28 01, 2020

Top 20 Digital Marketing Trends for 2020 – Part II

By | 2020-01-28T14:11:11+00:00 January 28th, 2020|Categories: Digital Marketing, Web Development, Creative Design|Tags: , , |

Trends written on chalkboardIn our last post, we discussed nine marketing trends that are expected to impact SEO (search engine optimization), Paid Search advertising and user behavior analysis in 2020 and beyond. These digital marketing specialties concern themselves with how users access and interact with online content. But, before you can hope to attract anyone to your site, you first have to create an attractive, welcoming and informative experience for your visitors.

A substantial amount of work is completed before your users ever lay their eyes on your (hopefully prominent) search results and web pages. In the second installment of our Top 20 Digital Marketing Trends for 2020 blog series, we are taking a look at some new influences in the spheres of web design, content creation and web development.

Web Design Trends

Trend #10: Minimalist navigation

You rarely get a second chance to make a great first impression. For websites, this makes the homepage a critical area of introduction for your all-important primary audience.

You’ve got to wow them at your very first opportunity. And, an overbearing or overly complex navigation bar is likely to take away from that goal.

More and more, forward-looking web designs are featuring simple navigation menus in combination with stunning visual presentations. This allows users to take the page in without the distraction of thinking about where they need to go next.

Some sites are foregoing the default presentation of a navigation bar on a homepage altogether, opting instead to let users dictate when to start looking around for additional information.

The takeaway: Don’t be afraid to tuck away your navigation bar into a hamburger menu. Trust your users’ digital instincts to find their way.

picture of night sky and a landscape

Photo by Luck Galindo from Pexels

Trend #11: Dark mode

Another trend aimed at optimizing the visual presentation of your site is the use of dark background colors on your web pages. This really makes the featured photography/video/art jump right off the page.

While some of our clients request designs that fully embrace the dark mode concept, others prefer to give their users the choice to switch into dark mode. In our opinion, there is no right or wrong method, but both are trending.

“As more of the popular apps and websites we use every day give users that dark mode option, I think we’ll see more sites start to adopt this as well,” says AJ Pope, Beacon’s Lead UX Visual Designer. “Not only does it look nice, it helps boost accessibility by making elements stand out and text easier to read.”

The takeaway: Embrace the dark side, young Jedi.

Trend #12: 3D elements and motion effects

Stunning, immersive 3D presentations that span the entirety of the user’s screen is another great way to draw in your audience. Up till now, the technology used to create 3D elements was a bit cost-prohibitive for your everyday websites. But, we are seeing more of these features recently and expect it to continue as development of 3D effects has become more affordable. The “cool” factor and the cutting-edge feel may make the added cost worthwhile for your brand.

The takeaway: Bold and interesting presentation will be the rule, not the exception, in 2020.

Trend #13: Mixing photography with art/graphics

Navigation making room for visuals, dark backgrounds to boost art, 3D and motion effects… Are we sensing a theme here? Overall, it seems that visual presentation is getting more and more sophisticated in 2020.  Sites are finally moving toward a more creative and artistic feel.

This last web design trend follows the established pattern. Expect to see more bold mash-ups of photography with overlayed art or other graphic elements in the coming years.

“Using real photographs mixed with illustrations or graphics communicates a really customized message,” says Hiroshy, a Top Level designer featured on 99designs. “Whether photos of products or people, these images can more fully support branding and help websites stand out from the crowd.”

The takeaway: Photo-art mixing can help define your brand as sophisticated and fashion-forward.

Web Content Trends

person recording a video on smartphone

Photo by Ingo Joseph from Pexels

Trend #14: Video content to reign in content marketing

Whether in design or content development, the visual mediums appear set to rule the 2020s. In this case, video content is poised for a major role.

According to our friends over at Convince & Convert, “more than 50% of shoppers say online video has helped them decide which specific brand or product to buy.” That vibes with Google’s finding that 80% of people cross over from online search to video when researching buying decisions.

That said, producing your video doesn’t have to be an all-out production. You can do a lot with just a little nowadays.

The takeaway: Go ahead and get real comfortable with your phone camera.

Trend #15: User-generated content

Here’s a breaking headline: consumers tend to trust other consumers. Not really a surprise, is it? We’ve seen this in the prevalence of online reviews, the popularity of influencers and with engagement brands generated on social media.

None of this is slowing down. So, you’ll need to find ways to harness the voices of your loyal customers and share them with your audience in order to stay relevant.

The takeaway: Your 2020 content marketing strategy must enable the conversion of your most trusted customers into brand champions.

Trend #16: Content length and quality to influence search ranking positioning

Ok, so length alone isn’t going to win you better placement. And, really, length isn’t the goal. The concept with content marketing, as always, is to deliver content that your users find valuable. That’s also what search engine algorithms are measuring.  In other words, your visitors gain confidence in your brand by finding what they want and getting their questions answered clearly, yet concisely.

And, what’s more valuable to a consumer? A short, anecdotal blog post about how cool your product is; or, a comprehensive article referencing studies, statistics and real-life use cases of a particular product that also plays up the cool angle?

Hands down, it’s that latter. And this type of content almost always runs longer. The trend is reflected in longer, more comprehensive articles populating the top results in SERPs (search engine results pages).

The takeaway: What you’re shooting for in 2020 is polished, compelling and comprehensive content.

Trend #17: Publish less, reach more people via more channels

We just got through saying more is better… now we’re saying “less is more?”

Sorry for the confusion. Let us explain.

“Less” here refers to the number of content pieces you publish, not the number of words on the page. This kind of makes sense. If you’re putting out longer, higher-quality copy, you’ll probably be publishing less content pieces overall.

The goal is to leverage your high-quality content more with a multi-channel approach. After all, your Facebook audience may have little overlap with your Pinterest users.

Trend #8 in Part I of our post discussed going beyond Google and Facebook for your paid search strategy. The same applies to your content marketing tactics. Plus, if you’re confident in the quality of your content, you SHOULD expend more effort placing it in front of all the relevant audiences.

The takeaway: You can get the most out of your content by tailoring it to various different channels.

Web Development Trends

Trend #18: Modular design 

What is modular design? According to Simplicable:

“Modular design is a design approach that creates things out of independent parts with standard interfaces. This allows designs to be customized, upgraded, repaired and for parts to be reused.”

In short, think Legos.

In web development, modular design contrasts with the more familiar templates. Templates take longer to develop and are more difficult to customize.

The takeaway: If you’re re-developing your site in 2020, a modular design can help you save on development costs.

Trend #19: Responsive, mobile-first design

The need for your site to display well on smartphones is not new. What is? Moving forward, Google will be analyzing how well your website functions on mobile screens, not desktops, first.  Yes, good mobile design scores points with Google and consequently, your website visibilty.

“Responsive modular templates are, and will most likely always be, a development trend for websites in the modern age,” says Wayne Garrett, one of Beacon’s UI (user interface) Developers. “More devices/screen sizes are being released every year. Having a website that is fluid and tailored to meet all variables is crucial. And it’s often very noticeable and detrimental when your website is not.”

The takeaway: Mobile-first development is no longer an option, it’s a must-have.

chatbot graphicTrend #20: Chatbots and customer support 

Will chatbots be taking over consumer experiences in 2020?

Businesses and higher education institutions alike have typically struggled to provide satisfactory customer service during after-business hours. That may have been ok 10 years ago. But, in today’s ultra-connected, globalized marketplace, consumers expect answers to their questions 24/7.

Powered by AI and machine-learning applications, chatbots have proliferated as the logical solution.

“We’re seeing a huge rise in chatbots on websites, especially for higher education,” says Wayne. “And we expect to see more this year.”

Is there a reason why you need to speak to someone in order to make sure that your tuition check was received? Are call center employees any better at handling routine customer queries, like bank account balances or appointment confirmations?

These questions were debatable as recently as a few years ago. But, today, there’s no doubt that automated systems can easily handle this level of customer interaction.

Another plus: chatbots can be a lot more affordable than a fully staffed call center.

The takeaway: Chatbots are a superior method of providing direct, immediate service to your site visitors at all times of day or night.

Beacon Knows (the Future of) Digital Marketing

Is your digital marketing program ready for a banner 2020? Not sure? With Beacon lighting the way, your path to success can only get brighter. Get in touch with our team to discuss solutions to your digital marketing needs.

11 12, 2019

Beacon’s Favorite Web Design Projects of 2019

By | 2019-12-11T15:38:26+00:00 December 11th, 2019|Categories: Higher Education, Web Development, Creative Design|Tags: , , |

Well, it’s almost here… 2020, the new year, the start of a new decade (depending on whom you ask). And that means we’ve nearly made it through another memorable 12 months.

For us, at Beacon, 2019 was filled with lots of great projects, conversations, innovations and new beginnings. We’ve welcomed in talented new staff and began relationships with awesome new clients. We’ve also strengthened our existing customer relationships and added to our already considerable skill set.

Through it all, we’ve worked as a team of equals to support our clients’ business goals, advance our understanding of the digital landscape and collaborate on outcomes that really move the needle.Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

It’s natural this time of year to reflect on all that’s been accomplished. We’re no different. There are quite a few Beacon projects that deserve recognition. Unfortunately, we don’t have the time or space to touch on them all.

What follows below is just a small representation of our successes in web design from the past year.

But, before we dive into highlights of those great new client websites, let’s review what a great new website should look like in 2020 and beyond.

Design Features of a Great Website

Reasonable people can disagree on what they view as the most important elements of a modern website. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That said, our experience informs us that your next website should be built with the following concepts in mind:

  • Simplicity – like a beautiful piece of recorded music, you don’t want your site to feel overproduced. And that can (and does) happen if you try to pack too much into every page. A tasteful page design that prioritizes spacing and a natural flow is the rule. Your users shouldn’t feel lost or overwhelmed by information on a busy screen.
  • Responsiveness – today, your users will access your site from more than one platform. You want their experience to be equally awesome on their phones, desktops and tablets. Moreover, there isn’t a standard screen size for any of the platforms. Your site has to be built to accommodate the smallest and largest screen dimensions, and everything in between.
  • Legible typography – don’t get too cute with your choice of fonts. Yes, you want your branding to stand apart, but not so much that it takes attention away from the information your visitors are looking for. Subtle differences from the typical are appreciated; major departures from the norm are a distraction.
  • Accessibility – keep in mind that some visitors to your site will have special needs and/or physical limitations that may impact their ability to access information on your pages. Account for these needs by following the widely accepted Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1).
  • Easy, intuitive navigation – the last thing that you want is your visitors getting lost on your site. Navigation menus offer the map to your site content. You want to make the map as easy to read and use as possible.
  • A careful balance between visual storytelling and text – you don’t want to overwhelm your visitors with too much information at once. And, let’s remember, attention spans are getting notoriously short. That means you have to keep your text scannable and easily digestible. Wherever possible, lean on visuals to relay information to your users.
  • Professional imagery – you wouldn’t include amateur photography in your printed marketing collateral. Why would you on your flagship marketing asset? The extra cost is worth it if you want to look polished and professional.
  • Strong branding – again, your website is your most important marketing tool. You want your brand to be well represented in the design, but without appearing overbearing and too in-your-face. There’s a fine line, certainly. But, you don’t want your users to be guessing that they’re in the right place.

Some of Our Favorite Websites of 2019

Ok, without further ado, here are some of our favorite web design projects from the past year, along with the design attributes that make the websites really pop.

North Carolina A&T State University

NC A&T University website homepage

  • Streamlined, out-of-the-box homepage design and functionality
  • Mobile-first approach and navigation design
  • High contrast toggle for accessibility
  • Degrees and Programs pages with branding for each college/department and extensive filtering capabilities

Eastern Connecticut State University

Eastern Connecticut State University website homepage

  • Artistic take on a higher ed website, with exceptionally sharp presentation
  • Imagery, content and branding integrated into a modern, sleek design
  • A ton of subtle design touches, like paint-brush edges and golden arrows accents always pointing East
  • Newly developed content written to take full advantage of customized page templates

Atlantic Cape Community College

Atlantic Cape Comm College website homepage

  • Multiple parallax design attributes
  • A really cool social media wall
  • Interior pages featuring an intuitive “navigate this section” menu
  • Animated “Cape Man” icon in the utility navigation

Crosspointe Homes

Crosspointe Home website homepage

  • Modular design optimized for the specialized needs of the real estate industry
  • Page templates coded for easy addition of new content
  • SEO-optimized content developed by Beacon content strategy experts
  • Simple and easy to use navigation

Beacon Knows Web Design

Need to refresh your website for 2020? We’re here to help. Learn about our approach to website redesign projects and get in touch with our talented team today.

15 10, 2019

Tales from the Script: Coding Nightmares

By | 2019-10-21T07:29:25+00:00 October 15th, 2019|Categories: Web Development|Tags: , , |

As a profession, software developers have a reputation for being, um… let’s say eccentric. Or, quirky. Or, unique.

That’s not a dig. Eccentricity is often a sign of brilliance. And, let’s face it, you need to be darn-near brilliant in order to meticulously translate computer language into the beautiful, complex web experiences we all take for granted today.

“Coding is part art, part science,” says Deb Paylor, one of Beacon’s Project Managers who works closely with our in-house software development team. “Developers, it’s almost like they have their fingerprint on their code, because they all do things a certain way.”

Web development is a demanding profession that requires a combination of specialized knowledge, technical skills, abstract reasoning and the ability to problem-solve. That last part is especially important.

Why?

Because every developer routinely deals with code that’s problematic – either because it wasn’t written right the first time, is past its expiration date (too old to work properly with new applications) or has not been tested or implemented the right way. Bad code is, in a word, a nightmare.

This month, we had the privilege to sit down and talk to some of our esteemed in-house developers about their experiences. And, in honor of the holiday at the end of October (Halloween), we discussed a few of their “scariest” coding problems.

Coding Nightmares on Beacon Street

These nightmares are ghoulishly brought to you by Zedric “Zed” Myers (Senior Lead UI Developer), Emily Mallard (UI Developer), John Vine (Lead Software Engineer) and Wayne Garrett (UI Developer).

Working with Legacy Code

Legacy code is not always bad. It’s just rarely good.

What is legacy code? It isn’t necessarily code that didn’t age well. According to Technopedia, legacy code is “an application system source code that is no longer supported.”

When that happens, it is oftentimes quicker and easier to patch existing legacy code, rather than switch everything to a new version. And, that typically leads to issues.

Here’s Emily describing a typical experience with legacy code:

“Legacy code can be real finicky. If you don’t do things to the ‘T’ in it, it’ll break. It’ll just completely break.

Before updated code comes out, a developer might need to add to the legacy code, but will do so in real hacky way. Later on, if you have to apply a fix or a patch, it’ll just explode everything. I’ll change just one line to something that I hope will work, and it’ll break the entire thing. The whole page then becomes non-functional.”

Bad processes

It’s not uncommon for several developers to work on the same piece of code. We’re also sometimes asked to work with a third-party developer on a particular project. If everyone is not on the same page, following the same procedures, major headaches – re-work, fixes, delays, etc – are likely to occur. Ask any project manager about the impact of delays on a web design project – it scares the bejeezus out of them.

Having good standard processes is important in any profession. It is even more so in software engineering, where you’re dealing with highly technical elements that can be approached in a number of different ways. Bad processes, or instances of established processes not being followed, are as nightmarish as Freddy Krueger walking down Elm Street.

“Good, clear processes can save hours of development time and stress,” says Zed. “If another developer needs to jump in to help, they know exactly what to do without questioning.”

That’s why coders appreciate standardized processes and a good “paper” trail with clear documentation of what needs to be accomplished, what has been accomplished and what has yet to be completed.

Lack of Documentation

Speaking of documentation… it can be difficult to finish a project if you’re missing specific descriptions of what you’re trying to build. Good documentation also makes complex projects easy to understand and replicate. For example, if someone wanted to follow up on Dr. Frankenstein’s work, they could attempt to re-create the monster from the doctor’s lab notes.

More from Zed:

“If you don’t have a clear focus on what needs to be accomplished, it can lead to hours of extra work, or even worse, scrapping the project and starting over. It’s essential to have clear and agreed upon documentation with the client, so that they know exactly what they are getting.”

Software engineers rely on something called functional requirements to guide their work. Functional requirements, sometimes also called functional specifications, describe the intended behavior of the software being created. A very simple example of a functional requirement is text appearing when the mouse is pointed at a hyperlink (hover effect).

Functional requirements are the roadmap for the software development team to follow. Working without such a roadmap makes the job a whole lot harder.

No Dedicated Development Environments

At Beacon, we utilize three separate environments when working on a website. This setup isolates work that’s still under development from pages that are ready to be reviewed and published.

The first environment is the developers playground – which is why it’s called Development. This is the workshop or factory where developers write new code and create various elements, pages or modules. It’s the “behind the scenes” section with restricted access.

The second environment – which we refer to as the Test environment – is used to review how all elements on a given page interact and work with one another. This is where issues are found and resolved via our systems testing protocols. Once system testing is complete, we turn the environment over to the client for user acceptance testing (UAT). That’s where the client has the chance to review the near-final version of the site and make sure that everything works as it was intended.

Last, we have the Production environment. This is where the live website lives. Once clients have reviewed and approved the work, it gets pushed from Test to Production.

Having three distinct places, each with a defined purpose, works well for developers, project managers and clients. Modeling the final product in a testing environment can be confusing for people not well-versed in software development projects. There’s a clear benefit to having a separate environment for clients to review the work before it is seen by the entire world.

As you can imagine, having just one environment can create a lot of confusion for all involved parties. Not to mention that any changes you apply in production are out there for the whole world to see. And while that may be fine for small changes, it’s a much bigger, more noticeable, deal if you’re revamping the design of the entire site or heavily altering the content structure of a page.

Beacon Knows Software Development

Is your site ready for a refresh? An outdated site design can feel like walking through a dark cemetery without a flashlight. Don’t be scared – Beacon is here to help. We know how to bring a website back from the dead. Mwahahahaha….

6 09, 2019

Output HTML Syntax Characters from RSS Feeds to Preview Correctly for Cascade

By | 2019-09-06T09:25:33+00:00 September 6th, 2019|Categories: Web Development|Tags: , , , |

This applies to Cascade Velocity formats. If you’ve ever had to pull in content through an external feed that has rich HTML, this piece of code may help you. Sometimes you may see HTML tags or code output into the content of the page. Such as, <Content goes here.>.

This code will take the HTML syntax you would like to replace and output as standard HTML tags, so that when a user looks at the page, it’s properly formatted for them using the HTML provided in the feed.

With this code you can continue to add or daisy chain replaceAll code, as needed.

Example code to update:

$_SerializerTool.serialize($departmentContent, true).replaceAll(“&lt;”, “<“).replaceAll(“&gt;”, “>”)

7 08, 2019

Getting Your Freshman Class On Campus

By | 2019-08-08T07:05:15+00:00 August 7th, 2019|Categories: Digital Marketing, Higher Education, Web Development, Social Media|Tags: , , |

From a student’s perspective, picking the right college is getting more and more complicated. It might seem contradictory at a time when applying to schools is easier than ever. But, that reality is backed up by data.

A 2017 study noted that 35% of college freshmen apply to seven or more schools. That percentage more than doubled from just a decade ago. With more students applying to more schools in recent years, getting your freshman class on campus is becoming increasingly harder.

Today, college admissions officials can reasonably expect only 1 in 3 admitted applicants to actually enroll at their school. At the start of the century, that ratio was closer to 1 in 2. For higher ed marketers, who do so much to attract qualified applicants, it can be deflating watching their hard work walk out the proverbial door.

But, you can’t blame the students. Major life decisions are hard. Evaluating more options is just a smart way to make prudent choices.

What you can do is accept that the landscape has changed. Today, you might need to do a little, or a lot, more hand-holding to get your students into your classrooms.

How best to cut through the noise and make yourself be heard?

An integrated marketing campaign can be one of the better ways to maintain contact with your prospects between decision day and move-in day.

What is Integrated Marketing?

This is one of those terms that sounds more intimidating than it really is. Integrated marketing describes multi-channel campaigns aimed at specific audiences or the general public at large.

This isn’t a new concept. It’s just that, with the proliferation of new media – various social media platforms, YouTube, blogs, podcasts, etc – integrated marketing has gotten a bit more complicated and a degree more intense.

Before the rise of the internet, marketers just had to worry about matching content between print, TV and, maybe, radio. Today the media landscape is more complex, requiring more advanced tactics and strategies.

At it’s core, however, the concept is the same: reach audiences everywhere they are with a consistent, tailored message.

Why Integrated Marketing Works for Higher Ed 

Your target audience is a multi-tasking, online-savvy, info-hungry, anxious teenager. If you harbor hopes of capturing her attention, you need to keep a consistent brand presentation and message across multiple media channels.

More than that, you need to be there with pertinent content when she’s searching for answers or trying to quell her concerns. There are lots of questions and uncertainties that rising college freshmen have. If you can show her that, 1) you understand her concerns, and 2) have the answers she’s looking for, you’ll gain trust.

That trust is a big advantage when decision-making time arrives – whenever that is.

How to Get Students On Campus with Integrated Marketing

Let’s see how integrated marketing campaigns can help boost that admitted-to-enrolled ratio. Again, you’ll need a coordinated strategy encompassing your primary marketing channels (website, search, email) as well as the media platforms your target audience is known to use (social media, blogs, videos).

We’ll use a specific scenario to demonstrate how an integrated marketing campaign can work:

Emma has been accepted to your school, along with a few of your peer institutions. She’s undecided, but your school ranks in her top three. Emma is interested in studying natural sciences, and your school has top-tier Biology and Chemistry programs. She’s also on the shy side and worries about making friends and finding a comfort zone.

You can use the below channels to maintain contact with Emma and increase the odds of her picking your school.

Blog

Blogs are an excellent way of creating content for niche topics and categories. What topics might resonate with Emma?

A post from a chemistry major about a cool summer internship could entice a click. As could a student review of the chemistry department highlighting favorite faculty members and classes. Write-up of cutting-edge research by a faculty member may also stir interest.

Emma may also appreciate learning about your school’s on-campus environment. Posts describing a rich student life, including clubs and other student organizations, could paint a nice picture and allay her concern about finding groups to fit in with.

A post describing the challenges of being new to the campus and providing  suggestions for best ways to explore the school’s surroundings is also likely to hit home for Emma.

Social Media

Those blog ideas are all good and well. But, how will Emma find them?

This goes back to the importance of being where your target audience hangs out. And teenagers tend to spend a lot of time with social media.

Creating social media posts that link to your blog content is a no-brainer way to get in front of your prospective students. Just make sure the tone matches the content of the blog post.

Success here is having Emma click to follow your account, which would allow you to drip more content into her feed.

Paid Search Remarketing

So, let’s say Emma spotted one of your posts on Instagram and clicked on the accompanying blog on what to expect on campus. A good next step would be to remind her about important dates (housing registration, freshman orientation, class registration, etc).

This can be accomplished with PPC remarketing ad campaigns, which would be initiated by Emma’s view of the blog and include calls-to-action geared to registration.

Email Marketing

Another way to get your blog and other content in front of Emma is through email. The open-rate for email marketing campaigns tend to be low. Nonetheless, you’ll (hopefully) be sending important information through this channel in the future. So, it makes sense to initiate and keep contact via email.

If Emma does end up choosing your school, you can apply email campaigns to prompt her to register for orientation, classes, etc.

Texting

Another thing that teens do a lot? They text – those speedy little thumbs moving faster than the eye can see.

Text messages are another great way to remind Emma about important registration dates.

Website

All of your efforts in the above marketing channels should lead Emma back to your website. After all, that’s where conversions happen – all those registrations you hope Emma will complete.

Beacon Knows Higher Ed Websites

Want to make sure your website is ready to handle all that traffic from your integrated marketing campaigns? Beacon can help. Request a complimentary website audit from our team of experts.

4 06, 2019

Background Parallax Image Fix in Sliders or Content

By | 2019-05-31T14:57:14+00:00 June 4th, 2019|Categories: Web Development|Tags: , , , |

If your project requires parallax background images, you’ll want to keep this note in mind. If your slider or content area that the parallax resides in has a 3D transform attached, you’ll want to remove that code for the background parallax image to properly work. You’ll notice it works well in Chrome and Safari before doing this, but other browsers such as Edge and Firefox would not properly work.

Example code to update:

.parent { -webkit-transform: none; -moz-transform: none; -ms-transform: none; -o-transform: none; transform: none; }

.sibling { background-attachment: fixed; }

29 05, 2019

What to Expect When Expecting a Website

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

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

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

Identify Your Goals 

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

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

Pick an Internal Team

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

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

Develop A Plan

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

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

Status Meetings

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

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

And Don’t Forget to Celebrate

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

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

Beacon Knows Higher Ed Project Management

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

7 05, 2019

Font Awesome 5 Custom CSS Icon Style Requirement

By | 2019-05-07T14:42:02+00:00 May 7th, 2019|Categories: Web Development|Tags: , , |

This is just a quick helpful how to tip for Font Awesome 5 custom CSS icon fonts. When adding your own custom styling to the fonts, be sure to add a font-weight: 900 style. This will allow the icon to properly show on the page. Otherwise, you may get an empty icon placeholder in the web browser.

Examples:

Using a Font Awesome in CSS Styles:

.item:before { font-family: ‘Font Awesome\ 5 Free’; font-weight: 900; }

13 03, 2019

Spring Cleaning the PPC Way

By | 2019-08-12T14:19:45+00:00 March 13th, 2019|Categories: Web Development|Tags: , , , , |

Poster with composition of different tools for cleaning service colored on blue background vector illustration

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.

Load More Posts