14 06, 2019

User Engagement Analysis: Higher Ed Recruitment Made Smarter

By | 2019-06-14T10:32:50+00:00 June 14th, 2019|Categories: Digital Marketing, Google Analytics, Higher Education|Tags: , , , |

Congratulations from the Beacon team on completing another busy academic year!

In the last few months, your campus has hosted a myriad of visiting students and their families, completed another round of final exams, framed up your incoming freshman class and sent off your most recent group of accomplished graduates to a bright future.

Whew. After all that, for higher ed professionals, there’s no shame in picturing yourself on some wonderful tropical island paradise, soaking away your vacation days.

It’s June. You can absolutely be forgiven for taking a moment to revel in the accomplishments of the past year. Thank goodness for summer sessions, right?

However, while there’s undoubtedly many reasons to celebrate your achievements, summer’s slower pace is also an excellent opportunity to assess the efficacy of your marketing efforts. If you want your next recruiting class to be as good or better as the last, you have to know what you did right and what didn’t work out quite as you planned.

So, where can a higher ed marketer look for answers (once you’re back in the office with a nice tan, that is)?

As your flagship marketing asset, your higher ed website is a natural place to start. It’s also the place from where most of your prospective students will initiate their journey to your campus.

If your site is properly configured for tracking visitors (read: must-have), you can mine the used engagement data for a host of insights into the interests, motivators and behaviors of your target audiences. From that information, it’s easy to see how well your website is meeting all those needs.

Let’s dig into the benefits of used engagement analysis, shall we?

What is User Engagement Data?

First, let’s define what user engagement data are. Actually, let’s let Luke Pajer, Beacon’s resident data wiz, define it for us:

“User engagement data describe the interactions visitors have with your site. These data are important for measuring the performance of various webpages, including any featured elements – such as, videos, call-to-action buttons, internal links, social shares, and the like. User engagement analysis informs the rationale for any effective website strategy.”

Ok, now that we know what engagement data are, where can find them?

At Beacon, we trust Google Analytics (GA) to track user interaction. Let’s find out a little more about GA.

5 Key User Engagement Metrics to Analyze

There are a host of various indicators in a GA account, tracking everything from real-time user interactions to acquisition, behavior and conversion data points. Not only that, there are many different ways to parse all that data.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the tools at your disposal. And, for that very reason Google offers a series of trainings and certifications to help educate customers on strategic uses of the platforms.

However, while helpful, you don’t need certification to get a basic overall picture of how your website is performing. That can be accomplished by looking at just a handful of key indicators.

Google Analytics All Traffic View screenshotSessions

This is THE bottom line metric. Sessions track the number of times visitors have accessed a particular page. Note that this is not the same thing as “users,” which represents the unique visitors to the page (the same user can log several sessions by leaving and returning to your site).

Bounce rate

If a user accessed a page and then quickly moved on to another page or left your site altogether, they are said to have “bounced.” The bounce rate, then, is the percentage of sessions with no user interaction with a particular page.

Average session duration

This one is pretty straight forward. The average session duration defines how long you could expect a typical user to remain on a given page.

Pages per Session

This metric shows how many pages, on average, were accessed in a typical user session.

Goal Completions

You can track the actions that you want users to take on your site by setting up goal and event tracking (this can be done with Google Tag Manager). You can even assign a monetary value to a goal and determine how well each page performs financially.

Again, you can do a lot more with your GA account. However, in any analysis of your website traffic, you should probably take into account the above five metrics.

Using Engagement Data Strategically

laptop screen with charts and graphsSo, what can all of this data tell you?

You can use user engagement data to see how well content performs on your site. From there you’re empowered to make educated guesses on suitable improvements or fixes. With historical data, you can also compare the performance of various content updates against each other and evaluate their effectiveness.

A common analysis tactic is to break out user engagement data by audience (audience tracking can also be set up with Google Tag Manager). This way, you can tailor content adjustments based on the unique usage patterns of specific audiences – like, prospective students.

GA can also help you figure out the effectiveness of multi-channel marketing campaigns (email, paid search, social media, etc) by tracking how users get to your site.

Your data analysis can be basic, moderate, advanced, a combination of all, or something in between. As with most data analytics tools, the end product is dependent on the skill level of the user. (From experience, we advise that the level of analysis in your reporting match the comfort level of the report audience.)

Beacon Knows Google Analytics

Is your higher ed website properly configured to take full advantage of Google Analytics insights? Beacon can make sure you’re set up for success. Request a complimentary website audit from our team of GA experts.

22 05, 2019

Did Your Mother Dress Your Website?

By | 2019-05-22T12:54:48+00:00 May 22nd, 2019|Categories: Digital Marketing, Higher Education, Creative Design|Tags: , , , |

For many juniors and seniors, one major decision comes to dominate the closing chapters of their high school careers: where to go to college. It’s not a secret that your higher ed website can – should, even – play a large role in the decision-making process. Often, it’s the first interaction between a prospective student and your school.

It’s important, then, for your site to create a good first impression by presenting and defining your school brand for visitors in a compelling, accessible and fun manner. It helps if your brand lends itself to memorable presentation. However, if your brand isn’t compelling, accessible or fun, you’ll likely struggle to create the first impression you want.

The truth is, bad branding – including sub-optimal visual presentation – can stymie the performance of an otherwise perfectly good college site.

Bad Branding Is Real

You remember those looks you’d get as a kid when your parents would dress you up in something real “cute” – like a sailor suit or a bumble bee costume (stifles traumatic childhood memory)? That bumble bee costume wasn’t your idea, and isn’t you… but to everyone on the outside, you were a bumble bee. Thanks, mom!

What made those experiences feel, um, awkward – other than the stares and the laughs – is your personal brand being badly misrepresented. Normally, you wouldn’t have been caught dead in that outfit. As a result, you were rightfully concerned about the consequences of that disharmony.

Putting painful childhood memories aside, kids are not the only ones to suffer from badly misaligned branding (though, thankfully, we get oversight powers of our personal brands eventually). Traverse the interwebs for even just a little while and you’re bound to run across sites that look like they were dressed by your mother.

And, higher ed sites can be some of the worst dressers.

Brand Style Guide: Your Wardrobe Organizer

So, how do you put better threads on your site?

A visual refresh or redesign may be the solution if your higher ed site is technically sound but lacking a contemporary look and feel. Let’s be clear, though – you don’t necessarily need to reinvent your brand. To use your branding more strategically, you may just need to define it better.

The best way to do that is with a brand style guide  – a comprehensive document that explicitly defines key attributes and elements of your school’s brand (sometimes referred to as a brand bible). The brand bible is best used as your road map for all future marketing initiatives, including website redesigns.

A brand style guide is a foundational marketing document, but many higher ed marketing departments operate without one. That’s probably because style guides have a reputation for being cumbersome and difficult to produce.

However, there’s no reason why a functional brand style guide can’t be developed in-house by a dedicated team. With careful planning and buy-in from key stakeholders, no task is insurmountable. The most difficult task might be getting everyone in the same room for the requisite brand brainstorming sessions.

Defining Brand Components

To define a thing as elusive as your school brand, you’ll need to discuss certain key attributes of your school. This is where you’ll need all those VIPs – for their institutional knowledge and decision-making prowess.

Schedule a brainstorming session (or several) to discuss the following key brand components:

School Values

This may be as simple as pulling from your school charter. It’s just as likely to find that no one has ever bothered to record your school values, or maybe even thought about defining them. In which case, the input from your school leadership will be critical to completing this task.

Target Audience

Develop a full persona, or several personas, of your prospective student groups. This will help calibrate all your marketing efforts.

Mission

If your school has a mission statement already, ask if your stakeholders feel that it still accurately represents what your school aims to accomplish. This may lead to a revision or a re-statement.

Vision

A vision statement speaks to goals or outcomes that your school wants to accomplish. As with the mission statement, you may find that an existing one may need to be brought up to date.

Brand Personality

This is where things can get fun. The goal is to come up with three to five adjectives to serve as brand attributes. There are lots of exercises that can help get the ball rolling. If your group gets stuck, start with deciding what your brand is not, or identify its opposite traits.

Discussions that involve abstract ideas can be difficult to get going initially. You’ll want to have some ice breakers and exercises prepared beforehand to guide the discussion and keep it on track. More than one brainstorming session may be required to complete the task.

Shape Your Brand Elements

Once you’ve got the brand components down, use them to define your brand elements.

Brand Story

The brand story can draw upon your mission and vision statements to tell a narrative about your school.

Logo

A logo update may not always be necessary. That said, if you’re introducing something substantially different or new to your brand, a new or updated logo can help signal that change.

Color palette

In this section of your brand style guide, provide explicit examples of all official brand colors and include information to help your vendors recreate the right hues.

Imagery 

There are several ways to provide guidance on creating on-brand imagery. Find and present images that convey the feelings you want to evoke. You should also include imagery that has historically performed well on your website and other marketing assets.

Voice

Your brand voice is closely related to your brand personality. Identify and document how you want your brand to sound to your target audience.

Typography 

In branding, details matter… down to the typeface selection. Choose your typeface family and provide explicit instruction on usage. Direct how you want copy to align and identify the spacing ratios to ensure consistency when typeface sizes change.

Beacon Knows Higher Ed Websites

Is your school website meeting your recruiting and conversion goals? Find out with a complimentary audit from Beacon’s digital marketing experts.

19 04, 2019

Attracting Prospects: 7 Traffic Metrics for Higher Ed Sites

By | 2019-06-06T09:07:57+00:00 April 19th, 2019|Categories: Digital Marketing, Higher Education|Tags: , , |

Editorial Note: Please enjoy this guest blog post from our partners at OmniUpdate. 

If you’re a marketing professional in the field of higher education, you already know how important your institution’s website is in terms of attracting prospective students. This audience is an important, if not the most important, segment of your website’s traffic.

Measuring your site’s traffic can be an intimidating task. But it’s not just traffic that you have to keep in mind—there are multiple ways to look at the visitors your website receives. To help you learn more about your prospective students, attract them to your site, and convert them into applicants, we’ve compiled a list of the seven most important traffic metrics to consider:

  1. Average time spent on site
  2. Bounce rate
  3. New visitors vs. old visitors
  4. Landing page rates
  5. Source information
  6. Geographic information
  7. Conversion rates

When you consider your traffic data in tandem with these other metrics, you’ll find yourself with a better understanding of your prospective students’ online experience. These insights can help you improve that experience, which will in turn improve your conversion rate. Let’s dive in.

1. Average Time Spent on Site

The first metric to consider is the average time spent on your site, or the length of a visitor’s stay on your site. When someone comes to your site, you want them to be immediately engaged with the content.

Average time gives you a better understanding of the quality of your page because it indicates how long a visitor is willing to interact with the content on that page. If you’re not sure that your site is attracting your target audience, consider revamping your SEO strategy with some easy best practices.

2. Bounce rate

The bounce rate of your website, or of individual pages, indicates the percentage of visitors that visit that page and then leave your website without looking at any other pages.

A high bounce rate indicates that your page is not providing what the visitor is looking for. However, when combined with a long time spent on the site, it indicates that visitors aren’t finding the right calls to action to navigate to other resources, like your lead capture pages.

While this also isn’t the ideal scenario, it just means that you need to provide more opportunities to stay on your site.

3. New visitors vs. old visitors

Not all website traffic is the same—it’s valuable to know if your website is drawing visitors back again.

A high percentage of new visitors means that your site is drawing in interested people, but that they’re not interested enough to return after that first visit. A high percentage of old visitors means that your website is doing a good job of providing value to prospective students, but it’s not as effective in reaching new audiences.

Aim to create a healthy balance between new and old visitors.

4. Landing page rates

A landing page is the first page on your site that a visitor sees. It’s important to track your top landing pages because they’re your best chance to make a good first impression on a prospective student.

If you know that your most popular landing page is your homepage, make sure that you check the bounce rate to ensure that you’re retaining your visitors. If your most popular landing page is a departmental homepage or admission FAQ page, make sure that they’re the best representatives of your institution.

5. Source information

Knowing where your visitors are coming from is as important as knowing what they do on your site once they arrive. Common sources include email, social media, organic search (like Google or Bing) and direct, which means they typed your website’s URL into the address bar.

Source information can tell you a lot, like where your marketing campaigns are paying off or how your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts are performing. If you find that certain sources aren’t driving traffic to your site, it’s time to head back to the drawing board.

6. Geographic information

Understanding where your site visitors are located geographically is a valuable insight, especially during application season. Whether you’re looking to increase your population of international students or searching for more out-of-state applicants, you should measure where your traffic is coming from, geographically.

If you find that a lot of your traffic is coming from other states, but your information pages for prospective out-of-state students aren’t getting many visitors, it’s time to make those links more prominent or improve your SEO strategy for those keywords.

7. Conversion rates

This metric is crucial for higher ed institutions. Your conversion rate measures what percentage of site visitors actually hit that “Apply Now!” button. The primary goal of your website is to attract prospective students, so this is the most important metric for making sure that you’re achieving that goal.

Measuring your conversion rate can help show you where your site excels and determine where your engagement strategies can be improved, especially when analyzed in conjunction with landing pages and time on site.

Be Inspired 

Understanding your college or university website’s metrics gives you solid data to reference when creating future content and will help you make your website the best it can be.

To be inspired by some of the best college websites, check out this list from OmniUpdate.

About the Guest Author: 

Court Campion is director of marketing at OmniUpdate, creator of award-winning OU Campus®, the most popular commercial content management system (CMS) for higher education professionals. Check out the OmniUpdate blog for more information about university and college website redesign, accessibility, student engagement, and other topics of interest to higher ed marketers, developers, and administrators.

16 04, 2019

Drive Recruitment with Campus Virtual Tours

By | 2019-05-03T12:44:14+00:00 April 16th, 2019|Categories: Digital Marketing, Higher Education, Creative Design|Tags: , , |

Is there a better way to approach campus visits in the information age?

Campus tours are an excellent way to showcase your campus to prospective students. In fact, as you’re reading this, admissions offices across the country are in the midst of preparations for a very busy campus visit season.

From an admissions perspective, few things signal serious interest in your school louder than an investment of time and resources into a visit to your campus in-person.

But, today, students looking to make a decision on their academic future want as much information about your school at their fingertips as possible – and, not just about academic programs or meal plans. Your future students want to know how it feels to be on-campus, what student life is really like and whether they’ll easily be able to fit into the school culture. Oh, and, they want this information before actually committing to a campus visit.

It’s also important to remember that not every potential student has the ability to come check out your school in all it’s splendor.

More than ever and for a myriad of reasons, your website serves as a prerequisite – even a substitute – for a physical experience of your school. As such, a well-designed, high-quality virtual tour of your campus, featured prominently in high-traffic areas of your website, can be very helpful in meeting your academic recruitment goals.

What You Need to Create a Virtual Tour of Your Campus

It’s easy enough to cobble together a few short videos or images for a quick-and-easy version of a digital campus tour. However, with a too-simple approach, you’d be risking alienating your digitally native target audience, who quickly abandon and don’t easily forgive weak user experiences.

To keep the attention of your visitors, you’ll need a well-designed and skillfully executed digital strategy. That strategy should include professional-quality video/image production, a narrative tailored to the needs of your prospective students and their families, and technical skills to integrate the tour into your current higher ed website.

Your internal marketing team can handle the script writing and your site developers/webmasters can create the digital experience on the website. However, unless your school has a top-notch film program, you’ll need to procure the services of a qualified videographer to manage the video production of your virtual tour.

Virtual Tour Best Practices

Your school’s virtual tour does not have to be just like your rival school’s virtual tour. Every college and university has something that makes it unique and special, and your virtual tour should reflect the qualities that make your school stand out.

That said, to create a virtual tour with maximum potential for conversion, you should consider the following best practices:

Narration

The virtual tour should be a guided experience, just like an in-person campus tour. Recruit your current student tour leaders for the role of video campus tour guide, or find a few willing student participants. Having a real student provide the narration will help your prospective students better connect with the content of the tour.

Interactive campus map and controls

The best part of a digital tour is that you can skip to the parts you’re interested in the most. An interactive campus map and controls put your site visitors in charge – exactly how digital users prefer.

Panoramic, feature-rich images

Providing users with even more opportunity to explore on their own, panoramic images deliver breathtaking, encompassing views that can be further explored through exploratory clicks.

Mobile-friendly design

Keep in mind that your school’s virtual tour is almost as likely to be accessed from a mobile device as it is from a desktop. As such, it’s important to gear the experience for mobile use. This includes keeping video and image files as small as possible to keep load times low. Breaking up video into small chunks – a short clip at each location, as opposed to one, long, continuous video – will also help keep the experience lively.

Accessibility

It’s imperative that the development of the virtual tour digital experience take into account web accessibility guidelines. This will ensure that screen readers and other devices that help people access and navigate the internet will be able to do their jobs. Accessibility should be considered in layout and control design. And, don’t forget to include closed captioning for the narrated portions of your tour.

Tracking 

Tracking user interaction with your site can yield tons of information about your target audience. It’s something that you’re probably doing already with other parts of your site. Tracking how visitors navigate to the virtual tour and their subsequent user journeys can help you better understand your user needs and interests. That, in turn, can help you optimize your call-to-actions and provide valued information that drives users to begin the application process.

Beacon Knows Digital Marketing

Want to know how to maximize your investment in a virtual tour? Request a complimentary website audit, and let Beacon digital marketing experts show you how to get the most out of your higher ed website.

15 01, 2019

Could Your Higher Ed Website Stand to Lose Some Weight?

By | 2019-01-29T08:52:20+00:00 January 15th, 2019|Categories: Digital Marketing, Google Analytics, Higher Education, SEO|Tags: , , , |

Happy New Year, everyone! How are you doing with your resolutions?

Ok, ok… put down the pitchforks. This is a safe space.

Every year, as the calendar turns, Americans rush to empower themselves to do those things that we find difficult. One of the most popular resolutions, year after year, is the commitment to get in shape. Come January, gyms swell with new members, even if the new recruits only stick around through March.

January seems to be THE months to shed those extra pounds that have accumulated throughout the previous 11. But, as we’re all collectively and diligently keeping our minds on our waistlines, I thought I’d shift our focus just a tad… to overweight websites.

Did you know that your higher ed website is also prone to unhealthy weight gain? It’s true.

The digital “weight” is the content that your website hosts. Your site can’t function without content, just like a human body cannot survive without food. But, too much content, wrong content or old content can prove to be counterproductive to the goal of maintaining a vibrant, inviting and healthy website.

Thankfully, keeping your site in peak digital condition does not require a gym membership. What you will need, however, is a good model of what you want your site to be, an objective analysis of your current site as is, and a plan of action to get you to your goals.

Step One: Define Good Content

What is good content? That’s not a philosophical or a rhetorical question. It has a real answer. It’s just that that answer can be complicated and completely unique to your site.

When they choose to pay attention, people learn through personal experiences which foods work best for fueling their bodies. You may notice an extra energy in the mornings whenever you add fruit to your breakfast cereal. Or, you might feel more creative and productive in your afternoon meetings after you have a healthy smoothie for lunch, instead of the generic burger value meal.

But, what works for you, may not work for someone else.

Same with your website content. Content that performs well on another website may not deliver the same results on your site. You can’t replace those learning experiences that define what “good” is for you.

Define good content by identifying the goals that you are trying to accomplish. Is it to improve engagement? Are you trying to share knowledge? Increase conversion? Describe the ideal attributes of content for each goal.

Then, compile a short list of your top-performing content and analyze what makes those pieces work. What value does a particular page provide to your target audience? What needs are being met? Is anything relevant being left out?

At the end of this process, you’ll have a fairly good working concept of “good content” for your site.

Step Two: Audit Your Content

Once you decide what good content is, you can evaluate your site for what you’re missing, what you have too much of, and what is no longer needed. Dig in and become an expert on your website content.

Begin with a content inventory to identify all the pieces of content currently live on your site. This will help you break down your content into different categories.  At Beacon, we like Screaming Frog for these types of audits.

Once you have your list, you can segment your content any number of ways: content type (blog, landing page, toaster message), format (text, video, pic), user journey stages (awareness, consideration, conversion), etc. Include as much information and data – metadata (meta descriptions, title tags), content length, social shares, posting date, etc – as possible.

Next, add performance data for each piece of content. Google Analytics can help you identify the pages and content that attract the most visitors and drive engagement.

And finally, assess each piece of content by the goals you established. Focus your attention on content that does not accomplish any goals and leave the content that already meets your criteria alone. Once this is complete, you’ll need to decide what to do with each piece of content individually.

Step Three: Prune Your Content

This is where some of your content will meet its end.

After you’ve split out the good content from the bad, you’ll need to evaluate whether the sub-optimal content is worthy of efforts to update and improve it. Keep in mind that not all of your content can or should be salvaged.

That said, many pieces of content can be improved or re-purposed. Just because a page is not attracting a lot of visitors or driving goal completions doesn’t make it useless. A new angle, better keywords or a more sophisticated use of keywords, improved structure or a more optimized CTA can all rescue copy from the digital waste bin.

The resources and bandwidth that you have at your disposal will affect what can and should be salvaged. You may only have the ability to work on a limited number of pages. Make an action plan to improve the content with the most potential to meet your website goals.

The remaining pieces of content are the excess fat that should be trimmed.

Beacon Knows Content Strategy

Pruning your website content can be a big job. Beacon can help. Our content experts can provide valuable advice and help you come up with a strategic plan of action. Give us a call.

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.

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.

20 03, 2018

SEO for Higher Ed: 3 Steps to Increase Enrollment

By | 2018-03-20T09:36:17+00:00 March 20th, 2018|Categories: SEO|Tags: , , |

Of all the ways to market to prospective students, the most cost efficient may be SEO. Optimizing for organic search doesn’t require the monthly cash outlay that PPC does (although you want to be doing that, too). And improving your ranking in search engines can improve brand recognition and produce actual recruiting leads.

If you focus on these three elements of SEO, you can increase enrollment and your website search rankings. It all starts with effectively targeting keywords that pay.

Step One: Organic Search Optimization

Perform a complete review of your title tags and meta descriptions to make sure you’re taking full advantage of target keywords. Google has recently increased the size of their search descriptions, meaning that you should do the same. Meta descriptions can be as long as 300 words so review yours to make sure you’ve taken advantage of this additional real estate.

Review your H1 and H2 headlines to make sure they’re keyword rich as well. Keywords should also be present within the body of your content. Finally, make sure your content links to other relevant pages within your site.

Step Two: Optimize forms and applications

Short attention spans require short forms. This is not an indictment of this generation of student. It’s simply an acknowledgement that we absorb information in smaller bites these days. Ask as little as you can to get the prospect to hit the submit button.

Consider a multi-step form process. Research indicates that when prospects are confronted by two short forms, they often feel less encumbered by the number of questions. Split test to tweak your message and maximize response. Form optimization is perhaps the most direct way you can influence conversions.

Step Three: Content Marketing – blog posts and social media

Creating meaningful content can be labor intensive. However, compelling content is perhaps the most sure-fire way of engaging the target audience and getting results – and not just soft stats.  We’re talking applications, here. Good content will give you a boost in the short and long term, so long as it is a consistent, ongoing exercise. Stop creating new content and you’ll fade into obscurity.

Whether this new content consists of testimonials, interviews with alumni or a campus survival guide from current students, make it timely and authentic, not salesy. This type of content is highly shareable. Develop a sound social media content strategy to maximize the visibility of this new content. It’s your chance to engage potential students who may have questions. Get back to them in real time. Be responsive.

Speaking of Responsive….

I’m assuming that by now your college or university website is responsive, enabling potential students to access your information on any device. If not, this supersedes everything above.

Still have questions?

Email me or speak with a member of our SEO team at 336-447-3379. Let’s discuss your website and enrollment goals. Together, let’s figure out how your website can help your recruiting efforts and meet your expectations.

 

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