In the September issue of the School Messenger, you learned five important reasons why your Christian school needs a website. Now, you're excited to begin, but you don't know where to start. In fact, the terms "hosting server" and "domain name" don't even exist in your vocabulary. Thankfully, starting a school website doesn't have to be intimidating or expensive! Using today's technology and online tools, follow these seven simple steps to successfully launch your website at a minimal cost.


Step 1 - Determine Your Purpose
You've heard the saying, "You don't know where you're going if you don't know where you are." This advice also applies to websites. Before you even begin, your school needs to decide goals for your website. Do you want to build interest in your school, provide information for enrolled families, sell merchandise, or advertise to potential parents of students? Most likely, your school will have multiple goals. Be sure to set reasonable and measurable goals to track your site's performance in areas like unique visitors and downloaded information.

Tip: Remember, a website is a wonderful tool, but it must be used correctly and maintained properly to be effective.

Step 2 - Content Is King
What really makes people visit a website? The bottom line is content. If you have relevant content, people will visit your site and keep coming back. As a school, you want to include vital information like admission policies, directions to your school, a contact us page, tuition costs, and news updates. In addition, your content can include student articles, school menus, event calendars, course updates, teacher biographies, photo galleries, and more.

A great way to market your website is to include a beginner's guide to your Christian school, a how to enroll page, a benefits section, and testimonials. Whether your website has five pages or 50, make sure every page has a purpose and a call to action. Examples of "call to action" are "Call Now!" or "Request More Info!" Don't make people look for the next step. Give it to them.

Tip: Check out other schools' websites to get ideas!

Step 3 - The Name Game
A domain name is essentially your website's address. More specifically, a domain name is part of a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) used to locate your website. For example, your domain name could be www.greenvilleschool.com, making your URL http://www.greenvilleschool.com. To name your website, you should select an address that is short, easy to remember, and relevant. Your domain name can be the name of your school like the example above, a shorter version like www.gtschool.com, or one that incorporates your mascot like www.greenvillelions.com. Many domain names are already in use, so you might need to be creative to think of name variations not already taken. Two possibilities include adding words like "my" or "the" at the beginning, such as www.mygreenvilleschool.com. Domain names must be registered for a certain period of time and often require a small annual fee for securing the name.

Tip: View an example of a domain registration website!

Step 4 - Create Your Sitemap
A sitemap is quite simply a blueprint or to-do list that lays out a map for your site. A website can die or stall because of unrealistic sitemap designs, so planning at this stage is very important. What pages do you want on your website? Are you looking for just the basics, or do you have an elaborate navigation in mind? Decide what you really need to get your website launched. Remember, you're not out to create a masterpiece, but you don't want the bare minimum either. A good suggestion is to start with the basics and keep in mind that you can always add additional pages later or launch in phases to get your site up faster. The beauty of the web is that you can change your website whenever you want! Nothing is set in stone, but a sitemap is a must-have for staying on track.

Tip: Create, edit, and share your sitemap in minutes with helpful websites that offer customizable templates!

Step 5 - Pull It Together
After you set up your domain name and sitemap, you need to choose your content management system (CMS). A content management system is an application that allows you to build and launch your website without having to know the background computer code needed to make your website run. Many systems such as WordPress®, Joomla!®, and Drupal® offer free design templates to coordinate with their CMS. In addition, they allow you to make real-time edits on your website. Your content can be generated by teachers, students, volunteer parents, or, if you have room in your budget, you can even pay a freelance writer. Be sure to clearly communicate your expectations with your writers.

Tip: Unfortunately, even with this simplified process, you'll probably need to pay someone to configure your CMS and design template to get a high-quality website. Also, avoid long distance barriers by hiring someone local if possible.

Step 6 - Find a Hosting Provider
An Internet hosting provider allows you to make your website available on the World Wide Web. Hosting providers offer space on a dedicated server in a secure location to clients and often provide additional services like email options. Simply upload your website files to your hosting provider, and you can launch a website! Your website's construction will dictate the complexity of hosting needed.

Thankfully, finding a hosting provider isn't as hard as it sounds. There are many turn-key hosting options available. Basic hosting plans are free or reasonable in cost depending on your website's size. Providers often charge clients by the bandwidth used or the amount of traffic to their client's site. Remember, some host providers are better than others, so do your homework.

Tip: If possible, get your domain name from your hosting provider. Also, check into each hosting provider's backup processes, data transfer limits, and technical support options before you commit. A reliable provider offers round-the-clock support to answer questions and solve problems.

Step 7 - Ready...Set...Launch!
Before the final blast-off, make sure you thoroughly review your site. Have multiple people proofread your website to make sure everything makes sense. Test all your links, form submissions, search functions, and login areas. Also, find someone unfamiliar with your site and watch him navigate through the site. Take notes of his interaction with the site to see what changes are needed immediately or in the future. Once you're done testing, pick a date, launch your site, and spread the word!

Tip: There are many tracking tools you can use to analyze your site's performance. You can also test your site to see how it measures up to standards and find out how you can improve!

Final Tip: Remember to maintain your site regularly. Now that it's online, you can't just forget about it. Add fresh content often! You can even use articles from AOP's School Messenger on your website. This is perfect for announcing new AOP courses, encouraging teachers, and more!

Final Words of Wisdom
Starting a Christian school website is like opening your doors to the world. Although it takes effort to launch a website, the endless benefits you receive from a website are likely to go far beyond your imagination. Not only does a website help currently enrolled families, but it also helps your school reach out to souls in need of Christian education and the message of God's glory and salvation.

Does your school have a website? Share your tips and favorite resources for website beginners in the comment field below.

*Alpha Omega Publications® is not responsible for content on third-party websites. Please be aware that the content on third-party websites is not reviewed, monitored, controlled, endorsed, or affiliated with AOP.