14 02, 2019

10 Things They Hate About Your Higher Ed Site

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

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

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

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

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

1. Poor Navigation

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

2. Clutter

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

3. Too Many Pop-ups

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

4. Not Mobile-Friendly

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

5. Endless Scrolling

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

6. Stock Photos

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

7. Auto-play Videos

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

8. Slow Loading Times

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

 9. Broken Links

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

10. Lack of Accessibility

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

Beacon Knows Web Design

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

20 09, 2018

Testing for Accessibility

By | 2018-09-21T09:00:26+00:00 September 20th, 2018|Categories: Digital Marketing, Web Development|Tags: , , , |

Accessibility is a big deal in the world of internet marketing. After all, what good does a large investment in your most prominent digital marketing channel do if no one can see the information you want them to have or the products you want them to buy?

In today’s digital marketplace, it’s no longer good enough to cater your website just to your primary audience. All websites have to meet certain accessibility standards that guarantee that users across all walks of life, and with varying degrees of physical ability, are able to easily access and navigate your site’s web pages.

In a recent blog post, we discussed the importance of considering accessibility during the website design process. In this post, we’ll take the next step and discuss the best ways to test your design for accessibility concerns.

The Basics

The practice of accessibility testing helps website owners understand where their websites may be falling short on today’s accessibility standards and drive corrective action to optimize user experience. These are critical steps that should be completed prior to the launch of any re-designed site and continued throughout the site’s lifetime.

It is best to take a proactive approach to web accessibility testing, and the reasons why are compelling. A fully accessible website benefits users across the board, and is more likely to deliver the conversion rates and engagement you are seeking.

As with any business process, before you begin, define your goals and strategy for accessibility testing and remediation of found issues.

Site Scan Tools & Understanding Results

There are several tools that can help you tackle testing. At Beacon, some of the programs we employ for this purpose include SiteImprove, SortSite and Wave (WebAim).

Reports and analysis provided by these automated testing tools can help you identify any existing accessibility concerns, including quality of content, readability of text, link quality and other user experience problems. The programs can also be engaged to help you track the progress of your accessibility fixes.

How to Tackle Accessibility

Accessibility testing is not a one-and-done process. SiteImprove, SortSite and Wave can help us with initial analysis and are great for catching many accessibility problems. However, they are not enough for a comprehensive approach to testing. Not all design elements are scannable. As such, automated tests should be supplemented with a healthy dose of regular, manual testing.

Best practices call for consistent testing throughout the development process. This helps to track progress made on discovered issues and known concerns. It can also help you discover new issues throughout development and after launch.

Be sure to test your site in various browsers, devices and screen sizes and positions. It’s also a good idea to perform regression testing, to make sure that your site works with older versions of software.

Because your site is likely to change over time, accessibility testing should be done on a consistent basis even after your site launches – preferably, every quarter. This helps to ensure that the fixes you implement continue to achieve the intended results. It also helps to hold new content/pages to established standards.

Beacon Knows Accessibility Testing & Remediation

Could your site benefit from an accessibility audit? Give Beacon a call at 866.807.2838. We’re here to help.

30 06, 2017

Top 5 Accessibility Items to Review in a Website Redesign

By | 2017-07-17T07:14:26+00:00 June 30th, 2017|Categories: Higher Education, Web Development, Creative Design|Tags: , , |

Accessibility is a hot topic and an expansive one, too. I’ve been preparing for some upcoming speaking engagements with accessibility being the main focus. The first of these engagements is the eduWeb Digital Summit on August 6-10. This seems like a good time to share some thoughts regarding accessibility, WCAG guidelines and 508 compliance.

Additionally, I’d like to leave you with a list of 5 important accessibility items to review while in the midst of your next site redesign.

Accessibility Overview

Often, when administrators or oversight committees are asked to consider website accessibility while planning their institution’s website redesign, they think only in terms of addressing under-served users such as the elderly or visually disabled. Accessibility doesn’t simply address the needs of the disabled user. Adaptations and modifications made to address under-served users have broader implication, frequently enhancing the experience for all users. Designers and developers understand this and design with the idea that what is good for one is most often to the benefit of all.

Accessibility almost always enhances a website’s usability.

For example, incorporating design for those with diminished motor skills is always a good idea. It will enable all users to view your website without having to use a mouse. By doing so, you’ve also made it easier for any user to navigate the site and spend some time there. User engagement improves and, if you’re operating an online storefront, sales go up as well.

It goes without saying that any and all websites should factor accessibility into their design. To that end, WCAG recommendations and 508 standards have been established as guidelines to ensure a positive user experience for all. These guidelines have peripheral benefits, as they often overlap with best practices for mobile design and SEO. Still, there are many, many sites that remain inaccessible to a large number of users even today.

5 Accessibility Items to Review

With this in mind, I’ve comprised an abbreviated list of important accessibility items to consider when redesigning one’s website. Bear in mind that while I’ve listed 5 important accessibility items, this list is hardly complete and is meant only to provide a high level overview of what’s involved. Consider:

  1. Clear and Logical Design – This includes clear and intuitive navigation, contrast between text and backgrounds, proper use of color and more.
  2. CMS that Supports Accessibility – You’ve already considered functional requirements. Not all content management systems meet WCAG accessibility requirements. Know this from the start.
  3. Content Structure – Use headings and lists so as to clearly organize information. Use clear title attributes and page titles. Consider skip navigation for users of screen readers.
  4. Keyboard Accessible Functionality – Users with motor skill deficiency depend on keyboard accessibility to navigate your site. Other users benefit from added efficiency thanks to keyboard accessibility guidelines.
  5. Accessible Forms – Using JavaScript in forms often means that they are not accessible by keyboard alone. Testing your forms for keyboard accessibility is an imperative.

Once the items listed above have been fully considered and incorporated into the new design, the all-important testing phase begins.

Testing for Accessibility

Accessibility and usability are undeniably congruous. The benefits extend beyond just the user experience and into SEO and mobile performance. So take the time to test and test again. It’s time well invested. Fortunately, the WC3 provides a list of recommended web accessibility evaluation tools.

A Few Final Words

I look forward to seeing many of you at the upcoming eduWeb conference in August. I’ll discuss the topic of accessibility in more detail at that time. In the meantime, please comment below. Share your thoughts and experiences. We’ll pick up where we left off at the conference. See you then.