How to Successfully Choose a School Website Provider

(The real-life edition, not the one where a supplier lists their features instead).

Choosing a supplier can be a difficult task for even the more technical savvy; so how do we get it right? 

Firstly, let’s start with what’s important. We asked schools what was the single most important thing to them when choosing a supplier.

  • Design Skills - 25%
  • Software / Technical - 25%
  • Ongoing Support - 38%
  • Uptime Reliability - 13%

ONGOING SUPPORT

What is interesting from the above results is the emphasis that schools put on being supported. When delving into the comments, what we learnt was that the ongoing support was really specialist knowledge and experience. Schools want / need a supplier that understands schools and that specialises in their particular discipline - marketing a school. This of course makes total sense, and in the context of choosing a supplier makes it very clear that a school website specialist is best placed to tick this box.


At 25% each, design skills and software / technical tied equally in their importance to schools. To derive any meaningful insight from this, we again need to turn to the comments.

DESIGN

What was immediately evident is that rather than design, what schools were really putting emphasis on here was differentiation. Schools did not want a provider that used templated design, including those that claimed ‘bespoke’ design yet provided another staple from the sausage factory.

Schools also seemed resentful of suppliers over-promising and under-delivering; on the creative side, suggesting that too often they’d been promised a ‘wow’, yet been delivered a disappointment.

Again, relating this back to choosing a supplier; schools need to look at a suppliers process very carefully. Does this process look capable of producing something unique? Does this supplier put emphasis on really getting to know the school in order to really understand what makes it tick - will they visit in person? Is there anything about the supplier's process or approach that makes you believe that what they will produce will lead to differentiating your school from any other? 


SOFTWARE / TECHNICAL

Looking at the software and technical side of things was also tremendously insightful, with a common theme emerging of schools failing to do enough due diligence in this area.

They assumed that the platform they were buying was as easy to use as they were told it would be. They expected the new platform to save them time and make them more efficient, but all too often the opposite prevailed. They took time to compare the lists of features in the procurement process, but didn’t ask the most important questions of those features - which features do we actually need and what value do they add to our school? And thereafter; how easy are those features to implement and maintain on an ongoing basis? 

The conclusion here, when relating this back to choosing a supplier, is actually a simple one; you need to dedicate at least an hour, ideally two, for reviewing each suppliers platform in detail, as only then will you be able to make a genuine comparison.

If you’re not technical and the thought of sitting there for an hour reviewing software fills you with dread, then get someone else more technically minded to do this with you - however, be sure not to delegate it elsewhere entirely. See the system for yourself and ask the person giving the demo to show you how to do particular tasks, not just those they are set up ready to demo. If they can’t show you or there are lots of excuses, the alarm bells should start ringing! 


UPTIME RELIABILITY

In the final position, with 13%, was uptime and reliability, which unsurprisingly is all too often overlooked entirely; yet is growing year on year in its significance.

Schools can no longer consider themselves immune from the possibility of being attacked online; as highlighted in the recent high profile ‘ransomware attack’ experienced by US school website provider Finalsite, which resulted in significant downtime for many customers at a crucial time of year - when schools needed to communicate effectively and nimbly with constituents, due to closures from Covid and inclement weather.

In time, Finalsite will likely reveal what data was being held to ransom, so schools can make this more secure. However what this tells us is that a suppliers data, privacy, security and disaster recovery policy should form part of the due diligence process; as should an assessment be made or how seriously they take this aspect of their business; as your reliability and security are only as good as theirs.


In addition to the above, we also saw several other themes which we thought warranted a mention.

  • Innovation - All website companies say they innovate; but is the one that I am choosing, saying or doing anything really innovative? Or are they claiming to be innovative but demonstrating nothing new?
  • Evolution - Does the project stop when the website goes live or is that just the beginning? How is your provider going to help you squeeze that extra value over the course of time?
  • Longevity - A website needs to last between 3-5 yrs, so do you feel the company you are speaking with is going to produce a website that will stand the test of time? Similarly, do you see longevity in your relationship with them?
  • Personality - is the supplier you are choosing a faceless corporation or a business with a real personality and human touch? All customer journeys transcend digital; so should your provider. 
  • Promise - Speak to other schools that have worked with your provider (not just the referrals they give you). Does this company deliver on its promise or fail to deliver? 
  • ROI - Does your provider openly talk about KPI’s, goals and what success looks like for the project? Is there any kind of commitment to delivering any measurable results?

If you would like to learn more about Ubiq’s approach to design, software and support, platform please get in touch.

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