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So far Beacon News has created 35 blog entries.
29 05, 2019

What to Expect When Expecting a Website

By | 2019-05-29T07:29:33+00:00 May 29th, 2019|Categories: Higher Education, Web Development|Tags: , , , |

Is your institution thinking about a redesign? Perhaps it is time for a new look and feel, or maybe you are trying to attract more prospective students. With a busy academic schedule, it can seem daunting to tackle a redesign. However, with some planning and a little help from Beacon your redesign can become a reality.

To help you tackle your project, we enlisted the help of Christy Dunman, Beacon’s Director of Project Management. Christy knows a thing or two about getting a job done. She has led thousands of projects and helped several higher education clients meet their redesign goals. She has shared a few key items to help make your site redesign process go smoothly.

Identify Your Goals 

First and foremost, setting goals for your redesign is the most important step in the process. Identifying the goals for your redesign is a key element to the success of your project. What is the purpose for your redesign? Who is you target audience? How will you measure success? Understanding these items will help define your project.

Goals set the tone and expectations for what will transpire over the next few months. These goals also help outside teams, like Beacon, understand what you want to accomplish. We use this guidance to help you create a plan of action to get your site where it needs to be. Establishing clear, attainable goals, will create an impactful and focused site redesign.

Pick an Internal Team

When creating your internal team, stakeholders, department heads and IT staff are common choices. Their responsibilities will include anything from content creation to design feedback and approvals. This team will help keep an eye on progress in their respective areas and ensure deliverables are received on schedule. In some cases, having more than one team may be helpful depending on the scope of your redesign.

There is no right or wrong way to put your team together. Defining a team, or teams, will be unique to your institution and project needs. Regardless of team size, remember to clearly communicate project goals and expectations to everyone.

Develop A Plan

The internal project plan will be one of your most valued resources. Its purpose is to set clear expectations for project deliverables and due dates. While planning, identify who the major decision makers are for each stage of the project. This maybe one person or it could be a committee who will sign off on designs, content, and testing. Make sure to plan in enough time for the approval process and edits. Keep in mind that deliverables from one team are often dependent on items from another.

Speaking of requested deliverables, we want to stop here and note that content is key to a redesign. Content is the biggest obstacle in the redesign process, and it is easy to underestimate how much time it will take. Do not save it for last. Start creating, organizing and updating content as early as possible.

Status Meetings

Now that you have your site redesign planned out, be sure to communicate this plan out to your team. Status meetings are the perfect way to do this. Meeting with your team regularly lets you touch base, gauge progress and address any questions. The length and frequency of your meetings depend on your project and your team.

For Beacon, we meet with our clients once a week and we encourage them to do the same with their teams.

And Don’t Forget to Celebrate

Seriously, we mean it. Don’t wait until launch day to pat yourselves on the back. Celebrate milestones like content hand off and design approvals throughout the process. You don’t have to have a blowout party just focus on acknowledging everyone’s contributions.

The Beacon team not only celebrates internally, we share successes with our clients as well. It is important that our clients know how important their contributions are and what they did well. It builds confidence and it feels good to be recognized for a job well done.

Beacon Knows Higher Ed Project Management

Upcoming project more than your team can handle? Let Beacon help. From conception to hosting, Beacon’s got the mother lode of higher ed web dev components. Reach out today and let us know how we can help.

4 04, 2019

Get More Students On Campus with Tailored Homepage Content

By | 2019-04-04T12:38:52+00:00 April 4th, 2019|Categories: Google Analytics, Higher Education, Creative Design|Tags: , , , , |

Spring is a popular time for campus visits. In April, campuses everywhere swell with high school upperclassmen, parents in tow, taking part in information sessions and embarking on campus tours. It’s an exciting time, filled with intrigue and possibilities.

A successful spring campus visit season is a result of much hard work, coordination and planning, especially by your school’s admission staff. As the flagship marketing asset, however, your higher ed site also has a lot to do with getting prospective students on-campus.

In the months prior, students and their families scour college websites, looking for insights into a multitude of different campuses. A user experience geared specifically to a prospective student’s interests can go a long way in helping your school stand out from the crowd.

Imagine a prospective student logging on to your homepage and being welcomed by a greeting featuring her first name. Or, an international prospect seeing a welcome image matching his time of day six time zones away.

Personalization is a powerful marketing force. But, tailoring your homepage experience for multiple audience groups can seem like a bit of a daunting proposition.

With a bit of strategic analysis and creative brainstorming, however, the process loses its mystery. All it takes to create an effective personalized web experience is applying what you learn about your audience groups to a slightly more sophisticated tracking setup. After that, you’ll need to teach your website when to fire up the right web experience for the right type of visitor.

Step 1: Identify Your Prospective Student Groups

In order to create a personalized experience, you’ll first need to identify your audience groups. Your admission staff can provide initial guidance on which major prospective student groups exist within your school’s typical applicant pool. Odds are, your school will have one or more of the following prospect groups: high school, international, transfer and graduate.

As the content expert on your school’s website, you’ll then need to identify which collection of pages each distinct prospect group is most likely to frequent. While all prospective students are likely to access admissions and financial aid information, international students, for example, may also visit pages with information about student visas. Transfer students, on the other hand, are likely to be interested in credit transfers.

Identifying the distinct mix of pages for each group is a key part of the process. The wrong step here can lead to confusion on the part of the end-user – or worse, a complete loss of interest. It’s helpful to engage several people in the brainstorming and examine user journeys and needs from as many angles as possible to get the full picture.

Step 2: Segment & Analyze Your Prospective Student Groups

Once the target pages are defined you’ll be able to do two things: 1) analyze historical data for further insights into each group (thru Google Analytics segments), and 2) set up tracking to segment incoming visitors for future analysis (via Google Tag Manager custom dimensions).

Make use of the historical data to confirm the assumptions you may have made about each group earlier in the process. You may also discover additional interests that may not have been obvious before.

Make note of trends in the data, such as geographical location, what other platforms or websites users are coming from and even type of device being used. Details like these will help you further determine what type of content will meet the needs of each group. Use this information to guide the design and creation of each personalized homepage.

Setting up the custom dimensions in Google Tag Manager is what will enable the cueing of the right personalized homepage to the appropriate prospect group.

Step 3: Build Custom Experience for Each Prospect Group

You’ve identified your prospect groups and learned the distinct needs and expectations of each. All that’s left is designing the actual personalized content.

Start small. Custom greetings and introductory text are among the easiest to customize. Once you have put those pieces in place, you can customize by the interests identified in the earlier stages.

High School Prospects 

Give this group lots of student life shots and direct access to on-campus happenings. This is the audience that wants to see that award-winning sunset over the stadium, or the spring festival on the main lawn. Links to a frequently asked questions page and information on housing and majors are also likely to be of importance.

Often, parents or other family members will also be searching with this group. This demographic might be interested in information on cost, class size and selection, campus safety, etc. You might consider adding a panel just geared to this audience on the high school prospect homepage. If this audience segment is large enough, it may warrant its own personalized page.

International Students

These students have a longer journey to campus. In many cases, there are also new language and cultural elements to get used to. This group may need to feel reassured that your school is worth the challenges. These visitors are likely to appreciate content that makes them feel welcome, secure and a part of the campus community.

You may want to feature images of other international students and multi-cultural events on campus. Information about various international communities that may be active in the area will let international prospects know that they are not far from a taste of home.

This group may also be looking for international student visa information, or any special international housing opportunities.

Transfer Students

Transfer students have already been in the college system. They are goal-oriented and in search of a better academic experience than where they came from. This group may be the most primed for a deep dive into the academic choices your school offers.

Greet them with classroom shots, or images of student creations and accomplishments. They are also likely to appreciate quick access to academic programs, transfer and degree requirements, post-graduate employment opportunities and accommodations.

You may also want to add links to extracurricular activities – social, physical and academic – to showcase ways they can get involved on their new campus.

Beacon Knows Custom Audiences

Need help segmenting and tracking your high-value audiences in Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager? Beacon can help. Give us a call, we’ll be glad to talk through your questions.

13 03, 2019

Spring Cleaning the PPC Way

By | 2019-03-13T12:09:29+00:00 March 13th, 2019|Categories: Web Development|Tags: , , , , |

It sure feels like those dazzling days of spring are just around the corner. More daylight and warmer temperatures are starting to tease nature back to life from the slumber of winter. It’s hard to ignore all the energy and buzz in the air.

This time of year is all about renewal and fresh starts. It’s also the time that many of us tackle the annual spring cleaning. Closets exploding with heavy sweaters, scarfs and wool socks are pruned and turned over in favor of T-shirts, shorts and sandals.

Out with the old, in with the new. But mostly, out with the old… As pop culture’s celebrated organization icon Marie Kondo professes, tidying up can have immense benefits. That goes for all sorts of things, not just your closet.

In the world of digital marketing, tidying up can result in real money savings. At the very least, optimizing your paid search campaigns can ensure that you’re spending your advertising dollars wisely.

Keywords, extensions and ad copy can all outlive their usefulness, just like that awesome jacket that hasn’t fit for three seasons. The difference is, while all that jacket is doing is wasting space in your closet, your outdated ads are potentially wasting your budget.

To be a good steward of your advertising budget, it’s best to undertake a quarterly review of all of your long-running PPC campaigns. And, guess what? Spring blooms when the sun sets on Q1.

To help you tackle your annual Sping Clean PPC review, our Beacon paid search experts have come up with the below must-do’s.

Keyword List Pruning and Management

Every PPC campaign starts off with an optimized list of keywords. Normally, the list grows as you test out different terms. But, with this growth comes keyword bloat. Not every term you test is a winner. It’s important to identify the ones that work, and stop spending on those that don’t.

Committing to a quarterly keyword list pruning will keep campaigns from overspending on non-essential terms. A quarterly time frame gives you enough time and information to determine how your keywords are performing. Those giving you no impressions, clicks and conversions should be cut from your list (or paused in order to keep historical data). A shorter, more focused keyword list will aid in improving your keyword quality score, click-through rate (CTR) and conversions.

Search Term Report Usage

While the keywords that survived the pruning might convert, you could miss out on more profitable variations. How do you know if the exact terms you’ve selected are the ones your target audience is search for?

The best way to figure this out is with a search term report. This report will provide you with every variation of a keyword or phrase, as well as the impressions, clicks, CTR and average cost for each. Use this report to further optimize your keyword list by identifying additional strategic, high-value terms.

For example, let’s say your school offers an MBA program. You’re already bidding on keywords such as “mba program” and “mba courses.” The search term report allows you to see what variations of these terms prospective students are actually searching for. You might find that “mba programs online” and “accredited online mba programs” are two additional terms that are heavily used in search queries. As a result, you might add these two terms to your list, or replace two other, lower-priority keywords.

The report is also useful in identifying related terms that do not correspond with your campaign goals. You can “black list” these terms so that your ads don’t show for these queries.

Actionable insights gleaned from the Search Term Report can help free up anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of your budget by keeping your list tight and specific.

Ad Copy Updates

Now that you’re firing on all cylinders behind the scenes, make sure you whip your ads into shape to further boost conversions. The purpose of an ad is to catch the attention of prospective students, summarize the program and invite a click. Updating the ad copy and cleaning up the extensions will help drive impressions and increase goal completions.

When making changes, keep in mind that adjustments should be made on a case-by-case basis. Not every ad will need changes. You should only review the ads that have the lowest conversion and click-through rates for editing.

Once you have narrowed down the ads that are struggling, tweak them in the Google Ads interface. Be patient during this step because finding the sweet spot requires trial and error. Creating multiple ads and letting them compete against each other in an A/B test is a great way to find out what works best. However, if after numerous changes the ad still isn’t getting any heat, it is time to consider using keyword insertion or other dynamic ad copy to improve results.

For ads with images, the changes are more straightforward. A good first step is changing out the headline copy. Try for a more captivating call-to-action to draw in your prospective students. If that change doesn’t seem to make a difference, consider updating your imagery. Use images with light text on some ads and people focused imagery on others, and track which performs best.

Extension and Sitelink Cleanup

In the whirlwind of excitement to update, do not overlook your extensions. Extensions are trust-building terms within your ad that offer searchers useful information, like phone numbers or sitelinks (relevant links from your site).

It is important to note that extensions come with your Google Ads advertising options and you are paying for that space whether you use it or not. So don’t be afraid to take up space. Create multiple callouts, sitelinks and structured snippets that highlight the unique aspects of your institution that prospective students may find appealing.

The goal is to create a comprehensive ad experience that encourage users to click through to other useful pages on your site and ultimately apply to your institution.

You Did It

The first pass is always the hardest. But look at all you’ve accomplished. Cutting all that dead weight and making relevant updates should have your PPC account running more efficiently than ever. With each quarter, this process should get progressively easier and quicker to do. These are tasks that any good agency or manager should do regularly to make sure your institution is spending money wisely.

Beacon Knows PPC

Want to know if your PPC efforts are getting the most bang for your buck? Request an audit from our experienced paid search experts. We’ll be happy to help finetune your PPC campaigns for optimal performance.

14 02, 2019

10 Things They Hate About Your Higher Ed Site

By | 2019-05-03T13:39:33+00:00 February 14th, 2019|Categories: Higher Education, Web Development|Tags: , , , |

Happy Valentine’s Day from all of us at Beacon! Many of us relish this day as an opportunity to express and share our appreciation with our partners and loved ones. We hope today is all about love for you, too.

But not all of us have that special someone to cuddle up beside this cozy, romantic evening. Not everyone is sipping champagne and eating chocolates on February 14.

For the singles among us, Valentine’s Day can feel cold, intrusive and, yes, maybe even a bit judgmental. It may not be an occasion to celebrate at all. In fact, let’s be honest, this day can easily bring out the sassy side of our personality.

Well, we just want to say, we hear ya. And, we’d like to put that emotional sentiment to good use. In honor of all the lonely hearts out there this Valentine’s Day, here’s a hate list of all the things that your favorite higher ed site might be doing wrong.

1. Poor Navigation

Ever tried to read a map with your eyes closed? That’s what it feels like using a site that has poor navigation. We come armed with an idea of what we want to accomplish but lack of clear calls-to-action (CTA) and visual cues makes the next steps anyone’s guess. So we stumble through the site and eventually give up and leave.

2. Clutter

A busy page isn’t a good thing. It is instantly overwhelming and leaves us wondering what do we concentrate on first? Not every page needs a widget, slider, pop-ups and video. Might we suggest choosing just the features that serve the purpose of the page and calling it a day? The right tools and tasteful use of white space will often enhance the appeal of a page.

3. Too Many Pop-ups

Pop-ups are universally despised and regularly misused. Nothing screams “LEAVE” louder than getting hit with the combo of a welcome message, virtual assistant and signup form all before you ever see the page content. This approach can come across as pushy and distracting, while making the back button look very appealing. Nowadays most users have ad and pop-up blockers installed to avoid being bothered. Strong CTA’s and intuitive design should be enough to guide your audience to their goals.

4. Not Mobile-Friendly

Few things will make a user rage-quit faster than having to execute the zoom-and-pan method to see your content. Even search engines are annoyed by pages that do not provide a mobile-friendly experience. So much so, that Google will exclude websites from mobile search results that they see unfit to use with smartphones and tablets. Mobile-friendly sites aren’t heavily adorned with fancy features, but they work. And consistent functionality on all our devices is all your users ask for.

5. Endless Scrolling

This feature is SO 2016. Your entire site doesn’t need to be one page. They do include page breaks in word processors for a reason. Pages that don’t end are annoying. A few seconds of scrolling makes it clear that what we are looking for may be there, but it won’t be easy to find. If we are determined to find what we need we might use your search bar. But most likely we are going to do business elsewhere and save ourselves the headache and hand cramp.

6. Stock Photos

Is there anything that shatters the illusion of authenticity quicker than the realization that you saw the same perfect, beautiful, smiling face on another website? Image search is a thing… passing off models as your students isn’t as easy anymore. Yes, it may be easier and cheaper to just buy photos from a pic farm. But your site is better served by pictures of your real students, doing real things on your real campus.

7. Auto-play Videos

Please stop doing this. Unsolicited videos are notorious for striking when there are no headphones to be found, in a quiet area, when we least expect it. We scramble, panicked and embarrassed, to find the offending page and close it immediately. Who cares what was on the page? Your users are now super annoyed… and gone.

8. Slow Loading Times

These days, we all live for and love instant gratification. So, when a website takes more than five seconds to load, we are likely already on to the next thing… or we want to be. Large files and lengthy auto-play videos are often the culprit behind glacial loading times. These page additions typically aren’t crucial to the overall experience and are hindering your users from getting to the content they came for. It’s even more important for mobile pages to be super fast.

9. Broken Links

Broken links are like an “Under Construction” sign in the middle of a beautiful museum exhibit. They ruin the aesthetic of your site, and if there are too many of them, they also ruin user experience and your ranking potential. You can’t always avoid 404s on your site. But, in the least, you should have a plan in place to regularly monitor for broken links.

10. Lack of Accessibility

This has been a hot topic in website design circles in recent years, and one close to our hearts. Not meeting accessibility standards reduces your site usability for people with disabilities. Your site may be a work of pure design genius, but you’ll definitely lose brownie points if not everyone can read or use it. And search engines will ding you for it, too. Poor contrast choices, limited keyboard accessibility, lack of alt tags and open/closed captioning for videos all impede users’ ability to fruitfully navigate your site.

Beacon Knows Web Design

Is your higher ed site guilty of some of the above offenses? Not to worry. Beacon can bring the love of your prospective students back to your webpages. Request a free website audit today.

13 11, 2018

Visual Storytelling: Designing an Effective Homepage

By | 2019-05-03T07:46:09+00:00 November 13th, 2018|Categories: Higher Education, Web Development, Creative Design|Tags: , , , |

Brands are big in our society. Wherever we go – out to dinner, to a concert, for a cup of coffee with a friend – we see branding. In addition to communicating (sometimes) complex ideas, branding is also used as an identifying element. It’s how we know that the store we’re walking in to is the place we mean to be.

The same is true online. We’ve discussed the idea of the website as the centerpiece of higher ed marketing strategy previously. If your website is your digital storefront, how do your visitors know that they’ve come to the right place after typing in your school website URL or clicking on a link?

Of course, the user’s expectation is that they’ve arrived at their intended destination. The homepage, then, first and foremost, needs to confirm that expectation. The easiest way to do that is to lean on your school’s branding.

The homepage is where the user journey starts on your website. For colleges and universities, this is where prospective students gain their first impressions of your school. As a digital doorway onto your campus, the homepage needs to display your institution in a visually striking way that resonates with your future students. It needs to scream your school brand… loudly.

Show Them, Don’t Tell Them

How do you create an authentic brand experience? Making use of compelling campus imagery is a vital first step. The goal is to relay your school’s narrative mainly through visual elements.

Letting your prospective students enter your world via stunning and interactive visuals allows them to become part of your story. They want to see themselves there, reflected in the student body. That’s why shots of students walking through a busy part of campus is such a fixture on higher ed websites.

Aspects that exemplify the personality of your school are also perfect muses for the page. Be it an iconic landscape, a specific department, or a philanthropic spirit, these hallmark additions draw users in and make a big first impression.

Imagery serves as a great alternative to extensive text. While packing your homepage with tons of written information may seem like a good idea, it can actually hurt the overall experience. The job of the homepage is to wow your prospective students, and then guide them to the next step in the recruitment process – campus visits, application, or a deeper dive into the academic offerings.

Make It Easy, And Tell Your Story

You know what prospective students are searching for… maybe even better than they do. So, help them out. Since the homepage is almost always designed for the prospective students, tailor the homepage experience for their needs. Structure the page to match the questions and interests of this audience group.

That doesn’t mean that your campus events are not important. They are. It just means that the homepage is probably not the ideal place to feature the events widget prominently.

The layout of the page should create an easy to follow narrative: This is who we are, this is why you want to be here, here is what you need to get started.

Keeping with the theme of easy, provide direction and navigational guidance for your visitors. Be sure to include CTAs like “Apply Now” or “Schedule A Tour” at appropriate panels throughout the page. Be cognizant of where your buttons are. Placement is key for visibility and engagement.

To ensure you are on target, use Google Analytics data to monitor your CTA engagement levels. You can always tweak the appearance or wording of your CTAs to optimize performance.

Don’t Forget That Your Audience Is Mobile

A lot has been written about adopting a mobile-first approach to website development, including our recent post on the topic. But, what’s the impact on homepage development for higher ed websites?

While online college applications typically get filled out on the bigger screens of desktops and laptops, your prospective students are just as likely to first check out your school website via their mobile devices. As such, the homepage needs to be optimized for the mobile experience.

That doesn’t mean that the homepage should be stripped of any complex functions. It just means that your foundational page elements need to scale easily and efficiently to smaller screen sizes.

Beacon Does Web Design

Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t know where to begin your homepage revamp efforts? No worries, Beacon is here to help. Request a complementary audit from our expert team today.

3 10, 2018

Higher Ed Branding & Digital Marketing Strategy

By | 2018-10-04T07:12:08+00:00 October 3rd, 2018|Categories: Digital Marketing, Higher Education|Tags: , , , |

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about competition between colleges and universities? For most people, the answer is college athletics — in the form of football and basketball games, or the other collegiate sports across the nation’s campuses.

But higher ed institutions don’t just compete on the gridiron and in hoops. The other, more important and intense competition is for students.

Big, public, state schools jostle for top billing among the best and brightest home-grown talents. Smaller, private universities go after their own, well-defined student profiles, crossing the proverbial swords with other, similar institutions. Community colleges compete with each other and all the four-year universities out there, while at the same time serving as feeder programs for these schools.

One thing is for certain – there are a lot of options in higher education. If you have a junior or senior in high school with decent grades, odds are good that your mailbox is a frequent depository for marketing collateral from a multitude of colleges and universities. Teens are also often flooded with information via emails, texts, social media ads and other targeted campaigns.

Where they end up going to school isn’t just the biggest, most exciting decision of their life. It’s also a decision-making process that thousands of higher ed professionals sink massive amounts of time and resources into.

How does your higher education institution assure success in the war for students?

Leveraging Your Brand: What’s your unique value proposition?

In a highly competitive environment, it is essential to differentiate yourself from your rivals. Higher ed institutions already know how to do this, almost instinctively — via mascots and nicknames.

The tradition of school mascots is rich. However, while Rameses the Ram, Sammy The Banana Slug and Artie the Fighting Artichoke may do a superb job of firing up your student fan base, they don’t necessarily excel at communicating your school’s value proposition – those things that make your institution exceptional and enticing to prospective students.

Identifying and supporting those unique elements is key to strong, memorable and effective marketing. Ideally, those elements should also reflect your institution’s values. Your brand is built upon and defined by these concepts. So, even if the other aspects of your brand change over time (and every brand needs a refresh and update eventually), the heart of your message remains.

Successful brands build their messaging around their core values, allowing themselves the flexibility to express those values in new and innovative ways. Consistency doesn’t have to be boring. There are countless, creative ways to communicate who you are. And the ability to do so well is exceedingly valuable in an industry where the customer profile is non-homogeneous and constantly changing.

Your Website: The centerpiece of higher ed marketing strategy

As you probably know, advertising campaigns have a higher chance of success if they are tightly targeted to specific demographics. So, as a marketer for your higher ed institution, you should be running all sorts of different campaigns to attract the next batch of diverse, motivated and talented students to your school. And all those direct mail brochures, emails, digital ads, Facebook and Instagram campaigns should lead your respective audiences to your website. That’s where all those separate audience streams coalesce into one – prospective students.

The job of your website is to close the deal – to convince students that your school is the one where they will attain their best future. To be effective, there has to be a smooth hand-off from your marketing campaigns to your website. When prospective students log on to your site, it must feel like a continuation of the same experience they started with the brochure, email, digital ad, or any other piece of collateral they saw.

Your website is the nexus of information about your school and the first place people go to find out what it’s like on campus. That means that your website has to do a credible job of accurately reflecting your school brand, with subsequent marketing efforts drawing on those brand elements. It also means that your website should be strategically recognized as the centerpiece of your overall marketing strategy. Whatever public marketing initiatives you undertake should start with the website, and emanate from there.

Beacon Knows Higher Ed Websites

If your current higher ed website is not leveraging your brand as effectively as you think it should, Beacon can help. Request a complementary audit from our expert team and let us help you shape your site into the marketing force it can be.

20 09, 2018

Testing for Accessibility

By | 2018-09-21T09:00:26+00:00 September 20th, 2018|Categories: Digital Marketing, Web Development|Tags: , , , |

Accessibility is a big deal in the world of internet marketing. After all, what good does a large investment in your most prominent digital marketing channel do if no one can see the information you want them to have or the products you want them to buy?

In today’s digital marketplace, it’s no longer good enough to cater your website just to your primary audience. All websites have to meet certain accessibility standards that guarantee that users across all walks of life, and with varying degrees of physical ability, are able to easily access and navigate your site’s web pages.

In a recent blog post, we discussed the importance of considering accessibility during the website design process. In this post, we’ll take the next step and discuss the best ways to test your design for accessibility concerns.

The Basics

The practice of accessibility testing helps website owners understand where their websites may be falling short on today’s accessibility standards and drive corrective action to optimize user experience. These are critical steps that should be completed prior to the launch of any re-designed site and continued throughout the site’s lifetime.

It is best to take a proactive approach to web accessibility testing, and the reasons why are compelling. A fully accessible website benefits users across the board, and is more likely to deliver the conversion rates and engagement you are seeking.

As with any business process, before you begin, define your goals and strategy for accessibility testing and remediation of found issues.

Site Scan Tools & Understanding Results

There are several tools that can help you tackle testing. At Beacon, some of the programs we employ for this purpose include SiteImprove, SortSite and Wave (WebAim).

Reports and analysis provided by these automated testing tools can help you identify any existing accessibility concerns, including quality of content, readability of text, link quality and other user experience problems. The programs can also be engaged to help you track the progress of your accessibility fixes.

How to Tackle Accessibility

Accessibility testing is not a one-and-done process. SiteImprove, SortSite and Wave can help us with initial analysis and are great for catching many accessibility problems. However, they are not enough for a comprehensive approach to testing. Not all design elements are scannable. As such, automated tests should be supplemented with a healthy dose of regular, manual testing.

Best practices call for consistent testing throughout the development process. This helps to track progress made on discovered issues and known concerns. It can also help you discover new issues throughout development and after launch.

Be sure to test your site in various browsers, devices and screen sizes and positions. It’s also a good idea to perform regression testing, to make sure that your site works with older versions of software.

Because your site is likely to change over time, accessibility testing should be done on a consistent basis even after your site launches – preferably, every quarter. This helps to ensure that the fixes you implement continue to achieve the intended results. It also helps to hold new content/pages to established standards.

Beacon Knows Accessibility Testing & Remediation

Could your site benefit from an accessibility audit? Give Beacon a call at 866.807.2838. We’re here to help.

19 07, 2018

GDPR: What Is It? Does It Apply To Me? And So What?

By | 2019-05-06T11:06:03+00:00 July 19th, 2018|Categories: Beacon News, Ecommerce, Google Analytics|Tags: , , , |

If you work in digital marketing, you probably couldn’t help but notice the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) mania sweeping the internet earlier this year. Indeed, before the new regulations became enforceable in May 2018, there was breathless anticipation and countless “What You Need To Know” blog posts promising the low-down on all the important compliance implications.

Any new regulation is bound to create a few headaches as affected parties figure out the new landscape and work out the kinks. But, a law as sweeping as GDPR promised to be — impacting the very foundation of how e-commerce works — has the potential to thoroughly disrupt the status quo, and everyone’s comfort level along with it.

So, has our digital existence been turned upside down since May? Are we really living in a whole new internet reality?

Here, at Beacon, we were very much interested in the potential of GDPR to impact our ability to collect and analyze consumer data via Google Analytics (our preferred data aggregation platform). So, after a couple of months under the new regulations, as the dust has begun to settle, we decided to take a look around at the brave, new, GDPR-compliant world and see what’s what.

What Is GDPR?

Let’s start by defining what GDPR does. According to the European Commission website, the body that created the legislation, GDPR governs:

“the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data.”

In simple terms, the new rules aim to protect the personal data of all European Union citizens by explicitly granting them greater control over how their personal digital data is used and stored by others. GDPR applies to any company, person or entity that has the potential to gain access to personal data of EU citizens for non-personal use.

Yeah, But Does GDPR Apply to My Organization?

Because there are no national borders on the internet, EU residents (and everyone else) can easily access websites hosted in other countries. As such, the practical implication of GDPR is that it applies globally, no matter where your company or organization is legally headquartered.

If your website can be accessed by someone in the European Union — and if it’s up and running, it absolutely can be — then you should be paying attention. So, if you haven’t already, make sure your organization undertakes a review of how your site’s visitor data is collected, compiled and stored in Google Analytics (or, whichever platform you use).

What Does GDPR Impact?

There are three major areas of emphasis with GDPR: data collection management, data protection and visibility, and restrictions on data use.

The new regulations affecting data collection management require companies to get consent from consumers before collecting and storing their personal data. This means that when you visit your favorite online store, the retailer will have to ask you for explicit permission to track your shopping session and see what jeans you’re interested in buying. More than that, consumers have the choice to opt out or limit how their online behavior is tracked.

If you grant permission to track your shopping experience, or choose to share any other personal information — like your address and contact information when you sign up for a store rewards program, for example — the retailer has the responsibility of protecting that collected information from falling into the wrong hands. Not only that, because EU consumers have the right to request that their data be deleted, businesses have to know exactly where they store your personally identifiable consumer data in order to comply with any consumer requests.

In addition to requests to delete their data, under GDPR, consumers are enabled to exercise more granular control over what data is collected and how it is used. Consumers are empowered to rescind their data collection permission at any time they want. They can also request that your company turn over their data to a third-party or another retailer.

All of this means that, going forward, companies doing business online should have a sophisticated, flexible and responsive system of collecting and managing consumers’ personal data.

What Should I Be Doing?

To understand exactly what your company should be doing to accommodate these new consumer-centered protections, speak with your legal team. Your attorneys should be able to provide guidance tailored to your industry and circumstances.

If that entails a re-imagining of your data collection and management processes on your website, or through Google Analytics, give Beacon a call. We’ll be glad to walk you through the platform and recommend a course of action. Give our experts a shout at 866.964.5590.

21 06, 2018

CMS: Proprietary or Not?

By | 2018-06-25T08:57:11+00:00 June 21st, 2018|Categories: Cascade CMS, Higher Education, Web Development|Tags: , , , |

What’s Best for Higher Ed CMS?

If you’re considering upgrading your school’s website, selecting the wrong CMS can have lasting ramifications. And, with so many options out there, it’s easy to find yourself overwhelmed.

Google “proprietary vs open source CMS,” and you’ll receive over 50 hits to your search query. Some even come with catchy headlines, like: “Battle Royale: Open-Source vs. Closed-Source CMS” and “The Battle of Open Source vs. Proprietary Systems.” Clearly, the debate regarding the best type of content management system is still ongoing… and, apparently, fight-level intense.

There are a lot of content management systems out there, that’s for sure. So, how do you choose the one that best fits your higher learning institution? Understanding the difference between the two main CMS types is a good start.

Let’s start with the definitions. Open source systems, like WordPress and Drupal, are built with source code that’s freely shared with everyone. This means that anyone can apply that source code in any manner they want. The advantages of open source applications is that they can be improved by literally anyone. If there’s a problem, a solution can be crowdsourced from the user community — often quicker than an in-house team with limited man hours.

Proprietary software, on the other hand, is kept secret by the developers. The applications are maintained and updated in-house by dedicated personnel. The advantage with proprietary CMS is that it is often designed for a specific market. There are CMSs out there tailored for the transportation, travel, hospitality, and yes, higher education sectors. Also, whereas open source CMS leaves customization to the end user, proprietary CMS can be set up on the front end for the unique needs of an individual client.

Let’s explore each type further.

Proprietary vs Open-Source: Let the debate rage

If you value portability, ongoing improvement/optimization, and adaptation, odds are good that you’ll be satisfied with a popular open-source platform like WordPress or Drupal.

If your website is built in WordPress or a similar CMS, it’s fairly easy to move into another CMS when and if you so choose. You may also feel secure in knowing that a large developer base is constantly working on improving the features and functionality of the platform. Such improvements are implemented through code updates, requiring very little effort from you and your staff.

However, there are also drawbacks. The code updates can create some technical issues with third-party plug-ins or websites running on older versions of the software. Because the code is available to everyone, it can be an easier target for exploitation and cyber attacks. And, chances are good that your site will require at least some customization, which carries added cost and the potential need for personnel skilled in HTML.

Closed-source programs offer some advantages over their open-source counterparts, chief among them is ease of use.

With proprietary software, there’s never a need for you or your staff to make changes in the code, because the CMS is already fully customized to your site’s unique needs. Any additional development is handled by the vendor. The software also allows for a robust user permission setup, allowing you to easily delegate tasks to appropriate team members.

Additionally, closed-source code has a reputation for being more secure. This makes sense, since potential bad actors don’t have the luxury of parsing the source code for vulnerabilities.

The only drawback with proprietary CMS is portability. While some programs make it fairly easy to transfer website content to another platform, there’s typically no such flexibility for the graphic and structural elements of the site.

The Ruling

So, what type of CMS makes the most sense for higher education? Because it’s better suited for specialized and customized content, we, at Beacon, view proprietary CMS as the better option. Cascade and OmniUpdate, in particular, are two platforms that we work with routinely.

OmniUpdate is specifically dedicated to the higher ed sector. It’s OU Campus platform was designed with features and modules intended for use by universities and colleges.

Cascade is another trusted and reliable CMS application. One of the cooler attributes of this platform is the ability to create flexible templates, which we focused on in an earlier post.

No HTML experience is necessary to work with either one of these content management systems.

Beacon Knows Websites

Want to see how your higher ed website stacks up? Request a free audit by our knowledgeable team and see how you’re doing.

7 06, 2018

Bringing Your Web Design to Life

By | 2018-06-07T14:08:43+00:00 June 7th, 2018|Categories: Higher Education, Web Development|Tags: , , , |

HTML: The Foundation of Your Website

It’s common knowledge that, in today’s hyper-digital marketplace, your chances for success are limited without a strong website presence. As an experienced marketer, you know reflexively that a well-designed and expertly developed website is an irreplaceable marketing tool that differentiates your brand from your competitors.

What makes a great website, however, is a topic that can be debated without end. Ask a content strategist, a graphic designer, and a site developer that question and you’re likely to receive different answers from each — maybe even wildly different.

Regardless of their favorite website features or components, digital marketing experts know that, without a strong foundation, no site will ever perform up to expectations. So, what serves as the foundation of a website? What brings to life your creative vision, technical capabilities and conversion opportunities?

That answer is easy — it’s the underlying HTML code. Laying that foundation properly, to withstand the shifting sands of time, is the tricky part.

Mapping Your Creative Into HTML

At Beacon, we’ve developed a time-tested process for website development – our Brains, Beauty and Brawn approach. Foundation laying is brawny work. But it’s made easier by the steps completed in the Brains and Beauty stages.

In these first two phases, we suss out our clients’ cosmetic, functional and design requirements and create detailed webpage outlines. This work is informed by our research into target audiences and interviews with various stakeholders. The insights gained in this process are translated into page mockups with notes explaining how each included webpage feature should operate.

Our mockups include mobile and desktop variants. In order to make your site as user friendly as possible, it’s important to think about how the site will function across various devices that your target audiences use.  To ensure a smooth build-out process, these decisions have to be considered in the design stage, before development begins.

Once the mockups receive client approval, our developers start the heavy lifting — writing the HTML code and building out the site per the approved specifications.

Developing Flexible Templates

Our goal is to deliver a website that’s not only easy for users to navigate, but also easy for our clients to manage. Brains and Beauty take care of your site visitors. The Brawn phase is geared to make your website administrators happy by giving them maximum control. We do this by building flexible page templates that can be arranged into a number of different configurations.

Traditional website development calls for the creation of static page templates — home page, landing page, interior content page, etc. The larger and more complex your site, the more templates you’ll likely need. Additional templates add expense to an already costly development process. They also add confusion for your website managers.

We get around these problems by creating templates that can easily be manipulated into different variations by your staff. This puts them in control, ultimately making your website more responsive to your users’ needs.

Instead of restricting all design decisions to the front end of the development process, flexible templates allow you to continue optimizing your site for the duration of its life. The result is a living website that changes and grows with your audience.

Beacon Knows Websites

Have questions or concerns about your website’s performance? Request a free website audit, and let our team evaluate what’s going right and what could use a helping hand.

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