Power Up Online Visibility to Your University with SEO

Universities and Colleges are beginning to realize the true value of SEO for Higher Education. Unfortunately, the SEO landscape is volatile and ever changing. However, there are some best practices which have been fairly consistent over the last couple of years. We believe that these best practices will continue to be relevant throughout 2016 and work to improve online visibility.

Keyword Research and Targeting Specific URLs 

Higher education institutions should embrace keyword research and use it to build relevant pages. These pages should be built around their core programs they offer. To get started first conduct keyword research which will drive content creation. You can start with a free keyword research tool from SEObook. This tool pulls data from Google and Bing’s databases. Simply input the term you want to get information on. This tool returns data on monthly search volumes along with related terms.

Keyword Research for Higher Ed

Next, you want to build an appropriate page around a theme of closely related keywords. These keywords should relate to educational programs your University offers.

For example, upon conducting some research I came across a few Universities who had important content within PDFs. Rather than a dedicated landing page, one University had downloadable PDFs of their courses.

landing page example

 

An alternative would be to build a landing page around this content and include some sort of conversion point. In case you do not know what a micro conversion is it is a small step on the path of a visitor towards your website’s primary goal.

Avoid Duplicate Content

Google admits that 25-30% of the internet is duplicated content. However, we can still take measures to avoid this. To get an idea if your site has duplicate content simply use Siteliner to run a quick diagnostic.

Identify duplicate contentI can see this college has around 10% duplicated content but, the free version this tool will only look at 250 pages. A way to fix this is to write unique copy on key pages and block unnecessary pages from being crawled by search engines with a robots.txt file. The robots.txt is a nifty text file you can create to instruct search engine robots on where and where not to crawl your site.

Get a Grip on Local Visibility 

local search visibility

 

Colleges are not immune from the types of competition businesses face online. As you can see competition is fierce. There are a lot of different options for any prospective student deciding on where to further their education. Local visibility or local SEO has risen in prominence over the last several years. But how can Higher Educational Institutions benefit?

Google has begun to provide more individualized search features. These personalized features are based on a person’s geographic location and search history. You can take advantage of this by:

Local Citation Corrections – Your first job is to make sure your college’s address is easily found on key pages. Then you need to ensure it is listed correctly throughout the web.

local citation reviews

 

Local Content – Once your Higher Ed’s citations are handled it’s time to produce local content. It’s important this content resonates with your audience. Maybe you build a page dedicated to ‘College Life’ and talk about activities around your college’s campus.

Don’t Block Important Resources

Blocking content that is important to searchers within search engines is detrimental. A common way to block important information is with a robots.txt file.

A robots.txt file is a simple file which holds pretty significant power. This file controls how search engines initially crawl a website when they first visit. However as you can imagine it can be pretty easy to block important resources you would otherwise want indexed. To check this simply type your domain name “example.com/robots.txt”. Remember replace “example.com” with your Universities domain name.

robots.txt sample

 

A good rule of thumb is to not block key pages from search engines with a robots.txt file. For example, you would not want to block important categories such as, Admissions, Academics, or Athletics sections.

Keep in mind, if you use Google Site Search as your internal site search, blocking a section with the robots.txt file will also prevent it from showing up properly in your internal search as well.

Higher Educational institutions may not take digital marketing or search engine optimization into consideration. However, no website is immune from the grasps of Google.

Take advantage of digital marketing and SEO to get in front of more prospective students. By conducting keyword research, avoiding duplicate content issues, and gaining more local visibility you can reach a wider more targeted audience.

Jordan Lowry
Jordan is a Digital Marketing Analyst in SEO, PPC and Social Media. He recently graduated from UNC-Greensboro with a strong business background running a start-up.
By | 2017-10-09T09:41:04+00:00 June 17th, 2016|Higher Education|Comments Off on Power Up Online Visibility to Your University with SEO

Style Guides for Web Design and Development

style-guide

Developers, designers and web administrators are always looking for ways to improve how they manage the look, feel and complexity when building a web site. This can be difficult when we have multiple team members or new members involved in ongoing projects. So how can we help maintain global branding and development patterns for sites that all users can utilize? Style guides.

What is a style guide?

A style guide is a document of code standards that details the various elements and patterns of a site or application. It is a one-stop place to see all visual styles of the site such as headers, links, buttons, color pallets and any visual language that is used on the site.

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Check out a few of the other style guides below published by some great brands.

Why should you use a style guide?

Style guides take extra time to develop up front but we have found that they have numerous beneficial factors for developing.

  • Faster build time for new sections and pages.
  • Design consistency is easier to maintain
  • Designers, developers and content owners have a one-stop guide to reference.
  • New team members joining the project can refer to the guide for the exact style use.
  • Keeps both code and design consistent throughout the site.
  • The guide allows us to standardize our code (CSS, JS, HTML), keeping it small and quick to load.

Steps to building a style guide?

Template

Start your guide with the sites foundations. These will include elements like color palette, fonts, headers, body text and grid layouts. These basic elements are the foundation global elements of your site that set the tone for your style guide.

Patterns

Next start adding in your site patterns. These would include buttons, logos, images, icon library, form styles, etc. Any element that belongs on your site should be included.

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Documentation

Documentation is essential to make a style guide successful. Your documentation is the key to keeping a consistent style and development pattern throughout the site. Documentation can be done in the code itself with comments or using interactive modals or tool tips in the style guide.

Cascade Implementation

After completing the base code you can start integrating it into your CMS system. Not only can we use a style guide for visual and front end documentation but also for how the content functions within your CMS.

The following elements can be added to help guide developers in with the site setup:

  • Formats
  • Blocks
  • Template regions such as header, footer, navigation, widgets and dynamic feeds for news/events.
  • Build out full examples of your data definition regions. See example below of Cascade Server data definition containing all site content input areas.

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Using the guide

So you have completed building your style guide. Now what? The first step is talking to your team about how to use the guide and what updates should continue to be made during projects to it. As new member join your team reference the guide as a way to introduce them to your site styles and code languages. Utilize the style guide when testing new code or modules on your site or just as a way to present new design elements to the team. The possibilities are endless.

Your style guide will never be complete and should continue to evolve as your site does.

References

 

Keana Lynch
Keana Lynch is the Director of UX Design & Development at Beacon where she has provided leadership and consultation for over 35 Higher Education projects. She specializes in the analysis, design, and implementation of websites. Keana is very passionate about design and development strategies focused on user experience, accessibility, multi-device interactions, and technical best practices. Outside of work Keana enjoys spending time with her three dogs, hiking, kayaking and volunteering with local animal rescue groups.
By | 2017-06-16T12:24:15+00:00 September 17th, 2015|Cascade CMS|Comments Off on Style Guides for Web Design and Development

Cascade Server Help and Training Resources

Those that have worked with Beacon Technologies on Cascade Server projects know that our experienced staff is available for “as needed” content management help through our Preferred Client Services department as well as for customized training sessions and user manuals specific to the site designed for your organization. However, did you know that Hannon Hill, the developers of Cascade server, also offer a wide variety of training and help resources? Here are a few that you might find helpful:

Hope you find these resources helpful and please add your own in the comments below!

By | 2017-08-07T16:00:13+00:00 February 10th, 2015|Cascade CMS|Comments Off on Cascade Server Help and Training Resources

Caribbean Green Technology Center microsite launched!

Beacon launched another University of the Virgin Islands microsite yesterday at http://cgtc.uvi.edu. Like the previously two launched UVI microsites, this site has the main UVI site branding, with its own color scheme and special features like:

  • Developed and maintained in Hannon Hill’s Cascade Server content management system
  • Fully responsive design optimized for desktop, tablet and smartphones
  • Branded UVI color scheme and graphics, with accent color selected by the client
  • Rotating home page banner images with captions and thumbnail navigation
  • Home page video players
  • Call to action buttons
  • Internal microsite-only search as well as option to search full main UVI site
  • Social media icons displayed on every page of the site
  • Quick links to internal or external webpages in site footer
  • Audience-based (“More Information…”) page content and navigation

The microsite format was developed to allow for easy set-up and population of new sites as additional departments sign up for new websites and Beacon looks forward to working with other UVI staff members in this endeavor!

Thanks to everyone at Beacon and UVI for another lovely UVI microsite!

New CGTC Microsite

New CGTC Microsite

By | 2016-11-22T11:32:16+00:00 March 18th, 2014|Beacon News|Comments Off on Caribbean Green Technology Center microsite launched!

A Calendar for Your Website

When planning for a calendar on your website, there are a number of factors to take into account.  Each of the bullets below contains examples of calendar projects with which Beacon Technologies has had direct involvement in analysis and design and/or development and integration.

  • Mobile-friendliness– Check your website analytics to determine the frequency in which your mobile visitors use the existing calendar or events listing on the site.  In most cases, it is one of the most frequently used areas of the site for mobile visitors, other than “Maps & Directions,” so you’ll need to take special care to make sure it is usable on multiple mobile devices and screen sizes.  Even if you can’t invest in a complete responsive design at this time, be sure to plan for the calendar to be usable on mobile devices. For example, Beacon customized Hannon Hill’s base calendar to be responsive and display events in the most appropriate layout for the screen size being used by the visitor for University of the Virgin Island’s calendar.
  • Room scheduling– Consider if your web-based calendar should also integrate closely with a room scheduling or other back-office system.  If so, it is much easier to plan for that integration at the outset of the project rather than afterwards.  Beacon assisted the University of Hartford, for example, with an integration with CollegeNet’s scheduling software as well as Framingham State University’s integration with Active Data Calendar.
  • Ability to submit events– Will your website visitors be able to submit their own events for display on the website calendar (perhaps after moderation and review)?  If so, be sure to evaluate whether the selected calendar software can accommodate such functionality.  As reference, the University of the Virgin Islands’ “Submit Event” form offers this functionality by automatically creating a Cascade asset/page for review and approval by an administrator, when the form is submitted by the public visitor.
  • Categories and filtering– Many website calendars, particularly for schools/colleges/universities and large companies that have many events per month, need to provide the end user with a way to display just the categories that they are interested in, as well to filter for a particular audience (students, faculty, customers, etc.).  The University of the Virgin Islands calendar allows the visitor to filter by category and audience, as well as to display a printable PDF format.
  • Calendar display/layout– Traditionally calendars are displayed in a month “grid” view like the one at the University of the Virgin Islands, but that’s not always the most appropriate layout for the number or types of events.  Smaller companies and schools with fewer events per month may prefer a “list” layout like Lees McRae College or Winston-Salem State, where more events can be listed on one screen without using the grid format.
  • Search-ability— Be sure to consider whether the calendar will be searchable via traditional search engines as you will most likely want the public to be able to search Google, Bing, etc. to find your events.  Search engine robots are often unable to scan dynamic or very long URLs, so calendars that use physical pages (like the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s calendar) versus database query strings are often more “search engine friendly”.

Do you have a particularly great website calendar to share?  Did you have any special challenges in creating a web-based calendar?  Please share your experiences below!

By | 2016-11-18T14:23:19+00:00 January 7th, 2014|Web Development|Comments Off on A Calendar for Your Website

Holyoke Gas & Electric Redesign Launched!

Beacon Technologies is very proud to announce the launch of the new Cascade site for Holyoke Gas & Electric at http://www.hged.com! This site is visually a dramatic improvement over the old.

BEFORE

homepage

Holyoke Gas & Electric Website “Before”

AFTER

Holyoke Home Page After

Holyoke Home Page “After”

It also incorporates the following fantastic functionally:

  • Responsive Design— The new site is a lovely, colorful responsive design, that looks great in the largest monitor and the smallest phone
  • Audience-based site maps—When a visitor clicks on one of the audience based icons in the site footer (like “Residential”), they are directed to an audience-based site map (http://www.hged.com/site-map/residential.aspx), displaying the pages that the client has tagged as relevant to that audience within the CMS.
  • Emergency Notifications—Two different messaging options to alert customers. One is for severe emergencies and pops up in an ajax window on every page of the site and the other is a banner message that doesn’t require visitor interaction but appears on every page of the site. There’s even a very cool animation effect for the emergency message when it is in effect.
  • Google Translate—Easy to access Google translate widget in the footer of every page of the site
  • Weather feed—Weather related info for the Holyoke area displayed from a 3rd party tool in the site footer. Note the effort devoted to make it match the site design perfectly!
  • Call to Action buttons—Editable buttons that display on the home and optionally on any interior page under the left navigation.
  • Contact Information—Editable contact information that can be displayed on any internal page under the left column navigation (http://www.hged.com/customers/start-stop-move/default.aspx)
  • Optional right column area—All internal pages can display an optional right column that includes widgets for content, images, videos or external links (http://hged.com/about/history/default.aspx)
  • Internal animated banner images— Can be incorporated on any internal page on the site (http://www.hged.com/telecom/default.aspx)
  • Department-specific design—One department at HGE required an alternate, but similar, design for marketing purposes and it can be seen here: http://www.hged.com/telecom/default.aspx
  • Google Map integration—Client can enter location details into Cascade to display an interactive Google map (http://www.hged.com/about/contact-us/delivery-instructions.aspx)
  • Custom “calculators”—These two pages are custom .NET forms that allow the visitor to calculate their own energy costs– http://www.hged.com/customers/save-energy-money/energy-efficiency/carbon-foorprint-calculator.aspx and http://www.hged.com/customers/services/gas-service/gas-conversion/default.aspx
  •  Spectate integration—Any internal page can display a Spectate-based online form as created and maintained by the client (http://www.hged.com/about/contact-us/default.aspx)
  • Web and social media tracking– The site makes extensive use of web and social media tracking tools so that the client can be well informed of all client interaction with the site.

The client is just thrilled with the beautiful site– “Everyone here at HG&E is so very excited about this project! The design is amazing, the CMS is great, I have had very positive feedback from all our employees!”  Congrats to the entire Beacon team for a job well done!

 

 

By | 2016-11-21T18:18:11+00:00 December 16th, 2013|Beacon News|Comments Off on Holyoke Gas & Electric Redesign Launched!

Greensboro Housing Authority Site Launch

We’re proud to announce the release of the Greensboro Housing Authority redesign!  As always, Beacon was right on-time with our deliverables, which is always our goal.  The client chose a soft launch date of December 1, 2011 because they wanted to show the new site to their Board of Directors at their annual meeting that day.

Their Web site was designed and constructed in-house several years ago, which meant that it was time for a completely new look.  The site also had content that was very out-of-date, so the client took it upon themselves to do a complete rewrite of the content, and restructure the site to be more intuitive.  Also, they wanted to get away from having to update the site by-hand using HTML, and wanted it in a content management system.  Finally, they wanted a new Web hosting partner.

Enter Beacon:

  • We provided them with a brand-new graphical design;
  • Developed it to display perfectly in multiple browsers;
  • Implemented the new site into Cascade Server (content management system) to allow multiple users to update the content with an easy-to-use solution;
  • Incorporated a new search feature;
  • Imported approximately 60 pages of content, including 20 fact sheets about each of their properties;
  • Transferred their Web site to a shared hosting package here at Beacon.

Several Beacon staff members made this project a success:

  • Wendy:  Without much direction from the client, Wendy put together a design that they liked on the first try, which is phenomenal.
  • Stephanie:  She was instrumental in getting the project off the ground, attending the initial meetings and providing meeting notes, the business requirements, and proposed site hierarchy.
  • Zed:  He was thrown into the fire, as this was his first development project here.  He developed the front-end HTML/CSS/jQuery, and implemented the site into Cascade Server (which he picked up on very quickly), and entered most of the content.
  • Tiffany:  Provided assistance and training to Zed.
  • Justin:  Project Management and Cascade Server documentation & training.
  • Beacon’s Technical Support Group (TSG):  And finally, no site hosting transfer is complete without the efforts of TSG, specifically Caleb and William, for setting up the hosting and troubleshooting some DNS issues over a weekend.

This is another high-quality design to add to our portfolio, and another non-profit site we can be proud of.   Thanks to everyone involved!

Before

After

By | 2017-08-15T15:53:10+00:00 December 19th, 2011|Beacon News|Comments Off on Greensboro Housing Authority Site Launch

Designing Your Navigation

Cascade ServerHere’s a very nice article about website navigation from our partners over at Hannon Hill, the developers of our preferred content management system Cascade ServerDesigning Your Navigation – Hannon Hill Corp.

I’ll also add a content matrix template that I use to record a site’s current and redesigned structure during the analysis phase of the project, before development begins.  There are two tabs in the spreadsheet– one for “current site” and one for “redesigned site.”  The redesigned site is pretty self-explanatory, but the current site information is often neglected in anticipation of starting the new project.  While it may seem superfluous to annotate a site that will be redesigned, documenting the current site ensures that no sections are “lost” during the transition (note that unless the current site map is maintained dynamically, these are rarely kept up to date).

I have seen time and time again that the success of a redesign can often be determined in the first few weeks of a project by how carefully the site is cataloged in advance.  As Kat notes so well in her article:

I cannot stress enough how crucial it is to map out the structure of your website prior to designing the navigation, especially if you are implementing one of the most powerful capabilities of a content management system, namely content reuse in the form of dynamic navigation.

Happy mapping!

By | 2017-08-11T16:26:34+00:00 October 7th, 2011|Cascade CMS|Comments Off on Designing Your Navigation

Cascade Server 6.7

The following is a list of new features for Cascade Server 6.7 (Source: http://www.hannonhill.com/news/blog/2010/Cascade-Server-6-7-Released.html)

  • Recycle Bin – users can restore deleted assets.  Enough said!
  • Cross-site Move and Copy – allows users to re-organize assets in Sites and copy them across Sites
  • Rich Text Editor improvements – newer version of the TinyMCE editor with a re-written “paste” plugin for much improved pasting from Word documents and consistent UI between browsers
  • Unsaved changes warnings – users are warned before attempting to navigate away from pages with unsaved changes
  • SFTP/FTP compatibility improvements – more reliable publishing to a variety of different SFTP and FTP servers including Windows 2008’s built-in FTP server.
  • Live View – preview the published version of pages at their public URL from within the application
  • XHTML/Data Definition Blocks – data definitions can be assigned to blocks to provide users the same form controls available in page editing when editing blocks
  • Variety of UI improvements to the application’s main menus and help links
  • Support for the Google Chrome browser, the SQL Server 2008 database server, and Java 6

Reviewing these new features there are 3 that really excite me:

  • Recycle Bin – I have learned to live without a recycling bin within Cascade only by tiptoeing around deleting items. I know the recycling bin will play an important role when I need it.
  • Cross-site Move and Copy – I have wanted this since day 1 of the Sites feature. Now I don’t have to recreate commonly used items for a new site. I would simply copy them over from existing sites. This Cross-site Move and Copy is one step closer to my dream feature of ‘Copy Site’ which would copy an entire site including administration items.
  • XHTML/Data Definition Blocks – This one is so great because it separates the Data Definition from the page allowing us to integrate different Modules like Photo Galleries into any page without the page being tied down to a specific data definition. So where we used to have multiple Data Definitions for an interior 2 column page like Interior 2 Column and Interior 2 Column with Photo Gallery we will now only need that initial Interior 2 Column. When we put the Data Definition on the XHTML/Data Definition block it allows us to make each Module mobile so that we can use it within any page of the site.

I feel these updates have opened multiple doors and I look forward to seeing how we use them.

By | 2017-02-23T17:01:33+00:00 December 1st, 2010|Web Development|Comments Off on Cascade Server 6.7

Wow – WAW! Exciting stuff ahead for Cascade Server and Google Analytics.

I’m trying to be clever and match my daughter’s use of acronyms.  Yeah, I made it up.  But the first thing that came to my mind was “Wow!  What a Week!” as I sit here on the plane retracing my steps back from San Fran to Atlanta to Greensboro.

FIRST STOP:  Cascade Server Conference (Atlanta)

Four of us (John Scaramuzzo, Justin Klingman, Brad Henry and myself) jumped in a car on Sunday to head to the first stop, Hannon Hill’s Annual Cascade Server Conference in Atlanta.  Those guys really know how to do it.  They put us up w/ great accommodations, provided great information about their current products and got everyone excited about some cool features they have planned for the coming year.  Since many of our clients use Cascade Server, we had the opportunity to chat with some of them that attended the conference (like Silverpop, Los Alamos Labs, Rollins College, University of Hartford).  The Cascade Server CMS product remains strong and well supported as David Cummings, their CEO/President reminded us that Cascade Server has now been out for 7 years and has over 200 clients  (primarily in the Higher Ed vertical).  Pretty amazing for a small company!  It’s interesting to note that Beacon is one of the few Partners that have attended every annual user conference.

Brad Henry and I presented right after lunch – Web Marketing Tactics w/ Cascade Server. (I will provide a link to the video once it’s available).  Brad was certainly the headliner after I gave a quick overview of Beacon.  As always, Brad shared valuable SEO tactics with the audience – tactics that they could take back, apply and make an immediate impact.  However, the highlight was the results of two SEO Audits that Brad provided live for current Cascade Server customers that were in attendance – Auburn University and Health Network System.  He provided very specific advice on areas that can be improved along with confirming areas that were setup well for SEO.  Of course this sparked a nice Q&A session during the last 10 minutes of the presentation.

I also had the pleasure of having lunch with David Klanac, Hannon Hill’s COO, which gave us time to discuss growing our partnership over the coming year to further improve their products and continue providing services to Cascade Server customers.

NEXT STOP:  Google Analytics Certified Partners Conference (Mt. View, CA)

Our presentation ended around 2:30 and Brad & I were off to the airport to catch a flight to San Fran for the Google Analytics Certified Partner (GACP) Conference in Mountain View.  This is Beacon’s FOURTH year of attending this conference and as always, it started off with a bang as Avinash Kaushik, Google’s Analytics Evangelist, delivered another captivating keynote address pointing out that GA is a critical tool in supporting the business decision process, but not the only one.  The real key…the real way for consultants to make money w/ GA is NOT to “puke” data back to clients, but to truly partner with clients.  Roll your sleeves up.  Show ROI.  Develop strategies to grow online conversions and identify the right key performance indicators to clearly show VALUE!  I encourage you to check out Avinash on YouTube or at www.kaushik.net.

We heard from many of Google’s engineers, product managers and marketing staff.  Even more importantly, with ~260 attendees and over 190 GACPs worldwide now, the folks at Google LISTENED to us – about issues we were having with the product, clients, marketing, etc. During one session, we actually lined up and presented desired features and/or changes and the entire group voted on whether each should be a high, medium or low priority.  There are several new development projects underway that will change the landscape further.  Our NDA with Google prevents me from providing any details.  However, I will say the Google Team seems more enthusiastic than ever and they certainly have embraced the GACPs.  The first conference had ~15 attendees; the second, ~30 (which I attended) and now, to see nearly 200 partners is truly amazing.  Momentum is growing.  2011 will see more major advances in GA.

On the personal side, I had to take in a Giants-Dodgers game.  AT&T Park is awesome.  Nothing like sitting in a ballpark next to the bay with a hot dog and a cold one.  It was a blast hearing the packed house chant “Beat LA!  Beat LA!” as the Giants won 2-1.

Giants game after Google GACP conference

LAST STOP:  Home…which there is no place like!

Mark Dirks
Mark Dirks is the CEO for Beacon Technologies, but claims that Senior Web Business Consultant is more fitting. With a Masters Degree from Kansas State in Information Systems and a BS from Wake Forest in Mathematics/Computer Science, his passion is helping clients get the most out of their website and internet technology. Mark co-founded Beacon after spending a couple of years with RJ Reynolds and 13 years at AT&T. Outside of Beacon, he is an avid racquetball and softball player, while also coaching youth baseball and football.
By | 2017-08-15T16:03:45+00:00 September 17th, 2010|Google Analytics|2 Comments
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