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18 10, 2018

Content Strategy: Do You Have a Plan Ready?

By | 2018-10-18T07:54:35+00:00 October 18th, 2018|Categories: Higher Education, Web Development|Tags: , , |

Content sure seems to be hording all the buzz in 2018. Take a look at the lineup of any higher ed marketing conference and you’ll be sure to find at least one or two speakers or break-out sessions promising the latest low-down on content strategy.

It’s not just higher ed. A number of content marketing conferences have sprung up over the last decade, as year after year is billed as THE year of content marketing.

For a long time, content had been relegated to an afterthought in the website building process, with graphic design and development driving project priorities. The current infatuation with content is the eco-system balancing itself to recognize an essential and under-valued component.

It makes sense. Websites are, after all, vehicles for delivering information. So, being able to present information strategically and skillfully is of great importance. Content is the whole reason people are going to your website in the first place.

Yes, there are now many advocates of the content-first approach. But, the truth is, neither content, nor graphic design, nor development should be thought of as “first.” The best approach to website building weighs each function equally – relying on the three processes to work together, in concert with each other. And, it’s important to consider and plan for the needs of all three at the outset of a web project.

That said, content is the only one of the three that plays a major role after a website is launched. A site with no new information loses relevance and becomes stale very quickly. It’s essential to have a plan in place for the development and publishing of new content. And, for this reason, a forward-looking content strategy is necessary for the long-term health of any site.

What goes into a comprehensive content strategy?

Research & Analysis

  • Content Audit – If you’re re-designing an existing site, you need to know what’s already there. A content audit will help you outline the current structure of the site, inventory the existing content and evaluate the quality. It’s also often helpful to do a top-level audit of your competitors’ websites, to gain a sense of industry standards.
  • Stakeholder Interviews – Ultimately, the website needs to satisfy the goals of the stakeholders. It’s imperative that their goals and priorities are clearly outlined. This group will also provide key institutional knowledge and strategic guidance.
  • Focus Groups and Surveys – It’s important to know how your current users think about the site, so you can optimize an even better user experience with the re-design.

Planning & Structure

  • Information Architecture – This document lays out the structure of your site in detail, accounting for the existence and location of every, single page.
  • Content Design – Whoever ends up writing the content for the new site will need to understand the purpose of each new page section and element, as well as where and how each page fits within the overall site structure. Each template should come with directions to help writers optimize the copy.
  • Functional Requirements – This document identifies every element on each page, and describes how it will work on the new site. Developers and designers refer to this document to guide their work.
  • Content Development/Governance Plan – Writing copy for a new website can be a lengthy process that involves numerous writers and editors. It’s important to have a clear understanding of the writing timeline (deadlines), as well as the role each person has.

Content Creation & Entry

  • Content Writing – Optimally, the content is being written as designs are finalized and the site’s templates are being developed. Progress should be tracked via the content development plan and follow the governance protocols.
  • Content Import & Integration – Once the templates are built and the copy written, content can begin to be ported in. Newly written content should already be optimized for the new site templates. However, if pages are being brought over from the old site, editing and additional integration efforts may be required.

Post-Launch Planning

  • On-going Content Development – New content is vital for your site to continue serving your users’ needs. As before, writing efforts should be scheduled via the content development plan and administered by the governance protocols already in place.
  • Content Owner Trainings – Many sites begin a slow decline after launch. Often, this is because the process of adding new content doesn’t follow best practices or intended use cases. Sometimes, new content owners are not familiar with the correct procedures or usage. A regular cadence of trainings can help to keep everyone on the same page and minimize content problems post-launch.
  • Content Maintenance Audits – One of the biggest problems with older websites is that they sprawl. You want content that user want, of course. But, at some point it becomes too much. An annual content audit can help manage that inevitable sprawl.
  • Archiving – Another solution for sprawl. You don’t have to permanently delete old content. Keeping outdated content on file, but off line, is a good way to prune your site without losing the hard work that went into developing that content. And, old can become new again. You can use the archived copy as inspiration and starting point for new content.

Beacon Knows Content Strategy

Need some help with content strategy for your higher ed website? We’d love to help. Give us a call, our content strategy team is here for you.

6 09, 2018

Your Game Plan for Device & Browser Testing

By | 2018-09-06T12:47:41+00:00 September 6th, 2018|Categories: Digital Marketing, Higher Education, Web Development|Tags: , , |

We expect a newly designed or re-designed website to look good, be easy to use and deliver the information visitors expect. Baked into all those expectations are the assumption of basic functionality – that all the elements load and display quickly and properly, navigation menus and links actually take you where intended, and content is presented in an easily-digestible manner.

Today, we get impatient when it takes more than a few seconds for a web page to load. In the early days of the internet, however, users did not expect such a robust web experience. In the 90’s, people routinely sat in their computer chairs and listened for the chimey, electronic sing-song of their modems dialing up a connection, and waited patiently as browser homepages slowly filled their screens, one element at a time.

We’ve come a long way. Innovation constantly pushes and refines the web experience, and developers continue to press forward with new, ingenious designs and applications. There are now countless different device with varying screen sizes and operating capacities, hundreds of thousands of mobile applications and a host of popular web browsers.

A website today needs to be able to function and interact with all of these different environments. How can you guarantee that it will be able to do so?

In order to meet the expectations of your website users, prior to launch, your site must pass a rigorous battery of tests.

Understanding the Extent of Testing

The most functional websites incorporate testing throughout the design process. Testing puts the focus back on users by identifying issues that they are likely to stumble upon in their interactions with your site.

It’s impossible to know what devices and browsers your site visitors will be using. And, you don’t want to rule out an entire segment of your audience by not optimizing their experience on your site. So, it makes sense to have a responsive web design that can accommodate a multitude of available devices and browsers. This makes it necessary to test your design in all of these various environments.

Some of the things testing should cover include:

  • Functionality across all popular browsers – Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari, etc.
  • A check of consistent function across multiple browser versions
  • Operations with various security settings
  • User interface rendering on various mobile screens, including screen rotation
  • Compatibility with mobile device services like location finding and dialing
  • Operations when mobile device is both in-network and out-of-network

It’s also helpful to put your site through a web load performance evaluation to know how the design responds under a heavy user load.

How to Tackle Testing

Best practices call for testing to begin while the re-design is still in the development phase. You want to catch any major glitches as early as possible. The cost of applying fixes is much higher in the later stages of the development process.

At Beacon, we plan early testing around identified functional requirements. During the strategy and design phases, various elements are selected for inclusion in the new site. Part of that process is a functional requirement assessment, which produces a description of how each element is supposed to work. When a group of elements is completed in the development phase, each element is tested for adherence to its functional requirements.

A significant amount of testing is also performed throughout the HTML and Cascade development phases, with a comprehensive assessment taking place before the site is ready for launch. These efforts are centered around various use cases and can be compared with data gathered through heat maps and session recordings to see how user experience has been improved from the older version of the website.

Beacon Knows Testing

Want to know if your website is reaching all of your intended audiences? Request a free website audit from our team of web experts, and see how you stack up.

23 08, 2018

Designing for Accessibility

By | 2018-08-27T09:31:21+00:00 August 23rd, 2018|Categories: Higher Education, Web Development|Tags: , , |

It’s easy to forget how revolutionary internet technology is. Today, applying mobile devices in our everyday lives is almost second nature. But, just 20 years ago, you still had to call someone’s house phone to make plans.

Think about that. If you were a kid in the 90’s and you wanted to talk to your friends, you likely first had to pass a phone conversation with one of your friend’s parents. There were hoops. And we had to jump through them.

Not so today. (Enter generic grumbling about those darn millennial)

What makes the internet so powerful is that literally anyone can share and access information on demand (and talk to your friends whenever you want). The democratization of information levels the playing field and acts as a catalyst for all sorts of creative collaborations.

Accessibility is the central tenet of the world wide web. It’s what allows for the maximum exposure to 7+ billion pairs of eyes. If you’ve read anything about net neutrality in the news lately (and, perhaps, wondered what’s the big deal) – that’s what the conversation is about: equal access to all information (not allowing for preferential treatment of online content).

Accessibility has also become a legal requirement. Which means that if you’re building or redesigning a website, there are several things you need to do in order to ensure that everyone — including people with diverse abilities — can reasonably access the information you present. This includes thinking about the readability of your text (contrast, color, font, etc.) and how users navigate your site.

Readability: Color Contrast & Fonts

Your website text needs to be easy to read, even for people with impaired vision. There are several suggestions for how to accomplish this goal. The best practices outlined in the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 state the following:

  • Contrast ratio (visibility of text against a background) must be 4.5:1
  • Contrast ratio of large text must be 3:1
  • Color should not be the sole visual cue for relaying information, eliciting an action or marking a visual element (removing the underline from a hyperlink, for example, would make it more difficult for visually impaired users to distinguish between regular text and the link)
  • Your site should allow users to regulate their size of the text (up to 200 percent of the original size)

It’s also important to take into account the use of screen readers by low-vision users. People with impaired vision rely on screen readers to describe the contents of a given webpage. This means that every element that loads on a particular page is included in the page description. Keep this in mind during the design phase. Too many page elements will likely frustrate this particular audience.

Accessible Navigation

Navigation is another important concept where accessibility issue can creep up. One of the best things you can do is enable your site with keyboard navigation, or hotkeys. This not only helps users with accessibility; you’ll also greatly satisfy the so-called power users who love to keep their fingers on the keyboard (and off the mouse or touchpad).

Here are a few more suggestions to ensure maximum accessibility:

  • Proper headings — correct usage of H1, H2, H3 is important for assistive aids to organize on-page content
  • Menus — main navigational menus should be accessible via the keyboard, and easily available for screen readers
  • Meaningful link text — screen readers can provide a list of hyperlinks listed on a given page. When providing a hyperlink, it’s helpful to include descriptive text of where the link is leading. “Click here” does not communicate much about what the user can expect.

Beacon Knows Accessibility

If you want to know if your site meets accessibility guidelines, give us a call at 866.801.9563. Our team will be happy to run an audit and talk to you about accessibility optimization.

23 08, 2018

Weaving Hope: A New Venture Aims to Build School in Rwanda

By | 2018-08-23T07:26:10+00:00 August 23rd, 2018|Categories: Beacon News|Tags: , |

Weaving Hope, a new philanthropic partnership between NC-based Beacon Technologies and Georgia-based burton+BURTON®, is targeting the educational and nutritional needs of Rwandan children.  Through the Hope on A Thousand Hills mission of the Anglican Church in Rwanda, the initiative aims to raise funds for a new school through the sale of authentic, African baskets. Launched on Wednesday, August 15, 2018, the Weaving Hope website invites the public to “join our virtual construction crew” and follow the progress by purchasing one of four traditional designs handmade by women artisans in the small Rwandan village of Gitarama.

“Rwanda is bouncing back in a big way from enormous challenges in the last two decades,” says Mark Dirks, Beacon’s CEO. “We want to help keep the momentum going by providing the youngest generation of Rwandans with a solid foundation built on good nutrition and education.” Hope on A Thousand Hills’ school-building mission includes a food program to ensure students receive proper nourishment to deter stunted growth that affects nearly 50% of rural Rwandan children.

In addition to helping young students, the initiative also provides an economic benefit for Gitarama artisans. Weaving Hope’s basket-weavers belong to the village women’s cooperative, which helps many women combat poverty. Weaving Hope helps members of the cooperative sustain meaningful employment so they can take care of their families.

“Women are the backbone of Rwandan society. Helping them leverage their traditional skills and know-how into real, economic gains is so personally rewarding,” says Maxine Burton, burton+BURTON’s COO. “I love the fact that our efforts start and end with the Rwandan people.”

Construction of the school will begin as soon as the $30,000 fundraising goal is met. The logistical and architectural designs are already in place. You can check on the progress of Weaving Hope’s fundraising goal by visiting www.weavinghope.com.

9 08, 2018

Design Is More Than Meets the Eye

By | 2018-08-09T15:20:34+00:00 August 9th, 2018|Categories: Higher Education, Web Development, Creative Design|Tags: , , |

Undertaking a web re-design can provide the liberating feeling of starting anew, from scratch. But, most of the time, that’s not really the case. Pretty much all of the websites undergoing a re-design still have a base of existing users.

So, while you do want to focus your re-design around fresh, modern and relevant elements, you should make sure that your new website still accommodates your loyal followers.

You can do so by analyzing your Google Analytics data and taking note of the browsers and devices your current users utilize. We’ve parsed GA mobile and audience analysis in an earlier post. These data points can have a significant influence on your design. After all, what good is a shiny, new, website, when it doesn’t display or load correctly on the devices your primary audience use most.

Designing for Mobile

In today’s mobile-heavy society, designing a website using a mobile-first approach is a must. With search engines placing particular emphasis on mobile-friendly capabilities, it’d be foolish to ignore how your website looks through a mobile screen.

That said, while everyone typically buys into the mobile-first approach, as the design/development process stretches out, sometimes the focus shifts to other priorities. Most often, the design approach morphs from mobile-first to mobile-constrained.

What’s the difference?

Instead of the mobile experience driving design, mobile elements (like smaller screen sizes) guide the initial design parameters and then take a back seat to content concerns deemed more important. This is what web design insiders call progressive enhancement — or, a focus on core content first, and adding richer elements that enhance the user experience second.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As long as key elements are geared toward the mobile experience, like responsive templates and main navigation built for smaller screen sizes, you should be in good shape. Just make sure the website works for all the devices your audiences use (yes, even the old ones).

Designing for Browsers

The kind of browsers your website audiences utilize can also impact your re-design. Not everyone automatically updates their preferred browser when new versions come out, no matter how many times the IT guy recommends it. The impact of old browsers can be felt in a couple of ways.

First, older browsers simply won’t be able to support some of the newer design elements  — or, won’t be able to handle them well. If you know that a large portion of your users relies on an outdated version of a browser, that can limit your design choices and nix that really cool feature that you wanted to include.

One tool that developers use in cases like this is caniuse.com. This site allows users to see what versions of browsers support a particular feature through a simple search.

The other concern with outdated browsers is security. Browser updates are often issued in order to patch up vulnerabilities in the underlying code. If users don’t update their browsers they don’t just leave themselves exposed, they spread the risk to the entire ecosystem.

One way to protect your site is to remind user to update their outdated browser via an “old browser alert.” A pop-message can be set to trigger anytime a user with a vulnerability logs onto to the site, and encourage them to update.

Lately, coders have even made an effort to encourage users to update their browsers in order to protect not just themselves, but everyone else, too.

Beacon Knows Web Re-design

If you’re observing declining traffic or cratering conversion metrics on your website, it may be time to consider an overhaul. Request a website audit by our knowledgeable digital marketing team and see how you’re doing.

2 08, 2018

Beacon is Going to edUi 2018

By | 2018-08-02T10:23:15+00:00 August 2nd, 2018|Categories: Beacon News, Higher Education, Web Development|

Beacon is going to edUi 2018 in Charlottesville, VA. If you’re a web professional who works with colleges, universities, libraries or museums, you should, too. In fact, we’ll help you get there.

Register here and receive $100 off the registration fee. Or just apply the code “Beacon” on the regular registration form to access the discount.

The conference always features a great line-up of speakers and workshops, and this year is no different. Check out the blog posts from this year’s presenters, and this guest blog post from our CEO and President Mark Dirks.

We hope to see you there. Come and say hello October 8 – 10.

15 03, 2018

OUTC18: Beacon on Accessibility

By | 2018-03-14T12:40:16+00:00 March 15th, 2018|Categories: Higher Education|Tags: , |

There is no doubt that ADA compliance and accessibility is the hot button issue for today’s college and university websites. Compelled by section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, federal agencies and institutions that receive federal funding must make their websites accessible to all users. Questions remain. For example, what does web accessibility look like? And how do we get there?

At this year’s OmniUpdate User Training Conference, Keana Lynch, Beacon’s Director of UX Design & Development will draw on a wealth of experience with accessibility issues, offering valuable advice on recognizing issues and developing strategies to reach and maintain accessibility goals.  From site evaluation to action plan, get the perspective and tools you need to get ahead of any future user issues or litigation.

OUTC18 will take place from March 25 – 29 at the Hyatt Regency Orange County in Anaheim, CA. The OmniUpdate User Training Conference brings together higher ed content managers from all over the country to discuss the latest news, strategies and best practices for college and university websites. Broaden your knowledge base with workshops and training sessions and network with like-minded professionals from all across the higher ed space. Registration closes Friday, March 16. Register HERE.

16 01, 2018

Hannon Hill Introduces an Accessibility Plugin

By | 2018-01-18T12:24:14+00:00 January 16th, 2018|Categories: Beacon News, Cascade CMS|Tags: , , |

As if security and dependability were not reason enough to use Hannon Hill’s Cascade CMS, its newest, innovative plugin makes it a must for Higher Ed, business and content creators of all kinds.

Teaming with Siteimprove, Hannon Hill has introduced a great new plugin that checks for content and accessibility issues as part of the editing process. Unique to Cascade 8.7, it is a significant step forward as the user can identify and correct accessibility issues as soon as the page is published (and before your legal team hears from unhappy site users).

This new plugin makes it easier for content creators and editors to add and check new content with greater efficiency. In addition to accessibility issues, the new plugin also cross-checks spelling, broken links, SEO and more. It’s a comprehensive plugin that one should never have to do without.

In conjunction with Hannon Hill’s Accessibility Webinar, this new plugin gives you everything you need to stay on top of your content issues – especially for those who have had to grapple with vague and hard to find accessibility issues. The aforementioned webinar, scheduled for Feb 8, emphasizes the front end of the process including key maintenance strategies, planning for new site elements and considering accessibility in everything you do. Sign up HERE.

For Cascade users, it’s Christmas in January thanks to Hannon Hill and Siteimprove.

8 01, 2018

Beacon Launches SITEXPRESS for Small Businesses

By | 2018-03-06T09:40:14+00:00 January 8th, 2018|Categories: Web Development|Tags: , |

GREENSBORO NC.  Beacon announces the launch of its all-inclusive, budget-friendly SITEXPRESS product for small to medium-sized businesses.  Packed with Beacon’s 20 years of web technology experience, smaller businesses can now get a high-end, customized website, with all the bells and whistles, to compete more effectively in generating leads and sales online.

“About 3 years ago, we started talking internally about how we could help smaller companies have great websites at a lower cost so they could level the playing field somewhat,” says Keana Lynch, Beacon’s Director of UX Design & Development. “SITEXPRESS contains the best-of-the-best from our designers, developers, digital marketing specialists and technology experts.”

With SITEXPRESS, customers get a dependable website on a platform that has been tested across 10 different device-browser combinations, especially mobile, but is also easy-to-use, SEO-friendly, meets accessibility requirements (for disabled users), and designed to engage visitors.  But that’s not all.  Customers are trained to update their own website and the price includes web hosting, ongoing maintenance/support and Google Analytics setup/reporting.  Wait, there’s more.  Beacon’s digital marketing specialists also created 3 unique upgrade packages, specifically for small business, to facilitate short-term, gradual, or accelerated growth in traffic to your website.  SITEXPRESS is a much more comprehensive, dependable alternative to WordPress.

“We’ve learned that smaller businesses need a turn-key website solution,” says Mark Dirks, Beacon’s CEO.  “With the complexities and changing design trends for websites, many small businesses don’t know what they need, nor have the time it takes to fully leverage the web to grow their business.  Nowadays, your website is the centerpiece for your marketing strategy and typically, the first point of contact for new business.  So we combined all the critical elements into the SITEXPRESS framework and services to make it easier and cost-effective for smaller businesses to stand out among their competitors.”

After the initial setup fee, customers pay a fixed monthly fee of $395 for 2 years, but may cancel at any time without penalty.  “We are confident that customers will like the results and value the support of our team, which is why the contract is not binding,” says Dirks.  “So they get a high-performing website, preserve cash by paying monthly and get a proven partner for support whenever you need us.  Not a bad deal.”

Beacon Technologies is a recognized leader in web design and analytics for Higher Education and Retail/Ecommerce with clients in 45 states and 4 countries.  As one of the first Certified Google Analytics Partners in the U.S., Beacon drives data-driven decision-making & business growth via a proven comprehensive digital strategy.

27 03, 2017

New Arrival! See the Birth…

By | 2017-06-16T12:42:10+00:00 March 27th, 2017|Categories: Beacon News|

After 8.5 hours of hard labor at M3 on St. Patrick’s Day, our newborn officially arrived at 3:20pm, weighing in at a hefty 4,621 pounds. Under trusted and constant care, Team M3 delivered a bright, healthy and colorful addition to the Beacon family.  We are so thankful for all the attention we are receiving for our carefully wrapped bundle of joy, which we’ve named “The BITS-Mobile”.

Beacon’s IT Services (“BITS”), a division of Beacon Technologies, primarily serves the Triad area (Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point). “The BITS-Mobile will not only provide transportation for our technical staff, but also transport equipment such as servers and desktops to our client sites when necessary,” says Mark Dirks, Beacon’s CEO.  “Since our BITS clients are mostly Triad-based, our marketing team recommended a more traditional ‘mobile’ marketing approach through vehicle graphics for local brand visibility.”

Matthews Mobile Media (“M3”) has an incredible team and worked with our design team to produce a really creative and professional design. John Scaramuzzo, Beacon’s co-founder and COO, leads the newly dubbed “BITS” Division and is anticipating continued growth after seeing the client base double over the last 12 months.  “Although my team constantly monitors our clients’ technical infrastructure to maintain system health and deter technical problems, there are times when the staff needs to be on site for installations and to work on specific issues,” says Scaramuzzo.  “BITS is essentially an extension of our client’s organization and it’s important that we can be on-site within minutes.  So the BITS-Mobile is a welcome addition to the Team!”


Special Note from Matthews Mobile Media (M3):

Congratulations!  It’s a BITS mobile!!!

We have been clients of Beacon for several years and have benefited from their expert team’s proactive service.  There is no doubt that the personal attention and dedication to client growth is a reflection of their mission.  What a privilege to be a part of the birth of their next generation by helping bring the BITS-Mobile to life.  To us, it is a natural fit because we specialize in mobile.  We help companies from all over express themselves through vehicle and environmental graphics.

We like to turn heads for our clients; that’s what we do! So helping to design, create, produce and apply that ‘outerwear’ for our Beacon’s newborn gives us an exceptional rush!  Who knew IT could be so sexy?  Well… we did ;)

Thank you, Beacon, for letting us outfit your newest addition!  All of us at Team M3 look forward to watching the BITS-Mobile grow up and have a little brother or sister very soon!