13 03, 2019

Spring Cleaning the PPC Way

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

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

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

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

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

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 The difference is, while all that jacket is doing is wasting space in your closet, your outdated ads are potentially wasting your budget.

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

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

Keyword List Pruning and Management

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

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

Search Term Report Usage

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

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

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

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

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

Ad Copy Updates

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

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

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

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

Extension and Sitelink Cleanup

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

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

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

You Did It

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

Beacon Knows PPC

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

21 02, 2019

5 Ways to Fall in Love with Your Site All Over Again

By | 2019-03-26T08:42:22+00:00 February 21st, 2019|Categories: Web Development|

Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate the routine things we use every day. Tools, possessions and even people we see on a daily basis tend to get less and less of our full attention.

That may be one of the reasons why Valentine’s Day is such a big celebration every February. It’s a great reminder for all of us of the need to show the most important people in our lives our love. It’s also an opportunity to see our loved ones with fresh eyes… maybe how we used to see our significant other when we just started dating.

For digital marketers and web designers, however, there is no day to remind us to take a look at the websites we manage with fresh, passionate eyes. It’s easy to fall into a routine and assume our sites are doing great. Our days are busy, and we can easily miss signs that our sites need some love and attention. But if we’re not careful, we can end up with an outdated, buggy site with cratering traffic and zero relevance.

So consider this your reminder to treat your website right. Successful relationships are about change and rediscovery. No one stays the same for long. Put on those fresh eyes, get out on the cutting edge and find out what your site needs in order to be all it can be. Start with the following web design trends, and you’ll be falling in love with your higher ed site all over again in no time.

Full Accessibility

Accessibility is a huge area of prioritization, as well it should be. You can’t serve your audience needs if they can’t access the information on your site. Nowadays, most websites follows accessibility guidelines, as the price for not doing so is irrelevance (not showing up in search results). But, some forward-looking institutions are going above and beyond. These sites give users the choice to view their pages in full accessibility mode.

What does this mean? Beacon’s UX expert, AJ Pope explains:

“With the changes, the non-accessible text will darken to a fully accessible color. Images with text overlays will also darken to make the text stand out more. Small text may increase in size, as well as graphics that utilize text.”

Personalization

Marketing is all about making personal connections. Tailoring your website experience to the audience or even personal level can absolutely make a difference for your engagement KPIs. Personalizing your website experience requires some careful planning and setup. But it’s well worth the effort. Here’s a great tutorial on web personalization from marketing expert Neil Patel.

Video

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many pictures is a video worth? Video has long been a feature on websites. The trend is actually for more videos. Videos are increasingly showing up where banner and impact images used to live. Simply put, they’re a better way to tell your story. They can also showcase your campus in a broader way and provide your visitors with a more immersive experience.

Display Interactivity and Animation

Video isn’t the only captivating visual option. There are other active graphical elements that can be deployed to attract user attention. Animation, hover effects and pop-out navigation menus are just a few ways of signaling that your website is rich in user experience features. Slideshows and gallery views also engage your users and put them in the driver seat. Science says that we’re naturally attracted to motion. Be sure to pepper in movement into the pages of your higher ed site.

Voice Search

To stay relevant, you have to meet your audience where it is. And increasingly, search is being initiated by voice commands whispered/shouted/annoyingly yelled at a digital assistant of choice.

Get in front of this trend by optimizing your site content for voice search. To begin, check out this article from Search Engine Watch for ideas on how to isolate and analyze voice search data.

Beacon Knows Higher Ed Web Design

Need a little help applying these trends to your higher ed website? Beacon can help. Request a free website audit and let our team show you what’s possible.

14 02, 2019

10 Things They Hate About Your Higher Ed Site

By | 2019-03-26T08:42:44+00:00 February 14th, 2019|Categories: Higher Education, Web Development|Tags: , , , |

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

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

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

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

1. Poor Navigation

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

2. Clutter

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

3. Too Many Pop-ups

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

4. Not Mobile-Friendly

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

5. Endless Scrolling

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

6. Stock Photos

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

7. Auto-play Videos

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

8. Slow Loading Times

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

 9. Broken Links

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

10. Lack of Accessibility

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

Beacon Knows Web Design

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

29 01, 2019

Maintaining Content Focus on Your Higher Ed Site

By | 2019-01-29T08:13:10+00:00 January 29th, 2019|Categories: Higher Education, Web Development|Tags: , , , |

You’ve done it! Months of late nights and dedications to the design of the perfect higher ed website have culminated in a beautiful launch. It is all easy sailing from here, right? Well, maybe not.

Sure, your school’s new website is up and running. But, if your various content managers aren’t aligned in how they create, update, improve and retire the hundreds of pieces of content they are responsible for, things can spin out of control very quickly. It doesn’t take long for that beautiful, unifying design to get ruined. All it takes is a couple of content managers to do their own thing.

Content managers need a common set of instructions to work from. A clearly outlined, centralized content strategy will help them to stay on the same page. This will also ensure a consistent experience for users and a shared focus across the entire site.

Setting the Stage

So, how do you create a shared content strategy? If you haven’t yet, start by defining your organization-wide tone and voice. Next, set some content guidelines – word limits by page type, specific CTA usage for certain circumstances, image use directions, etc. You should also establish a school-wide content calendar and identify broad themes for specific parts of the year, or even month-by-month.

All of these tasks are best accomplished by the school’s marketing department – the marketing staff is the owner of the school brand, after all.

Be sure to disseminate the content guidelines and the content calendar to the content managers of the various departments. It may be worthwhile to hold a workshop to go over the guidelines and the publishing plans for the upcoming academic year. This will ensure that everybody creating your website content is moving to the same beat.

This doesn’t mean that your departments can’t pursue their own identities, voices and content ideas. They absolutely should. But departmental content guidelines should be subordinate to and not violate the organization-wide guidelines created by the marketing team.

Quality Content, On Deadline

Ok, we got everyone responsible for producing content on the same page. Now, how do we make sure that the content is produced on time and up to established quality standards?

What’s needed is a solid workflow and approval process. At Beacon, we like to lean on GatherContent to manage the content creation process. The cloud-based service has an intuitive CMS and easy-to-set-up workflows. A typical workflow may look something like this:

  1. First draft
  2. Primary review and feedback
  3. Editing/Revisions
  4. Approval
  5. Publishing
  6. Live on website

The above workflow is fairly simple. However, you may need to tailor your workflows for each department to account for how each separate team handles the writing and approval processes. You may need to add more steps to the process if the content has to pass through several people before being approved for publication. The workflow is where your departments can flex their individuality (not in the copy).

Workflows are great at moving content projects along. They’re also terrific at identifying bottle necks (who hasn’t had co-workers or directors who’ve hoarded content and held it hostage).

We recommend making your workflows accessible to all staff involved in content creation. This way, everyone is aware at all times where any piece of content is in the writing process. It should also encourage those reviewers who like to take their time to move the item along to the next step in the workflow.

Staying the Course

So, we have everyone on the same page and following the same rules and processes. What’s left?

Well, things move fast in higher ed. Your team of content managers will not stay static – turn over on college campuses is fairly high. You’ll need to assure that institutional knowledge is passed on when your people leave. While you can rely on the goodwill of your departing staff to train their replacements, the more prudent option is to simply provide regular trainings to your content team.

At minimum, schedule an annual review of your school’s content guidelines, workflows and content calendars. You may even want to do one every semester.

Beacon Knows Higher Ed Content

Are workflows and content guidelines a bit too intimidating? Don’t worry, we hear that a lot. Beacon experts are here to help. Give us a call and we’ll be glad to lend a hand.

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.

11 12, 2018

How to add ARIA Labels for HTML SECTION and DIV Tags

By | 2018-12-11T08:32:27+00:00 December 11th, 2018|Categories: Web Development|Tags: , , |

This is an example of ARIA labels for screen readers that read ARIA labels. It ultimately helps the end user.

When you have a portion on the content in a section, it must contain a Head tag. If however is does not contain a head tag, and needs an aria-label to describe the section, simply add the region role.

This will allow the screen reader to detect it as a new region and then it will read out the ARIA label.

Examples:

Using a SECTION Tag:

<section aria-label=”Brief description of this section”> <h2>Heading Title</h2> <p>Content area content</p> </section>

Using a DIV Tag:

<div role=”region” aria-label=”Brief description of this area”> <p>Content area content</p> </div>

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.

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.

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