplest and most cost effective way to reach visitors across multiple devices and it ensures a great experience on every screen.

We were one of the first agencies to develop responsive websites on the popular open source platforms, including WordPress, MODx and Joomla for some global brands, but responsive design is not just for the big budgets…

We’ve developed a way of working and specific technologies that enable us to make responsive web designs both cost effective and easy for you to understand and implement on your website.

If you’d like to know more about responsive website design, contact Richard, Ian or Marc at EdHQ. Between us we have 60 years experience of working within education and delivering creative projects.

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12 tips for picking the right web design agency

1. Do you like what they do?

Make sure you like the company’s website. If they can’t do it for themselves how are they going to help you? Also they should have a decent portfolio of at least ten examples of websites they’ve done to show you and should be able to easily send you additional examples of sites that are similar to your requirements. If you are having a hard time finding something you like, it’s time to move on.

2. What is their discovery process?

Do they have an organised discovery process for designing and developing your new website? Did they ask you a lot of questions and do they demonstrate a knowledge and experience of the education sector with questions like ‘What are your main challenges’; ‘Who are your local ‘competitors’?’, ‘Do you need help in articulating your message?’ And the most important question; ‘What are your goals?’.

Expect some on the spot advice. They should be experienced enough to understand your position and open enough to help – after all it’s a service based industry and any sense of holding back means you’ll get this later down the line.

3. How do they measure success?

Is the focus just on the look and feel of the site or will success be measured by other factors such as increased traffic and structuring the site correctly for your school. A pretty website is fine, but it needs to be bespoke for your school, not a cheap off the shelf template. If you are quickly given a low price point (under £2000) it’s likely it’s an off the shelf template, will not be bespoke for your school and therefore the site will not be future-proofed. You’ll have to do it again in a few years, starting the process from scratch.

You really need an agency that measures success and a relationship with you equally. That way they are demonstrably in it for the long run and can help you evolve the site cost effectively to increase success, rather than you redesigning it every couple of years.

4. What is their core competency?

You should be hiring a firm that is considered to be an expert in professional website design and development as well as inbound digital marketing and search engine optimisation. And in this day and age, include copywriting and content curation in there as well. You may be asked about content strategy – don’t worry if you don’t have one – it’s a good thing they ask and the right agency will be able to help you with this.

This doesn’t mean however that you necessarily need to spend thousands on creating content. A good agency will try to understand what you as an organisation can create, and use this knowledge to produce a content and website strategy that truly fits your needs AND budget.

5. Do they follow industry best practises?

Make sure that you’re not buying a proprietary Content Management System (CMS), or indeed any platform that has been developed in-house as this will tether you to them for life. You need a commonly used Content Management System which provides a professional foundation for your school website. This is then adapted to the needs of your primary school, secondary schoolor academy/trust website. Systems such as Wordpress, MODx or Adobe Catalyst provide this, and it’s one of the reasons why some of the largest brands and global companies use such systems.

On the other side you don’t want a CMS created by a few coders within an agency, as you’re tied to their development schedule and heaven forbid if the company fails things will get difficult. Choosing a CMS that is open source or like Adobe Catalyst and working with an agency like us is the way forward. We follow best practice, so anyone can take over the site’s development at any time which provides you peace of mind and protects you and future-proofs your investment. Such systems are backed by hundreds of thousands of other users and commercial organisations who are continually developing the system to ensure that your site will grow with you moving forward. And if you wish to part ways with the agency, you can easily move on. There is no reason why you cannot ask an agency about such a situation, and they should have a good and immediate answer.

6. Are they thinking 'Mobile'?

You shouldn’t even have to ask if your site is going to be responsive or mobile friendly anymore– it should be part of the solution as soon as you start talking to them. There is no future where visits to sites from mobile devices won’t increase – so you will need a site that responsively or fluidly adapts to smartphones, tablets, phablets or even a large screen television. If that isn’t included right at the start then you should find another agency.

7. How do they manage projects?

Does the firm you want to engage actually provide some structure and project management skills? At least they should be talking about providing you with a proper timeline and be demonstrably geared towards managing your expectations and providing measurable results. Find out how many team members you will be dealing with, if there’s one main contact and what happens when they go on holiday? Also, gauge if they will be proactive in contacting you and reminding you about things. If it’s all a bit woolly, move on.

8. How big are they?

Decide what your ideal firm/partner would look like in terms of size. Do you want a large corporate type of company with hundreds of employees and a half dozen locations or are you okay with freelancers who will have other priorities - daytime jobs and other ‘bookings’ for example. Or would you prefer a mid-size firm that is big enough to handle anything you will need but small enough to actually care about you and your business?

9. How many references do they have to give you?

Everyone will have three references. We say ask for more. References are great, but look for the softer element in them that covers customer service. If their references are a good mix of ‘results’ and ‘your team are angels’ you’ll have both bases covered nicely and will ensure you’ll be working with an agency that truly values both results and relationships. Such testimonials are a good way of working out if the clients are happy with the amount they are spending as well as the results.

10. Do they understand your organisation?

Your website will likely be one of your main communication tools - and it will often need to do all of your talking for you.For example, well before you get the chance to speak with the parent or guardian of your next intake, they will be visiting your site. You need to trust that the partner you choose will help you to communicate the right message at the right time and deliver a site that fits who you are as a brand and who you want to be in the future.

11. What are the ongoing costs?

There are ongoing costs with any website, but they don’t have to be huge costs. The agency should be interested in future relationships and actually passionate about developing improved results with you over time so they can continually improve your website and your digital strategy. Whether it’s just monitoring and some simple guidance on placing content up, or a full maintenance contract, make sure they have a structure in place for this, and are keen on staying around to share in your success. The alternative means they’re in it for a fast pound!

12. Will they go the extra mile?

Are they going to just do what they said they were going to do or are they going to under promise and over deliver? Given the choice, you want the latter of the two. A good way to get a sense of this is to ask them for their terms. This is the black and white of the situation and if there’s anything in there too grabby over copyright (i.e. the source files to the website are not legally yours) then you should move on. Also, agencies that lead on customer service and expelling the dark art of website design should be savvy enough to place a personal note in the email about the terms and conditions or like us, have an Open Policy.

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Ten out of ten

Its good to receive praise - we all like to be appreciated.

We were thrilled when Teacher Town blogger Martin Hunter reviewed Ed HQ's services and gave us a massive 10/10. How's that for a thumbs up!

Of course we know how good our services are but its great to hear someone else say it.

You can read what he has to say here.

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