21 06, 2018

CMS: Proprietary or Not?

By | 2018-06-25T08:57:11+00:00 June 21st, 2018|Categories: Cascade CMS, Higher Education, Web Development|Tags: , , , |

What’s Best for Higher Ed CMS?

If you’re considering upgrading your school’s website, selecting the wrong CMS can have lasting ramifications. And, with so many options out there, it’s easy to find yourself overwhelmed.

Google “proprietary vs open source CMS,” and you’ll receive over 50 hits to your search query. Some even come with catchy headlines, like: “Battle Royale: Open-Source vs. Closed-Source CMS” and “The Battle of Open Source vs. Proprietary Systems.” Clearly, the debate regarding the best type of content management system is still ongoing… and, apparently, fight-level intense.

There are a lot of content management systems out there, that’s for sure. So, how do you choose the one that best fits your higher learning institution? Understanding the difference between the two main CMS types is a good start.

Let’s start with the definitions. Open source systems, like WordPress and Drupal, are built with source code that’s freely shared with everyone. This means that anyone can apply that source code in any manner they want. The advantages of open source applications is that they can be improved by literally anyone. If there’s a problem, a solution can be crowdsourced from the user community — often quicker than an in-house team with limited man hours.

Proprietary software, on the other hand, is kept secret by the developers. The applications are maintained and updated in-house by dedicated personnel. The advantage with proprietary CMS is that it is often designed for a specific market. There are CMSs out there tailored for the transportation, travel, hospitality, and yes, higher education sectors. Also, whereas open source CMS leaves customization to the end user, proprietary CMS can be set up on the front end for the unique needs of an individual client.

Let’s explore each type further.

Proprietary vs Open-Source: Let the debate rage

If you value portability, ongoing improvement/optimization, and adaptation, odds are good that you’ll be satisfied with a popular open-source platform like WordPress or Drupal.

If your website is built in WordPress or a similar CMS, it’s fairly easy to move into another CMS when and if you so choose. You may also feel secure in knowing that a large developer base is constantly working on improving the features and functionality of the platform. Such improvements are implemented through code updates, requiring very little effort from you and your staff.

However, there are also drawbacks. The code updates can create some technical issues with third-party plug-ins or websites running on older versions of the software. Because the code is available to everyone, it can be an easier target for exploitation and cyber attacks. And, chances are good that your site will require at least some customization, which carries added cost and the potential need for personnel skilled in HTML.

Closed-source programs offer some advantages over their open-source counterparts, chief among them is ease of use.

With proprietary software, there’s never a need for you or your staff to make changes in the code, because the CMS is already fully customized to your site’s unique needs. Any additional development is handled by the vendor. The software also allows for a robust user permission setup, allowing you to easily delegate tasks to appropriate team members.

Additionally, closed-source code has a reputation for being more secure. This makes sense, since potential bad actors don’t have the luxury of parsing the source code for vulnerabilities.

The only drawback with proprietary CMS is portability. While some programs make it fairly easy to transfer website content to another platform, there’s typically no such flexibility for the graphic and structural elements of the site.

The Ruling

So, what type of CMS makes the most sense for higher education? Because it’s better suited for specialized and customized content, we, at Beacon, view proprietary CMS as the better option. Cascade and OmniUpdate, in particular, are two platforms that we work with routinely.

OmniUpdate is specifically dedicated to the higher ed sector. It’s OU Campus platform was designed with features and modules intended for use by universities and colleges.

Cascade is another trusted and reliable CMS application. One of the cooler attributes of this platform is the ability to create flexible templates, which we focused on in an earlier post.

No HTML experience is necessary to work with either one of these content management systems.

Beacon Knows Websites

Want to see how your higher ed website stacks up? Request a free audit by our knowledgeable team and see how you’re doing.

8 01, 2018

Beacon Launches SITEXPRESS for Small Businesses

By | 2018-03-06T09:40:14+00:00 January 8th, 2018|Categories: Web Development|Tags: , |

GREENSBORO NC.  Beacon announces the launch of its all-inclusive, budget-friendly SITEXPRESS product for small to medium-sized businesses.  Packed with Beacon’s 20 years of web technology experience, smaller businesses can now get a high-end, customized website, with all the bells and whistles, to compete more effectively in generating leads and sales online.

“About 3 years ago, we started talking internally about how we could help smaller companies have great websites at a lower cost so they could level the playing field somewhat,” says Keana Lynch, Beacon’s Director of UX Design & Development. “SITEXPRESS contains the best-of-the-best from our designers, developers, digital marketing specialists and technology experts.”

With SITEXPRESS, customers get a dependable website on a platform that has been tested across 10 different device-browser combinations, especially mobile, but is also easy-to-use, SEO-friendly, meets accessibility requirements (for disabled users), and designed to engage visitors.  But that’s not all.  Customers are trained to update their own website and the price includes web hosting, ongoing maintenance/support and Google Analytics setup/reporting.  Wait, there’s more.  Beacon’s digital marketing specialists also created 3 unique upgrade packages, specifically for small business, to facilitate short-term, gradual, or accelerated growth in traffic to your website.  SITEXPRESS is a much more comprehensive, dependable alternative to WordPress.

“We’ve learned that smaller businesses need a turn-key website solution,” says Mark Dirks, Beacon’s CEO.  “With the complexities and changing design trends for websites, many small businesses don’t know what they need, nor have the time it takes to fully leverage the web to grow their business.  Nowadays, your website is the centerpiece for your marketing strategy and typically, the first point of contact for new business.  So we combined all the critical elements into the SITEXPRESS framework and services to make it easier and cost-effective for smaller businesses to stand out among their competitors.”

After the initial setup fee, customers pay a fixed monthly fee of $395 for 2 years, but may cancel at any time without penalty.  “We are confident that customers will like the results and value the support of our team, which is why the contract is not binding,” says Dirks.  “So they get a high-performing website, preserve cash by paying monthly and get a proven partner for support whenever you need us.  Not a bad deal.”

Beacon Technologies is a recognized leader in web design and analytics for Higher Education and Retail/Ecommerce with clients in 45 states and 4 countries.  As one of the first Certified Google Analytics Partners in the U.S., Beacon drives data-driven decision-making & business growth via a proven comprehensive digital strategy.

11 04, 2014

How To Make The Most Out Of Your Web Design

By | 2020-01-29T16:03:39+00:00 April 11th, 2014|Categories: Cascade CMS|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I spend a lot of time inside and outside of work studying design. I think it gets to a point for everyone where design becomes difficult to ignore, as it influences our every day decisions. It’s important to understand design elements and how they not only affect you on a day to day basis, but your customers as well. You can ask yourself the following questions:

How does my target audience perceive my brand?

Does my website’s design go hand in hand with my content?

What kind of experiences are users having when they land on my website?

Is my design making an emotional connection with my customers?

Because websites are so multi-dimensional, there is no one way to answer these questions. It’s an ever changing industry and with new technology comes updates on how we approach design. Lucky for you, Beacon has been in the industry for 23 years. We love answering these questions because these are the questions you have to ask to get to a successfully designed website.

Since being in the website industry, I’ve had the opportunity to wear many hats. This has helped me approach website design and development from every angle with all considerations in mind. Below I have listed a few elements to consider when designs a website.

User Experience

  • A beginners guide to UI design. Read more.
  • How to beat the paradox of choice in UI design. Read more.



  • An introduction to color theory for web designers. Read more.
  • How to get a professional look with color. Read more.
  • Five web design colors that encourage visitors to click that subscribe button. Read more.


  • How to use images effectively in websites. Read more.
  • How to use photography in web design. Read more.

And finally…

In today’s world, your website is one of your most vital marketing tools. If you would like to find out more about how redesigning your website can push your business forward, let us know!

25 11, 2013

Is Flat Design For You?

By | 2016-11-18T14:23:20+00:00 November 25th, 2013|Categories: Web Development|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

As technology and the familiarity with it grows, designers and developers are now more than ever trying to enhance the website design world. Inevitably, this leads to countless passing trends that come and go much like any design industry. Which leaves us begging the question, how do we know what is more than just a trend and does it fit our website needs?

Flat design has been a fairly controversial topic since the beginning. Industry leaders such as Microsoft, Apple, and Google have all jumped on board lending us to believe there may be something more to this. So how can flat design benefit your site?

Flat Design Is Responsive Friendly


Image credit to: www.wpexplorer.com/writer-blog-wordpress-theme

More and more we are finding people are using smartphones as a replacement for their computers. In 2012, more tablets and smartphones were purchased than computers. Because of this, responsive websites have now become a necessity. With the simplistic nature of flat design sizing elements down to fit a mobile device or tablet becomes that much easier. By using a lot of white space and large buttons flat design becomes very flexible when considering responsive website.


Flat Design Is Content Friendly

The mystery of, “What is more important? Content? Or Design?” has been solved. The answer is neither. Both equally important. Design attracts your users, but your content keeps them on your site. So why would you not leverage your design to showcase your content? Flat design’s clean and minimal layouts provide an environment that allows your content to stand out. Content communicated in a simple and clear manner is more easily digested by the user.


 Flat Design is User Friendly

Although minimal, flat design has a high level of focus on aesthetics generally utilizing bright colors and large imagery. This coupled with the elimination of borders and shadows entices the user’s eye to flow across your site with ease. Flat design strips down to the most basic form of design that can be appreciated by anyone.

The goal for any website design is to carry the message of your business across to the user. Your design should always highlight the content and focus on the user’s experience. Here at Beacon, we are constantly researching design trends and movements to ensure that our client’s websites are ahead of their time and solidified as legitimate marketing tools.


4 10, 2013

Progressive Enhancement

By | 2017-08-11T16:23:44+00:00 October 4th, 2013|Categories: Web Development|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I had the privilege of attending “An Event Apart” in Austin, TX this week and feel like I have come home with an abundance of knowledge about leading practices in web development. This conference is an educational session for those passionate about standards-based web design and this year focused heavily on best practices for our multi-device world. Many developers are facing the challenges of 1000s of screen sizes and the multitude of ways people can now access the websites we create. With new devices coming out daily plus fascinating new ways to enhance sites visually and interactively, we sometimes forget that many people are still using older slower browser and devices. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be designing our sites without all the bells and whistles, but we cannot forgot about the other users. At the conference, one topic in general really helped explain how we create amazing sites without leaving anyone out. Progressive enhancement!

What is Progressive Enhancement?

“Progressive enhancement is a strategy for web design that emphasizes accessibility, semantic HTML markup, and external stylesheet and scripting technologies. Progressive enhancement uses web technologies in a layered fashion that allows everyone to access the basic content and functionality of a web page, using any browser or Internet connection, while also providing an enhanced version of the page to those with more advanced browser software or greater bandwidth.”

Basically, progressive enhancement allows everyone, no matter what their browser or internet connection may be, to access a web page and view the basic content and functionality. If you are running a more advanced browser or better bandwidth, you will get the enhanced version of the page.

Progressive Enhancement vs. Graceful Degradation

Both graceful degradation and progress enhancement focus on how a site works in all browsers and devices. The focus and how it affects the workflow is the key between these two methods.


For many years, web designers have been using the principle of graceful degradation to make sure users in older browsers can at least see the content on a site, even if it doesn’t look exactly like the design intended. It allows designers and developers to focus on building the website for the most advanced/capable browsers. Using this method leaves older browsers with poor, but passable experience.


Rather than focusing on browser technology and support, we can focus on the content and how the user will see this content no matter what they are on. The content of your site is the most important element, it’s what brings users to your site and should always be first priority.

So how does Progressive Enhancement work?

It’s best to think of progressive enhancement as different layers. We couldn’t build a home without a solid foundation, the same goes for our websites. Each layer builds on the previous to improve the interactivity on the website without losing a solid functional base.

Content first! Start with your content, marked up in rich, semantic HTML. Having well-thought-out HTML has the advantage of not needing presentation layers to make sense. This also means screen readers, search engine spiders and those on basic mobile browsers will be able to view your content without any distracting formatting issues.

Visual Enhancements (CSS) Once your base HTML and content is ready, you are ready for the visual enhancement layer, CSS.  The majority of desktop and mobile browsers support CSS, though not all support CSS3. The CSS should enhance the content and make the overall user experience better.

Interaction (JavaScript) The final layer of our web site is JavaScript and should be handled last. JavaScript can contribute so much to the usability and user experience of a website. It has revolutionized the way sites work and how we do things online. However, your website should always work without JS and there should be an HTML or server-side scripting alternative. While most web users have JS enabled, there are still some cases where JS is undesirable and not every mobile browser or screen reader has good support for it.

Once you understand progressive enhancement, the concept of it makes sense and is easy to do. We build for the very basic structure and then build out so that no matter what device or speed someone is viewing the site at, they will always be presented with what is important. The content!


4 01, 2012

Flash is Officially Not Being Supported on Mobile Devices

By | 2016-11-18T14:24:47+00:00 January 4th, 2012|Categories: Cascade CMS|Tags: , , , |

Flash is officially not being supported on mobile devices anymore. It’s a good thing for performance and battery life. It also opens up the door for more interesting ways of introducing techniques and effects to your audience.

So, that brings up the question on what people and clients ask. Should we update our site to be mobile friendly? In a short answer yes for the best reach of audience. The amount of people using mobile devices is growing and continues to do so at an astounding rate.

Here at Beacon, we have a team of professionals that can update your Flash site or Flash elements with cross browser and mobile device friendly code. Your site will feel more refined and can even be implemented to work with our great Cascade Server (CMS system). Staying ahead of the curve and keeping your site fresh will keep the visitors and customers coming back for more.

19 12, 2011

Greensboro Housing Authority Site Launch

By | 2020-02-04T10:30:46+00:00 December 19th, 2011|Categories: Beacon News|Tags: , , , , , , |

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!



1 03, 2011

Website Redesign using Cascade Server, March 8th Webinar

By | 2020-02-05T10:56:36+00:00 March 1st, 2011|Categories: Cascade CMS|Tags: , , |

Beacon Technologies is very excited to be hosting an upcoming webinar in collaboration with Hannon Hill, makers of the award winning Cascade Server CMS (Content Management Software).

Are you considering a Site Redesign in 2011 or 2012?  If so, please join us March 8, 2011 from 2 to 3 pm EST.

Redesign projects can be a very challenging and an extremely vital project to the success of your organization.

Beacon has the expertise to support your project from start to finish.  We can help you with the consulting & analysis, requirements gathering & documentation, project management, steering committee engagement, site structure & layout, graphical design, development, content migration, testing, implementation, hosting, support, maintenance, marketing, analytics and upgrades.

We have been managing these types of Cascade Server Redesign projects for the past 6 years.

Beacon knows how to get the job done on-schedule and on-budget.

So please join us for a 30 minute presentation followed up with 30 minutes of Q&A.

Hannon Hill press release: http://www.hannonhill.com/news/blog/2011/Webinar-Hosted-By-Beacon-Technologies.html

16 02, 2011

5 Years Worth of WWW Evolution

By | 2017-08-15T16:10:59+00:00 February 16th, 2011|Categories: Cascade CMS|Tags: , , , |

I just got back from a meeting in New Jersey with one of our long-term client (going on 11 years).  We launched their site in 2000, and did a full redesign and Cascade Server implementation for them in 2006. Now, in addition to online billing and account management enhancements, they want to do a redesign of their five Web sites.

One of my tasks was to present ideas for improvements to their sites in order to bring them into this decade. Admittedly, I had a hard time finding things that needed fixing since in 2006, Beacon did really great job on the redesign, and this client has done a fantastic job of keeping the site looking very professional and modern. While they’re not looking for a start-from-scratch redesign (just a “face lift”), it got me thinking about ways that the Web has evolved in the last five years. Below is a comparison chart that, in my opinion, is what Web development was like “back then”, and the way it is now.

Circa 2006 How it is Today
Most popular browsers: Internet Explorer 6/7. Netscape is still around, but losing market share. Firefox and Safari are on the rise. Google Chrome is just a fleeting thought in the minds of billionaires. Internet Explorer 6 is virtually dead (thank goodness), and Internet Explorer 7 is walking towards the light. Firefox is now the most popular browser, and Google Chrome didn’t exist in 2006. Also, Internet Explorer 8 is all the rage (for those who accept what comes with their computers), and Internet Explorer 9 is in beta. Safari (and Firefox) rule the Mac world.
Everything must be “above the fold” (in the visible region without scrolling). If users couldn’t see it, they didn’t know it was down there. Users are much more Web savvy, and know that there’s more good stuff if you scroll down.
The smaller the font size, the more text you could fit “above the fold”, even though it was sometimes hard to read. Font sizes are getting much larger, thus allowing more users with sight issues to use the Web effectively.
Popups are a great way to highlight small pieces of information without the user leaving the parent page. I bet you have a popup blocker installed (I have two for comfort). Popups are being replaced by JavaScript/CSS-based overlay windows and IFRAMEs.
Web site visitors are willing to read the information you provide, and click several times to get where they’re going. The sheer fact that what they’re looking for exists on your site is perfect. On a functional Web site, if a user can’t quickly do what they came to do, they’re frustrated, or gone. Today, it’s imperative to get a user to where they’re going in 1-2 clicks.
Homepages are for showing off your company’s news, photos, and advertisements. The more stuff, the better (as long as it remains “above the fold”). Your homepage must grab a user’s attention and quickly provide them with access to what they came for (such as a login to manage their account). Only a few news stories are necessary, and a clean, uncluttered look is king.
Users are more willing to figure out how to do something on your site, like “Register for an Account”. This function could be buried on a Tier 2 page. Users are looking for those very simple, catchy phrases to guide them, such as “I want to…”, “I need help”, “Get Started”, “I am a… (consumer, business, etc.)”. Simplicity and fewer words are what attract users, who demand information and functionality quickly.
Your mobile phone is just that…a “phone” (though it may have a camera). It probably flips open and shut. If it has a Web browser, the sites it can bring up are few and far between. But who can even see a Web site on that tiny screen? I don’t know about you, but I’m addicted to my smartphone. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one (given the amount of people who were up at 3am a few nights ago to pre-order Verizon’s iPhone). There is extremely high demand for your Web site to show properly on a mobile device, including smartphones and tablets. Does your site have a mobile version?

Again, this is my perception of how it was, and how it is. Your opinion may differ. But the one thing I’m certain of is that Web sites need a refresh every so often to keep up with rapidly-changing browsers and standards, user demands, and the ever-evolving mobile world. And if you have a beautiful site now, it doesn’t have to take a complete re-do…just a face lift can fast forward your site to today.

4 12, 2010

IE6: “I’m Not Dead Yet”

By | 2017-02-21T11:24:17+00:00 December 4th, 2010|Categories: Web Development|Tags: , , , |

I’ve been with Beacon for almost 11 years.  That makes me feel really old (or dedicated, one of the two).  Thus, it’s really hard for me to fathom that Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 has been with me almost my entire career.  IE6 was released on August 27, 2001.  That was a glorious day back then.  Think about how much IE6 revolutionized how we experience the Web, and how us coders could now start that revolution.  Who knew almost 9 years later, IE6 would be defying our death wishes.

Whenever I think about IE6 and how it should have been long gone from our minds years ago (like Netscape), I think about that scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  You know, the scene where the “Dead Collector” encounters someone trying to put a man onto the dead cart.  Problem is, the man isn’t dead.  He pleads not to be cast off with the forgotten, but his carrier insists that he’s pretty much a goner.  Eventually after a lot of pleading, the man is hit over the head and wheeled away. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out the video below.)

I can’t believe IE6 is still around. And whenever I try to admit that it has to be dead, someone calls and says, “This site doesn’t look right in IE6.”  In fact, according to the W3C Schools browser statistics, 7.9% of users are still on IE6 (April 2010).

Why haven’t those 7.9% users upgraded yet?  I have a few theories, one of which I came up with all on my own, the other I’m quoting from one of our university clients:

  • Many home users don’t know how to upgrade, so they leave well enough alone and continue to use IE6.  I always wondered why we move along so quickly in dropping all other browsers (Netscape, for example).  My theory is that all other browsers do not come pre-installed with Windows,  so it takes know-how and desire to go out and download that browser.  Those users are more apt to keep up with browser versions.
  • At many institutions (such as universities), desktop support personnel lock down machines so that people can’t install other software.  Even if this doesn’t include disabling Windows Update, this feature only downloads & installs critical patches…IE upgrades are considered optional.  Thus, the machine never gets upgraded to the next version of IE.

So what’s a Web Designer to do?  The way I see it, we have two options:

  1. Drop IE6 support altogether.  Give IE6 users a message stating that this site will not work properly in IE6, and they should upgrade.  (Translation:  Join us in this decade.)
  2. Live with it.  Continue to code for IE6, and enjoy the daily challenge.

The good news?  IE6’s market share has been dropping about 1% every month.  If this trend continues, by the end of 2010, IE6 will be gone!  We developers will get to do all of that fancy XHTML/DHTML/CSS 2.0/JavaScript programming without having to worry about IE6’s attitude.

IE6 isn’t dead yet.  But IE6, enjoy your time left:  “You’ll be stone dead in a moment.”

Will we have this same discussion in a few years for IE7?