Tools to Outsource Your Site

The less you have to worry about your school’s website, the better. Every small detail that is taken care of leaves you time to improve on other things that deserve time and attention.

That’s why outsourcing almost everything you can technology-wise is a great way to reduce some common headaches.

To be clear, we’re not talking about having someone do other work for the site for you. We’re talking about using tools freely available make common functions easier and quicker to implement.

The basic scenario goes like this: you have something you want to implement, and you have a choice. You can use make your own version (usually with the help of plugins and online tutorials), or you can outsource it to an established solution. The benefit of an established solution is that there are teams of people working to improve and update the solution all the time. All you have to do is hook it up to your site, and you’re done.

Let’s take a look at some examples of solutions that help you outsource your site.

Outsource Video: YouTube or Vimeo

Many Catholic school sites host their own videos with their own video player (or even just embed the media). They encode their own video, get the player set up, and the video files are served directly from their servers.

This isn’t all bad, but what if you have a longer video that is 50 mb? Can your school’s server handle serving that video out on a day to day basis? What happens when people call you and tell you the video “isn’t loading” for them?

As you are probably aware of, there are many video services available out there, and they do take care of the heavy lifting for you.

There are probably very few people on earth that haven’t heard of YouTube, so there’s no need to explain what it is, but it has its benefits for Catholic schools. First of all, it’s completely free and supports HD video. There are also a few other features that make it appealing to schools such as turning off comments (which we recommend), limiting embedding, and support for captions for the visually impaired.

Vimeo is a little different than YouTube in that it has a limited free version, and the full version requires a yearly fee of $59.95. What you may like about Vimeo is a prettier embeddable player, and a much more respectful community. One key feature is the ability to choose which websites can embed your videos. Many Catholic institutions have chosen Vimeo as their video site of choice, including FOCUS.

Outsource Search: Google Site Search

Although many content management systems have a built in search function, search is a really, really difficult thing to do well. It involves not just looking for what that person typed in, but trying to figure out what is the most likely candidate based on what they meant when they typed in “school lunch tuesday”. It sounds simple, but it gets very complicated. Since Catholic school site searches get used frequently, getting search right is important.

Luckily, there is a company that has been working on search technology for more than 10 years: Google. They probably have a large part of your site indexed already, and they are willing to share that information and your technology with you with Google Site Search.

Google Search does come with a price, however. For under 1,000 pages, it’s $100 a year. There are other prices for other numbers of pages. Putting this up against the cost of writing a custom search, or using an ineffective built in search, however, the cost is more than justified.

Once you are signed up, you get the code for a search box, which you can put on your site. It’s a very simple implementation, and has great results. Some top Catholic institutions use Google Site Search, including the University of Notre Dame.

Outsource Photo Galleries: Flickr

Everyone loves photos, but it can be very time consuming to find a flash photo gallery and install it on your site. It usually means working with flash files, XML, and manually resizing images.

There are a few providers out there that can take that buden off your hands, but nobody does it better than Flickr.

First of all, Flickr is free for a limited use. That is, 100mb of upload per month and 2 videos (Flickr allows short videos). However, the paid version is extremely reasonable at $24.95 a year.

You can organize photos into galleries, tag them with keywords, add them to an interactive map, and basically do everything you’d want to do with photos. When you want to display them, you can create embeddable slideshows, just like embedding a video. If you want to get fancy, Flickr has a very easy to use API to display pictures on your site.

Don’t Reinvent When You Don’t Need To

These are just a few simple things to outsource, but the idea is the key: don’t reinvent what you don’t need to! Look for established solutions that will work for users, and make them feel comfortable.

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