15 01, 2019

Could Your Higher Ed Website Stand to Lose Some Weight?

By | 2019-01-15T13:57:11+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 notices 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 fruit 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 is 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.

19 12, 2018

Is Website Personalization Right For Your School?

By | 2018-12-19T13:16:58+00:00 December 19th, 2018|Categories: Higher Education, Web Development, Creative Design|Tags: , , |

This time of year, as students flee campus for winter break, the usual bustle of activity slows considerably. This affords the opportunity for faculty and staff to take a break from the breakneck speed of the semester.

For many institutions of higher learning, this is a good time to explore some new ideas and tactics to meet strategic goals. The end of the calendar year is, after all, a time for reflection and goal setting. For your higher ed marketing team, this may take the form of evaluating your website performance for optimization opportunities, or a discussion about implementing new processes or concepts.

One concept that’s been gaining steam in higher ed marketing for a couple of years now is website personalization. Can a personalized web experience make a difference for your school’s recruiting and marketing efforts?

Website Personalization Explained 

A personalization-enabled website delivers tailored content to visitors, providing a quicker pathway to relevant information and, hopefully, enabling deeper engagement with the site. The assumption behind personalization is that it will promote more loyalty from visitors. And increased consumer loyalty translates to better financial performance.

Traditionally, early adopters of the concept (see: Amazon and Netflix) would create a unique homepage experience for each visitor. The founder and CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, famously said this way back in 1998:

“If we have 4.5 million customers, we shouldn’t have one store. We should have 4.5 million stores.”

Research backs up Mr. Bezos’ affinity for highly personalized web content. And the success of Amazon speaks for itself. For e-commerce websites, personalization has proven effective in improving conversion rates, engagement, customer loyalty and more.

That said, colleges and universities don’t run e-commerce sites. So, what works for Amazon may not necessarily work for your school.

In the higher ed sector, it’s difficult to personalize a web experience to the individual level. For one, schools just don’t have access to the same type of information about students that e-commerce sites are able to collect from their customers. It’s easy for Amazon to come up with unique content for you, specifically, when it can analyze your shopping queries for the last six months (or six years).

Without that level of insight, it’s more prudent to personalize content for a distinct higher ed audience, rather than each individual visitor. If you’re already segmenting your audiences, you have the data you need to begin differentiating your content strategy for each group. There’s a treasure trove of actionable audience data aching to be put to good use.

Implementing Personalization

If you haven’t gone through the audience segmentation process yet, make that the jump off point. You’ll want to start with the obvious groups: prospective students, current students, faculty, alumni, etc. Digging deeper, however, can reveal additional opportunities for personalization. Prospective students, for example, can be further broken up into geographic regions, undergraduate vs. graduate, or by academic interests.

With your groups defined, you’ll need to match each audience group with actions you want them to complete (conversions). For prospective students, that could be submitting a request for information, interest in a campus visit, or downloading an application. This is when tracking comes in – you’ll need to be able to analyze the number of conversions to know if your strategy is paying off.

Another helpful step can be to develop personas for the groups most important to you. Creating a “real” person to embody the needs and goals of the audience group will help you zero in on how these users will want to interact with your site.

Finally, you’ll need to design the personalized experience for each target audience group. This involves identifying the proper calls to action and conversion points, creating the actual content, tasking your development team with building out the needed pages, and making a plan to track performance, evaluate and iterate if necessary.

Beacon Knows Content Strategy

Not sure if personalization can work with your content strategy? Let Beacon help. Our expert team is happy to evaluate your website content and governance structure against your goals. Give us a call today.

27 11, 2018

Cohesion: Key To Great Web Design

By | 2018-11-21T13:51:47+00:00 November 27th, 2018|Categories: Higher Education, Web Development, Creative Design|Tags: , , |

Does this sounds familiar?

You’re exploring a website and click into a major navigation menu item. The new page loads and, suddenly, you feel like you’ve been transported somewhere completely different. Nothing about the experience on the new page ties back to the page you just came from. The type face is different, the navigation menu is completely unrecognizable in both style and selections, the color scheme is brand new, as is the overall page layout. You check the URL… yep, still the same domain.

This confusing experience is replicated surprisingly often across the web. In fact, this issue crops up fairly consistently for colleges and universities, as well as other large organizations.

What gives? It’s 2018! Doesn’t anybody know how to design and maintain a good website?

Putting our incredulity aside, it’s important to remember that the reasons behind a bad user experience aren’t usually intentional. No one sets out to confuse their audience on purpose.

In most cases, a confusing website is just a result of competing needs. Sometimes you need to add a new landing page quickly. Sometimes, staff turnover makes replicating older page templates challenging. Sometimes, you’re asked to try something new and different just to see if it works.

All of these reasons are plausible enough. Also, the web is a fast-moving place. The instincts to evolve, try new things and move quickly are usually the right ones.

That said, nothing on your website should be a one-off. If you want to implement change, you have to have a plan.

Creating & Maintaining a Cohesive Web Design

It should go without saying that a cohesive website design will keep your users engaged, on task and able to replicate their sessions easily and intuitively. So, how can one create and maintain cohesion through the design process and beyond?

The first objective is to create consistency for the user throughout their journey. This is best accomplished by establishing your brand elements and maintaining predictable page layouts and navigation. Predictable doesn’t have to mean boring. You can have a great page, with lots of great, engaging content, that still follows an intuitive layout.

The other on-page elements that you must painstakingly keep constant throughout your site include:

  • navigation menus
  • header and footer
  • type face
  • color palette
  • accent graphics
  • imagery (quality and tone)

There are aspects of your higher ed website that can be tailored to highlight special features of various departments or schools. The above list, however, is absolutely hands off.

Elements of Cohesive Interior Pages

While the homepage introduces your users to your brand, the job of landing and interior pages is to deliver information that your users are searching for and help them complete a specific goal. These objectives are best accomplished by different means, and this should be acknowledged by your design.

Branding is done best through visual elements. As such, homepage design leans heavily on imagery and graphics.

Interior pages are concerned with delivering hard information. As such, the design and layout need to reflect the text-heavy nature of these pages. Branding can be injected through the use of consistent header  and text styles, button colors, voice and tone of the text.

Visual elements, while still very much important, are, nonetheless, a secondary priority – they help break up the text and keep the user’s attention on the page. Despite the reduced emphasis, the visual elements help tie interior pages in with the branding of the rest of the site.

Elements of Cohesive Landing Pages

Landing pages are a cross between the homepage and an interior page. When arriving at a landing page on your higher ed website, your users should feel like they’ve just flipped open to a start of a new chapter in a book. There’s an introductory feel, but also hard information presented for consumption.

Due to the dual-nature purpose of landing pages, they tend to integrate a bit more graphic elements than interior pages. The landing page are really a continuation of the user experience from the homepage. As such, they tend to carry over some of the visual design and interactive elements of the homepage.

Beacon Knows Higher Ed Web Design

Want to know how your higher ed website stacks up? Not sure if you need a refresh or a complete overhaul? Request a complimentary website audit from Beacon’s expert team. We’ll be happy to discuss your most pressing needs.

13 11, 2018

Visual Storytelling: Designing an Effective Homepage

By | 2018-11-13T12:25:03+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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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