Attaining Competitive Advantage For Your School Through Responsive Website Design

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pic-2You may have recently heard about the massive and necessary evolution on the web this year, specifically with the way websites are currently being redesigned to meet the needs of the exploding mobile market. This is the age of a new term you are going to be seeing a lot of right now – it is called ‘Responsive Website Design’.

What is ‘Responsive Website Design’?

With the flood of different sized screens now available, particularly in the mobile market, Responsive Website Design is all about making sure that your school’s website displays well by responding to, or more specifically, automatically reconfiguring to fit the size of the screen on which it is displaying. Mashable.com confirmed that the age of the responsive website is upon us – and for good reason. With hundreds of millions of tablet devices sold this year alone, the scales are quickly tipping and the vast majority of interaction with all websites is now tending to happen on smartphones and tablets. If you knew the proportion of people that are trying to view your school’s website through a smaller screen, you would be truly amazed.

Why this matters so much to schools this year

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This is the arguably the most important issue to tackle sooner rather than later, especially if your website is intended to provide information to users that are mobile and on-the-go. Users, for example, like the parents of prospective students, for whom your school’s website was built to inform, engage and gain rapport with in the first place.

The reason for the mass migration to Responsive Website Design is because all of the research out there is showing that now, more than ever before, parents’ demands on school websites has changed. If you look at parents of prospective students in the context of being one of your website’s most important user groups, you will more readily recognise that the school needs to do more in the digital age. This is inevitably going to include talking with someone about implementing the necessary modifications to your school’s website to make it the ideal user experience for mobile devices. This is especially true if you want your school to be portrayed as being ahead of the curve or, at the very least, up-to-date, which nowadays plays such a huge part in parents choosing the school to which they will send their children to learn.

Smartphones and tablets

It is not the start of a trend, it is a certainty. Whether parents are primarily using smartphones and tablets in an effort to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ or to adequately meet the increasing demands for productivity from their careers, parents have become some of the most incredibly prolific consumers and users of smartphones and tablets. This means they are using mobile devices to browse your school’s website.

If you believe that for one more year, your students’ parents will be setting aside time tonight to fire up the old desktop computer and click away with a mouse and keyboard to interact with the school’s website from home, you are dreaming. The case for seriously considering adapting your school’s website to a responsive design model becomes very clear once you are prepared to admit that parents of prospective students have never been busier in their lives, so it follows that your website’s GUI (Graphical User Interface), when it is displayed on a smaller screen, needs to be as easy to use as an app – which is exactly what the best Responsive Websites aim to deliver.

Apps are popular. Why not engage someone to build an App instead?

Besides the questionable affordability issue in developing an App and the massive benefits that the web provides through rankings on search engines, many of the experts agree that a Responsive Website is simply easier than an App. A Responsive Website can behave like and fulfill the same functionalities to the user. It also does not demand the same commitment level required from parents of prospective students to access it and interact with it in the first place. You do not even have to worry about the cost and effort required to develop multiple native versions for the iPhone, Android and Windows platforms. Put simply, a Responsive Website is a much lower cost, lower barrier-to-entry way to achieve basically the same user experience and interaction you would get from an App.

Your school’s website is the key to your school’s brand and overall marketability

It is an important question to ask this year since the research is showing that users everywhere are predominantly accessing websites via smartphones and tablets in nearly everything they do. You can bet that if they cannot easily access or clearly read the resources you are trying to make available to them, the whole experience is going to be difficult, which immediately diminishes your school’s competitive advantage literally seconds after your school’s website is ‘Googled’ on a mobile device.

Consider this: Today, Mum has earmarked two new recipes from the web using her smartphone while waiting in line at the supermarket. She will share photos with her friends on Facebook this weekend on the very same device she uses as she sits in the car waiting for Saturday sport to finish. Dad spent a couple of hours in his armchair last night with the television on, but the TV has not been his primary focus at all this year. He is only raising his eyes up to the TV intermittently from the tablet he is using to fine tune his presentation for work after updating his profile on LinkedIn, and after that he will book his flights for the family’s next school holiday.

If you are hoping for today’s users to interact more with your school’s website, it has to meet their needs on the smaller screen, otherwise it quickly becomes too hard and that will have a serious impact on your school’s growth strategies.

Why doing nothing is a very bad idea

If you think trying to move forward with a regular, run-of-the-mill website is good enough for now, it definitely will not be for long. If your school’s website is not using a Responsive Design and it is not reconfiguring on the smaller screen, your website is not going to behave in the way today’s technology user and mobile market demands. This is exactly why Apps and Responsive Websites are the perfect fit for screens, hence why they are designed with fingers and thumbs in mind to navigate through your content. The law of user experience dictates that if you fail to acknowledge the user’s needs, it is going to negatively impact on their overall feelings about the school. If your school’s future information deployment strategy depends on the web, it is time to act.

Return on investment

To the layperson, some of the work involved in redesigning a website to behave responsively is a bit like rocket science, but it does not have to be expensive. There are some very affordable solutions to getting the complex, information rich and content-driven websites which schools need now to realise their growth plans and get more than ample return on investment. One comforting thing to take away from this is that making sure your school’s website is responsive does not necessarily mean investing in multiple websites for different formats. Having just one website which automatically adapts itself to the different formats means making easier, more enjoyable access for prospective parents on their smartphones and tablets a really feasible proposition.

What to do next

Engaging with an expert and acting on a plan to implement a Responsive Web Design for your school’s website needs to happen this year before your school’s competitive advantage diminishes.

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Scott Patterson

Scott Patterson

Scott Patterson is a Key Industry Consultant working at the forefront of creative design, web and application development, social interaction and engagement, and Digital Education Platforms.