Why a Free CMS Isn’t Ideal for School & District Websites

From time to time, we get asked, “Why should I pay for school and district websites when I can build them myself for free?” It’s a fair question. There are a lot of free content management systems (CMS) out there: Drupal, WordPress, Joomla, Google Sites, and that’s just scratching the surface. You can break down why a free solution likely isn’t the best choice into five key areas.

1-2016Startup

One of the most difficult tasks, especially for schools and districts, is getting the initial pieces in place. Choosing what components will be necessary and configuring your setup can require a lot of work.

Moreover, when using open source products, it’s important to be aware of the threshold between what’s free and what costs money. The CMS you’re looking at might be free, but you could be required to pay for the components you need to build the final product you have in mind.

Products that were designed for K-12, like Gaggle School & District Websites, have all the pieces that you need and will usually offer some help with getting started. You know the fee up front; you won’t continually be surprised with small charges for special features.

2-2016Security

Especially with open source products, such as Drupal or WordPress, there are frequent security holes that need patches. Someone well-versed in the product community may be needed to stay abreast of these changes.

Additionally, a broad knowledge of the system itself is required, since even the simplest patches can have unanticipated adverse effects on various parts of your website.

3-2016Compliance

Do you know what it means to meet requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990?

Particularly important for public schools, you need to make sure that whoever builds your website is aware of these regulations and guidelines along with Web Content Accessibility Guides (WCAG 2.0). If you cannot create and maintain websites that conform, you could end up eventually paying for more than you intended.

4-2016User Management

Keeping a website current, engaging and applicable is a top priority for anyone, especially schools and districts who want to use their website as a means of ongoing communication with their community.If you want to have the ability to delegate and share the load for website administration, you ought to steer away from free website solutions. Creating a capacity for multiple administrators can be a lot of work. This is, once again, especially pertinent for schools and districts, since you’ll probably want teachers and staff to have the ability to edit their personal pages and class pages.

If you want to have the ability to delegate and share the load for website administration, you ought to steer away from free website solutions. Creating a capacity for multiple administrators can be a lot of work. This is, once again, especially pertinent for schools and districts, since you’ll probably want teachers and staff to have the ability to edit their personal pages and class pages.

5-2016Branding

As a school or district, your website is your brand. It’s the first thing many people will see about your district or school. You need to create a website presence that looks nice, is consistent, and will continue to look that way for a long time.It’s especially difficult to do this with products like Google Sites or a patchwork of products like Wix, where contributors can choose any template, style and layout. Many of the people we talk to using these free or open-source methods have had a tough time maintaining a consistent design or identity throughout an entire website.

It’s especially difficult to do this with products like Google Sites or a patchwork of products like Wix, where contributors can choose any template, style and layout. Many of the people we talk to using these free or open-source methods have had a tough time maintaining a consistent design or identity throughout an entire website.

The moral of the story? When you pay for a school or district website, you’re paying for much more than server space and a template. You’re paying for easy startup, security, compliance, user management, branding and a whole lot of saved time.

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