When you’re running a school or nonprofit organization, it’s crucial to work out the balance between “nice-to-have” and “need-to-have.” Some things are “nice to have.” For example, a few less meetings so you can focus more time to get stuff done. Some things are “need to have.” A website – a good, working website – is a “need to have” item, of course!
What defines a “good website” is a gray area. When speaking about the look and design of a website, this can be open to interpretation and taste. But, when it comes to performance, there are a few things that are super important in ensuring that your school website is effective. You can invest in a great looking website that you are really proud of, but if it doesn’t perform well, your website is not “good.”
An up to date website that performs well is essential if you want your school or nonprofit website to help you meet your goals.
We consider the following things to be key elements of “website performance:”
- User experience
- Website Speed
- Website Backend Organization
1. User Experience: Your website is the front door to your school or nonprofit
You’ve heard this before … your website is the first impression people get of your organization. You want it to be professional and well-designed. You want it to look like it’s well-maintained and frequently updated with fresh information.
This is why it is important to make sure your nonprofit or school website performance includes making it easy to navigate so visitors can find what they are looking for (on any device), without getting frustrated, confused and leaving the site before getting the information they were looking for. You or someone on your team should periodically review old and outdated posts, and check for broken links and redirect any missing content to a new source. It is also a good idea to invest in a high quality WordPress hosting plan to make your servers work like a well-oiled machine – which leads us to a key factor when discussing website performance, speed.
2. Site Speed: The Elephant in the Room
Your school website performance hinges on ensuring it is be fast and responsive. For some time now, Google has been using website speed as a ranking factor. This is not meant to be a punishment – Google wants satisfied users. Research shows that 53% of website visitors will leave if a site doesn’t load within 3 seconds. Google knows this, and can tell if visitors leave your site, when they leave and how long they were there. As a result, the faster a web page loads, the higher it ranks in the search results. In fact, Google has gone as far as to say that a one-second delay in page speed could result in a 7% reduction in traffic. No one will be able to rank above a fast, optimized website.
Here are some Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to website speed:
What lowers your page speed
- Cheap web hosting – As your host performance depends on the price you are ready to pay, a cheap host could lead to low site speed.
- Large images –Large images take a lot of time to render, thus slowing your site down. You must optimize your visuals as SVG (vector art, like logos), PNG (for illustrations and logos) or JPEG (photos) format to maintain their quality while lowering their load.
- Out of date plugins – plugins that are not updated can impact your website performance and security.
- Complicated theme – The theme you choose impacts your website performance and loading time. Note that some themes are heavy on the code, and can heavily delay the time your site takes to load.
- Widgets/Embedded Content – Widgets like embedded social network feeds and calendars impact your website speed.
- Dense code – To improve your loading time you need to clean up your HTML/CSS code.
Tips for making sure your nonoprofit or school website is at its peak performance
- Keep your WordPress website updated (core, plugins, PHP version)
- Optimize all images, with a photo editing tool or a free tool like tinypng.com
- Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
- Don’t host audio/video files directly on your website server (use YouTube, Vimeo or Wistia)
- Use a theme optimized for good performance
- Be careful that plugins are not slowing down your website – use them judiciously
- Use Optimization Plugin, like WP Rocket
- Optimize database
- Use lazy loading of images
- Check for broken links
Test your nonprofit or school website speed and performance
There are a number of website speed testing tools. Google Page Speed Insights will tell you how your website measures up in Google’s eyes. Other good testing tools include GT Metrix and Pingdom. These tools will tell you how fast (or slow) your website loads, and will point out what is slowing it down and give you tips on how to improve your site’s speed.
3. Errors: If it’s broken, fix it!
Errors on your website definitely affect its performance. You should take a peek at your website frequently to make sure there are no error messages from disconnected widgets, broken plugins or themes. You should also run a broken link check on your website every few months to ensure people don’t get frustrated when they click on a link and get an error message. Lastly, check your website performance in Google Search Console to see if any issues have been detected. Google Search Console will sometimes report “false alarm” errors, but it is important to keep an eye on these reports and messages to catch issues before they negatively affect your website ranking and user experience.
4. Backend organization: Improve performance for the website editors and administrators
I’m a neat freak! When it comes to the back end of a WordPress website, we keep the pages organized and in order. By default, WordPress assigns a position of “0” to new pages. This means that when new pages are added, they end up at the top of the list of pages, unless they are set to be a child of another page. If the order is not set up, the Home page could end up being hard to find, and other pages all over the place, making website editing frustrating and more time-consuming.
Pages that are no longer include in navigation and are not linked from anywhere should be redirected and deleted. Drafts of pages and posts that are old and out of date, and which will not be published, should be deleted.
Plugins and themes that are not active/in use should be deleted as well.
Measure your website performance
Love your website? Check to see if your visitors love it too! A good way to see if your nonprofit or school website performance is turning away visitors is to look at your bounce rate in Google Analytics. Bounce rate is the percentage of visits that result in only one page view. A high bounce rate is bad, because it means that people are leaving your site before they can consume any of your content.