5 tips to what makes a good School Website?

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We often get asked the above question and it is quite a hard one to answer, however we can give our view on what we think is a good website for your school.

Your school is actually a brand to start with so ideally your website needs to communicate your ethos and brand messages. This sounds too corporately so how does your school communicates with the children and parents wanting to come to your school. Word of mouth is possibly going to always come first and then the potential parent would want to have a look at your website. As a school it’s not as simple as this as you do need to also have boxes to tick with the Government and Department of Education.

Setting the right tone both visual and through word is going to be key to help sale your school to the parents. The website then needs to be more than a glossy brochure with some key information to tick the boxes for OFSTED. You don’t want the website to be over complicated and hard to use as well.  In this blog we’re not going to write the obvious when it comes to building a website like we have developers it needs to be XYZ.

Lets real it back a little as well, as at the end of the day someone from your leadership team or one of the teachers are going to have to take responsibility for the administration of the website so lets start here:

1) Lets get it right for OFSTED and the inspectors/auditors

So every website will have to 17 standard pages these are:

  1. School contact details
  2. Admission arrangements
  3. Ofsted reports
  4. Exam and assessment results
  5. Performance tables
  6. Curriculum
  7. Behaviour policy
  8. School complaints procedure
  9. Pupil premium
  10. Year 7 literacy and numeracy catch-up premium
  11. PE and sport premium for primary schools
  12. Special educational needs (SEN) and disability information
  13. Equality objectives
  14. Governors’ information and duties
  15. Charging and remissions policies
  16. Values and ethos
  17. Requests for paper copies

So you will need to have all the content ready for the above pages. These could be seen as the most haves you can write them in away to suite your tone of the school. You should have some nice graphics to along side this.

2) What kind of message do you want to give?

The way the content is written and the visual images will set your website apart from others, the most time consuming part of getting your website designed and built is the content. With out it the designer will have a hard job and with out the right visual elements the site could look a little bland. It is well worth either investing in a decent SLR camera or commission a photographer to take some images of the school. A mixture of a good written message on a page with some high quality graphics or videos will help bring the site to life. A good tip when taking photos is to take them landscape rather than portrait. The designers will then be able to crop and work with them better and get the most usage out of the images. Keep images consistent and all the same size will help with image galleries and layouts when doing the design for the website.

3)  The design of your website

The design of your website is very much about how you want the parents to learn about your schools. A good web design company would find out what your looking to achieve. If you have had poor OFSTED results then you may want to focus the design about promoting areas where you where weak on.

If you looking to increase bums on seats then it may be that you want to show of success stories of how well your students and teaching staff have performed. Many sites go down the root of whats being fashionable try and break from convention. It may be prior to commissioning the website you have a focus group and ask teachers and parents on what they would expect to see and what would help them as stakeholder.

Things like mobile responsive and it should be easy to navigate you shouldn’t even worry about and expect this from your website designer. However make that very clear in your brief to the the website designer. (You never know they may not be with the times).

4) Saving you time

The perfect website would save you time and a lot of effort.  The brief at the start of the project would should be the hardest part of getting your website built. You need to document in detail exactly how you want the website to work and what you would like the website to do for you. The more information you give your web company the better and painless it will be for you. The designers will work exactly to  you brief and will not make assumptions about say how a gallery will work. If you tell them it needs to be in a grid and open into a lightbox. The main gallery page should show every gallery created and when you click on the image it then goes through to that gallery. Get involved and stay involved in the whole process.

Functionality is also key and you part of the functionality is that you would want to make sure the administration is as easy as possible so you don’t waste time looking or waiting for things to work.  For example a page in the admin area you would want title, select the template, possibly make it a sub page of another page. Then a simple to use word processing where you can type and add images. Select a gallery, then put in the SEO information title and meta description. Then a simple publish button. You don’t want multiple check boxes or going to other screens to make the page appear. Likewise you don’t want to be calling the web design company every 5 minutes to be reminded or show you how to do things.

5) Do what’s right for your school

There is a lot of us out here looking to work with schools and our straight up advise is to do what is right for your school. One thing we would say is cheap isn’t good, likewise paying the earth for a website may not be the right move. However you can look at the website as an asset which can help your balance sheet. Write the cost off over a a couple of years and look at the website as a key tool in your marketing arsenal. We know schools at the moment are going through a very tough time financially but if you will need to invest in marketing to help get the numbers up to get your funding for each child. Everyone is searching for schools on their phones and desktop computers and finding the right web design and development company will help you do whats best for your school.

For more information on how we can help your school get a easy to use feature packed website please do get in touch through our contact us page. If you want to find out more information please click here

Creativity at the heart of business – We’re all business innovators

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Innovation is something that we at Cocoonfxmedia love to do, it’s sometimes easier for a company like ours to innovate or seem to innovate new ideas and develop really cool websites and web applications.

You are an innovator!

In-fact every business is an innovator possibly without even knowing. The definition of innovation is to rework, improve, enhance and develop a process. That could be a quicker way to solve a problem.

When I thought about writing about innovation I thought where do I start, what to talk about. I then thought of ‘Innovation Britain’ (http://www.greatbritaincampaign.com/) stamped over the Blood Hound supersonic car and McLaren F1 has it stamped over their car. Britain has always been a place for innovation from the days of the Beagle to steam trains and everyone forgets that here in Blighty the internet was born.

Innovation in Web Design

Web design is a good example where innovation of processes has helped the users interact with websites. When I first started in web design the users didn’t expect much it was relatively easy to put together a website and you were pretty much limited to static sites.  You basically created a table behind the scenes like in word and then you put the content into this.

My first website was actually an advertising website which I published in 1997 or 1998 it had the same principles of Ebay but it was more a half hearted attempt to see if I could build a website. E-commerce wasn’t really that good back then as well.

The internet then started to innovate and the speeds improved from 13kb to 56kbs which meant you could use bigger graphics, code started to innovate and software become more advanced. For me one of the biggest innovations for web design was Macromedia created Flash. It made it that you didn’t need to have studied computer programming to make a very visually pleasing and interactive websites. I remember the first website I created in flash was for a band. You could stream music at a decent quality and have animation like lights turning on and off. You could also test the sites in developer mode to see how it would perform on 13KB and 56KB dial up.

Innovation in Code

The wonderful thing about the internet is that the web design and development community wanted to work as a collective to make the “Internet” work. This loosely formed “Open Source” which then allowed websites and web applications to be developed over time for free.

As user demands start to increase for more visual appealing and interactive websites the code did need to enhance variations of Java Script start to emerge and new coding languages such as PHP where developed.

With PHP being open source then this lead the drive and innovation, the code itself is a lot lighter and in my opinion to Microsofts equivalent ASP.NET.

The way PHP has been developed and the HTML itself has radically changed the ability now to pretty much do what you like online clearly shows that the code has developed.

Now Back to Web design.

If we took 5 years ago businesses where thinking oh ok we will have a website, I can’t see the value in them. Now it’s an absolute must and the design and innovation of a website can make or break a website.

More and more best practices are being forced by user experience and design a few years back mobile responsiveness was a nice to have. Now pretty much everyone has a smart phone, code had to evolve to allow the detection of such devices. This then lead to way users want the information provided to them.  Flash from the old days with cool little animations, users don’t want that. The user themselves have innovated their own user habbits to say… Sod this I can’t be bothered looking at this bounce icons and things flying in every where. I just want to see what I am looking for and how to do I buy, share and read this information.

 

The internet has also lead businesses to innovate their own business process. Let take the Cloud… before the Cloud businesses would want expensive hardware to manage processes however now it’s all in the cloud, running on the internet. Often old paper trail of people having to fax documents and then have mass filing cupboards to store stuff. The internet now take care of all of this.

The questions I ask you the reader of his blog. Is there something you’re doing in your business which could be done quicker or more efficiently?  If there is that’s the start of your innovation and this could be the next big thing your business and you personally can innovate to help improve how your business works.

 

 

 

 

 

Browser Caching Image

My website doesn’t seem to update?

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In the modern world of high speed broadband and mobile networks you would think your website will update instantly as soon as you press publish.  This my friends is often the biggest problem website designers face. The dreaded caching…

Caching what’s this?

Caching is when a device will store information of a website so when you go to the next page or return to the site it would load quicker. This seems that the website is working fast when in fact actually the information isn’t coming from the website –  it’s the information from the browser. This is known as caching! And its there to help speed up the internet.

So what actually happens when you make a small update or replace an image is that sometimes the browser doesn’t recognise it as an update and will continue to give the old cached image. Each browser is different and each browser talks to the internet slightly different. This is the first big hurdle.

Why haven’t you updated my website!

A website designer and web developer will have been asked this question a million times. The website designer will say I have updated the changes I can see it here. The client will say no you haven’t its not working… but it is…

The next level of caching…. you have super fast broadband… why do you have super fast broadband… well your internet service provider will do the same as the browser. Yep that’s right, your website runs of what’s known as a DNS (Domain Name Server); these are massive data centres with lots of big computers. Often called a node. The website and browser talks to the node using the DNS settings. Often you will have a big node which then talks to 100 of other little nodes. You then have the where the website sits.  The web host is where the files and the heart of your website sits. If you’re on a cloud the website is then shared across many computers. When a user looks at your website it travels down the broadband line to the data centre then to the web host on the cloud then to the node and back again. It happens instantly, but to get your 150 MB broadband speed then your ISP will store data to make sure yours get the speed you want.

Now your poor web designer doesn’t know how long it takes to clear the cache and 99% of them will not know how the data is managed. If you have a £100 web hosting package chances are your sharing with 1000 to 10000 other websites, the cloud will regulate what you see to balance the performance of the server.  However, if you’re the BBC or a large company, you will possibly have a dedicated server which costs £10K + and you can control the data better. So, whenever they update something it happens there and then.

Mobiles – Do they cache?

Yes, they do! No good news here. The networks differ as well. A good example was something we built for a client, it was a kiosk with an e-commerce website on it. We wanted to put the kiosk in a remote location and linked to a mobile dongle. We tried O2, it took over 24 hours to receive the last updates, Vodafone took between 8-12 hours and EE which took between 30 minutes to 4 hours.

We’re not saying you can’t have real time updates on your website but what we’re saying is that an update should happen quickly. What we’re saying is that a website designer isn’t a data network specialist, nor are they an IT guru as we often find IT people don’t get it either.

What we’re saying is let’s give the creatives a break and start trusting them. If you ask for an update and it doesn’t happen instantly then try and help yourself by Googling “How to clear my Cache”.  If this doesn’t work just switch your router off at the wall for 1 minute let it have a break and you will find that the router may need a little update itself.

Web Design – Fashion or User Experience?

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I have been doing web design for over 18 years now, mainly as a hobby and now as part of my job. I don’t go to University and I certainly didn’t study web design. In fact I couldn’t work a computer other than playing games until late 90’s. I studied product design at college and learnt about ergonomics and designing products to fit the people buying them, how they would present the packaging etc.

This was all very basic level but it forms pretty much why I am writing this blog. Often the best blogs come off the back of when you’re relaxed and strange things flash through your head. Anyhow I thought about what I learnt at college and I thought most, if not all the principles of the course are very relevant to website design. Particularly more than others.

Websites have evolved massively since I started playing with them going from static boring pages to whizzy flash sites which had videos/animations etc. and look very cool.  Technology evolved, the smart phone came along and then so did broadband and Google.

Google is like Marmite

Google has really shaped how websites are, some including my business partner will argue with this. If anything, Google has basically collated so much data it knows pretty much what the consumer and users wants. Basic in the day, a Flash site used to do very well in Google and so did your website with line after line of text which made no sense, images flying around all over the place and then adverts spluttered all over the site. The design of a site literally did fly out the window.

Google then came up with all kinds of rules and regulations to hit websites, which was flash and other dark arts methods to full the search results. Google has basically got fed up with people trying to trick users. The rules it came up with are very simple, and so a whole industry separate to web design was created. However, the design actually is more important than possibly the content or lack of content. Google has forced a standard and also a train of thought. The USER comes first!

Now Graphic Designers will hate this with their heavily graphic laid website with video and lots of bold titles. Visually the sites look really cool and very nice. This can effect the user experience and also your ranking in Google. An SEO company also love the new standard as they would be looking to fill the site with call to actions, lots of content, links off to places and no graphics. This site would possibly perform very well but again the USER has not been thought about.

This is why I say Google is like marmite, you either hate Google for stopping you being very creative or you love Google like I do; they’ve made design and the reasoning behind the design easier to explain and also allows us to create websites which both look great and perform well in Google.

Fashion or User Experience

If you think about it the web is still very new, there are new ways to code websites and new ways to serve up content. When a client contacts a web designer often they will say we like the look of X.Y.Zs website and could we have something like this. Great, the web designer will go off be super creative and come up something similar. Big graphics which will be in a slider (bigger banners at the top). Bold text and then lots of images.  The designer is possibly a graphic designer by trade and will no nothing about how to build this site. They then will get a pre built template which will allow them to get somewhere close to the design.

The CLIENT loves the design and is pleased as punch. Two months or sooner down the line the CLIENT comes back and say’s the site is amazing still, but we’ve had no enquiries and when I search for keywords the site doesn’t appear.

When you visit the site there are 4 pages of content, a couple of paragraphs on the page and then some really cool images. The web designer will say “oh you need some SEO doing”. I know this X company. The company will then come along and say ‘oh you have no Call to Actions and no blog …also this is missing and that’s missing’.  The CLIENT then gets upset with the web designer.  The designer has only followed what the CLIENT has said but also exercised their expertise in design.  Typically, this would be a site for below £1500. To get the site to work with the SEO would then double the costs of the site.

 

SO if the CLIENT thought about the USER first, would he of had these issues?

 

Yes and no. Often a client will not fully understand this to start with until you bring them back to how they trade off line. If they built their website like they shop or how they trade off line, then possibly there could be a better connection to the USER. The USER will want possibly a few out comes.

 

  1. Find information quick
  2. Buy something quick
  3. Enquire about something quick

 

What the user doesn’t want

  1. Take an age for the website to load
  2. Go through hoops to get to the information/product they want
  3. Get bombarded by offers and pop ups to sign up.

 

A classic example of how a Fashion site performs against a site built for the USER.  We recently took over a website that wasn’t performing zero, had very little enquiries and didn’t feature in the search engines. The site was very visually striking it had nice big images, very simple navigation. The downside is that it took ages to work. The information was too complex and low quality.

We sat the client down and ask them what they wanted the site to do and who where they wanted to target. Within 30 minutes we had a very clear brief. We knew that the type of client searching for the site would mostly be doing this from mobile devices and we also found they where very strong on Facebook which reinforced it. The site was to serve useful information as well as to promote the special offers.

When we started the design process we worked out what was the best information to serve first and then thought ok why do they need a slider on the website? What is the purpose. If the site had supporting information to their services people are more likely to read it. So we redesigned the website to work quickly by reducing the code and also taking out the image sliders. We then tailored the content to hit the users. Also most instantly the site started to perform better than the previous design and instantly the clients where commenting on how easy it was to find information. The design was very simple but extremely effective.

The User is always Right?

My biggest tip for when you look to have your website designed and built is to make sure you have a solid brief. Don’t follow the fashion, set your own trend and your own shop front.

You will have better results and find it easier to adapt and change when your users behaviours change. Identify who you’re going to target and decide what you want to serve them in the way of information. This in itself is design but in a more intellectual way then trying to force a design which looks nice but serves no real useful information to the user.

You noticed I captialised the word client.  This is to show that the client is not the user of the website. The user is the people you’re targeting. I mentioned Google early as well. Regardless of what an SEO expert will say, Google is only interested in websites which think of the USER. If the USER comes back time and time again, or the users navigate logically through your site it will do naturally very well with Google. User based design is what Web Designers should now force. Things will look a little less glamorous, however what do you want! More Sales, better brand recognition, known to be an industry go to point, or a business which has a nice looking site but what does it do.

If you’re a website designer don’t be scared to challenge the client. If you’re the client don’t be afraid to challenge the designer if the design doesn’t work for the user. If they don’t get it, then find a designer who does.

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digital marketing agency celebrates record growth

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A Midlands-based web design and digital marketing agency is celebrating record growth having doubled its turnover in two years.

Cocoonfxmedia Ltd in Lichfield will now be expanding with new services, new staff and expectations for turnover to double again next year.

The business was set up six years ago by managing partner James Blackman who wanted to bring something different to the web design arena with a vision for a transparent service that delivers measurable results.

It’s a model that has struck the right chord with businesses as many of Cocoonfxmedia’s initial customers are still with the company now and lots of new clients are won through word of mouth and referrals. The rate of growth has been rapid and consistent.

James said: “When we first started we offered web development and have since evolved to include design and marketing as well, so we can provide the whole internet package. We work very closely with our clients; they know exactly what they are paying for and we deliver on their goals. We stand out because we are completely transparent about what we will do for them, and for that reason our clients stay with us.

“I took on my first employee in 2014 and we have continued to grow and grow. We are now getting some good sizeable companies joining us. Next year we will be taking on another developer which will increase our capabilities further.

“This will bring a whole new level to what we can offer and will be focusing more on developing useful, viable apps, as well as a whole range of new products which will help our clients.”

It’s just as well James knows what he’s doing in business, because as well as being vital to the success of his own company, his acumen is also vital to the interests of the 160-plus companies he represents in his role as President of the Lichfield and Tamworth Chamber of Commerce.

James was elected to the role in only his third year as a member of the Chamber and as such he provides a key link between local members and the management board of the Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, to ensure that the concerns and issues of local businesses are addressed.

In this role and at the helm of his own business, James works tirelessly towards the goal of improving the local economy. This includes encouraging people to use local businesses and services and to pay their suppliers in a timely fashion.

The Lichfield and Tamworth Chamber of Commerce has launched a Pay in 30 Days pledge as one of its main policies for this year. (https://www.greaterbirminghamchambers.com/lichfieldtamworth)

“Using local companies is the way forward, and it’s critical, especially in light of Brexit. If everyone focusses on local businesses, there will be less of an impact when Article 50 is triggered,” James said.

As well as championing the local economy, James is also looking forward to taking his company to the next level.

“More and more businesses are realising how critical it is to have a decent, functioning internet presence. We work with clients ranging in size from one-man bands to much bigger operations.

“Technology is changing rapidly. We are certainly expecting big changes in SEO and the way businesses appear on the internet, as well as in the use of smart phones and apps, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds,” James added.

Businesses encouraged to join the ‘Pay in 30 Days’ pledge

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Businesses in Lichfield and Tamworth are being encouraged to support the local economy by pledging to pay suppliers within 30 days.

 

‘Pay in 30 Days’ is a new initiative which has been launched as the main policy of the Lichfield & Tamworth Chamber of Commerce and is designed to tackle late payment – one of the biggest issues facing the area’s small and medium enterprises.

A recent survey found that, on average, more than £200,000 is regularly owed to businesses in the West Midlands, which in some cases can mean the difference between success and failure.

Companies often find themselves waiting 90, or even 120, days to get paid for services and products.

Pay in 30 Days hopes to turn the tide on late payment by promoting best practice throughout the local economy. Although it is not legally binding, companies signing up to the pledge are showing their commitment to pay suppliers within 30 days, or within agreed contract terms.

James Blackman, President of the Lichfield & Tamworth Chamber, and managing partner of Cocoonfxmedia Ltd, said: “Late payment is stifling growth. Small and micro businesses are the lifeblood of the economy and it’s vital that they thrive. I’ve known firms to go out of business while waiting for large invoices to be settled and it’s just not acceptable. Some companies drag out paying as long as they can and it needs to be addressed.

“If every business improved their payments to suppliers it would have a massive impact on the local economy across the entire spectrum of sectors. Businesses would have more money to spend on growth and employment. As well as helping to improve their corporate social responsibility, signing up to the pledge would also make businesses more appealing as a potential trading partner and could result in them winning a contract above the competition.

“I hope this campaign will go some way towards promoting best practice and raising awareness of the issue locally to the extent that changes will be made,” James added.

If enough businesses sign the pledge, it is hoped the campaign will be rolled out to other divisions within the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce.

A number of companies have already signed up, including the board members of the Lichfield & Tamworth Chamber.

Neil Lancaster, partner at Adams Moore Accountants in Tamworth, said: “As accountants we recognise that while profit is a key driver for most business owners, the end result needs to be cash in the bank.

“Small businesses account for more than 50 per cent of all businesses and if we want the economy to grow, we need them to have the cash flow to pay staff, overheads, crown taxes due, and crucially, leave enough to grow.

“At Adams Moore we do a weekly BACS run to pay suppliers and also have a lot on monthly direct debits and standing orders. It helps us to know that suppliers are paid and have no reason not to do business with us.”

Chris Lines, Managing Director of Dyne Technologies in Lichfield, said: “As an SME, we appreciate that cash flow is the lifeblood of businesses of any size. Adhering to payment terms is not only crucial for the success of the business, but also for building strong relationships with our suppliers and customers. Paying as per the payment terms builds trust between us, something that is critical for business growth moving forward.

“We’re proud to support the Pay in 30 Days campaign as it is something that Dyne Technology has always championed. We encourage other businesses to come forward and take the pledge too. Let’s Pay in 30 Days and help to build our economy!”

The Pay in 30 Days pledge is open to all businesses, not just Chamber of Commerce members.

Signing up couldn’t be easier. Simply visit the Tamworth & Lichfield Chamber page at www.greaterbirminghamchambers.com/lichfieldtamworth to register your company name and email address. You will then receive the Pay in 30 Days logo to display on your website and literature.

You can also show your support by using the hashtag #PayIn30Days on Twitter.