Key Words

Another important lesson we’ve learned through our usability tests is the importance of key words.

One of our tasks in a subset of our usability testing was this: Arrange a visit to campus. The key words here are “visit campus.” Unfortunately, two separate tracks use those key words and end up describing significantly different purposes.

One track belongs to Admissions and the other to the college Visitors’ Center.

The “visit campus” track that belongs to Admissions is targeted to prospective applicants and their families. A visit to campus for a face-to-face interview with an admissions counselor has both prerequisites and specific outcomes. There are on-line forms to fill out and several web pages to peruse. If you read carefully you will come to understand the nature of this proposed visit to campus. If, on the other hand, you merely scan, you could end up wasting your time.

The Visitors’ Center “visit campus” spiel is tourist-directed. Its focus is on campus tours, student crafts and what else can be seen and done on and around the campus.

Some of our testers answered the task to “arrange a visit to campus” by explaining the admissions process that begins by filling out a “request a visit” form.

Our take away on that experience was to compose this short note and embed it in the right side bar of the Admission’s “Visit Our Campus!” page:

Blurb about tourist visits.





Blurb about tourist visits.

Applauding User Testing

I have become a Huge Fan of usability studies also known as user testing. Our team has finished several dozen user tests. The result of each test is a video of the test subject’s computer screen while s/he tries to complete a “task” on our web site. The test subject is also talking to us (being recorded), keeping us apprised of why he’s doing what he’s doing, what problems or surprises he runs into. For our purposes a single user test involves about 5 tasks to accomplish and 5 testers from a predetermined demographic (e.g., age, income range, U.S.-based, etc.).

Some of the things we’ve learned so far:

It’s true that some web users prefer “navigation” and others prefer “search.” The “navigators” look for landmarks on the page and click deeper until they begin to feel they’re on the right track, give up, or they accomplish the task. The “searchers” go straight to the search function and enter keywords they’ve derived from the task. The take-home? Web sites have to employ both navigation and search. Tabs and hyperlinks need to use language the visitor understands and can associate with the task at hand. Search functionality needs to work well, serving up a list of possible pages with enough detail for the user to associate the appropriate list item with the task.

It’s also true that visitors to your web site will check the home page (at least) from top to bottom. They expect the persistent “homepage link” to be in the top left of every page and the search function to be obvious in the top right. If they don’t find an appropriate link in the space between the header and footer, they will scan links listed in the footer.

So called “sliders” are variously animated ways of presenting images and info graphics typically at or near the top of homepages and landing pages. Dozens of subsites in use sliders to engage their visitors. Many of the slides contain text and often the slide hyperlinks to a page of related information. We’ve learned from our user tests that depending on a slider to get visitors to a certain point is a bad idea. The predominant animation at work in a slider is the periodic change-out of every image — typically every few seconds — and many sliders contain enough images to mean any one image will only be visible for a few seconds per minute. If the link your visitor needs is not readily apparent in the slider, the visitor is not likely to hang around.

So far what we’ve learned from our user tests has given us dozens of ways to improve the current and inform the design and development of our upcoming mobile-friendly version. I’ll share more in future posts.

Web Content Audit Spreadsheets Available

The 2014 Comprehensive Web Content Audit (WCA) has been completed. We recorded link counts, broken links, subjectively AND objectively reviewed text, images, video/audio, tables and lists, last date administered, by whom … and more for nearly 4,000 pages in

This was “step one” in our on-going process of…

  • purging unnecessary and/or out-of-date content from
  • building better subsites
  • making corrections to achieve “best practices”
  • increasing our “discoverability” by search engines
  • providing harmonious information streams across our constellation of subsites

… and all of that is a prelude to a new web design with significant increases in functionality.

If you are eager to review web team’s audit of your subsite, email me and I’ll send you an Excel™ spreadsheet that contains 20 sets of findings for each page in your subsite. Put “Request WCA report” in the subject line of your email to me.

Finish This Sentence Before You Start Writing

I’m savoring a book titled Letting Go of the Words by Ginny Redish. It’s specifically about writing content for the web. Here’s the sentence she thinks we all should “finish” before we start writing:
I’m writing this so that (who?) (can do what?).
Of course, this exercise is designed to make us think about our site visitor(s) and what they might be looking for in our site. Taking a minute to complete that sentence will help us write for the person and not for the “subject.”

Here’s how I finished that sentence before writing this post: I’m writing this so my web content managers can get a grip on their prose!

Okay, now it’s your turn. Try it!

Web Content Audit Part 2 OMG

This will be a little obscure unless you’ve already read the post titled “Web Content Audit … OMG!” Click to read it (or review it) right now.

There are millions of good reasons to conduct a comprehensive web content audit every now and again, but our most important reason right now is to get our content ready for our mobile-friendly (a.k.a. “responsive”) new design. Until a few years ago, when smartphones started to include web browsers, all the webteams in the world were concerned about making pages look good on laptops or desk top monitors. We argued about screen sizes, but we never considered screens that would fit in the skinniest pocket.

With the advent of so-called “smart phones” that included web browsers, and “mini” tablet computers, many websites went to GREAT EXPENSE to build ANOTHER VERSION OF THEIR WEBSITE that would make them more user friendly on those hand-held devices. But! While this two-sites-needed-OMG! was going on some very smart people were betting there was a way to make one site serve both ends. And so, responsive websites were born.

The goal of a responsive website is to

  1. maintain readability (keep the text large enough to read comfortably, no matter how small the screen)
  2. maintain navigability (making it just as easy to browse among many pages of information as it is on a desktop computer)
  3. Order and present text and graphics in a way that makes sense given a certain screen size
  4. Allow rich media (TV, radio, slidshows, etc.) to work regardless of screen size

But some old habits from the desk-top-site-builder-days fall outside today’s magic. Probably the biggest obstacles of all are:

  • “InfoGraphics” and Posters. These are troublesome.
    • ACTION ITEM: Reconsider how you present the information in your infographics and posters. Try migrating to simpler formats.
  • Tables with big cells that contain mixed-media content. At one time, web pages were designed largely by using tables. That was a long time ago. Today’s web designs do not use tables as layout tools. In fact, web designers typically advise NOT TO USE tables for mixed-media content. Responsive technology can handle tabular data remarkably well, but not when you throw in photos, charts and videos, and not if your table has both dozens of columns and dozens of rows.
    • ACTION ITEM: If a mixed-media table or a huge table are absolutely essential you may have to make it a stand-alone file the user downloads rather than opens for perusal on a hand-held device.
  • Graphics and photos that include text. Responsive technology either scales down images for smaller screens and/or ignores photos that are too large (like backgrounds). Graphics or photos that contain text in the image can make for effective communication — unless the image is scaled too small by the responsive theme for the text to be readable, and unless you are a blind or visually disabled person. (Text reading-aloud software won’t detect text that is part of the image.)
    • Try not to use old images with embedded text. Rather, use captions that are “attached” to the image but can be read-aloud by software.

The web content audit will help us flag some of these potential issues.

And to answer your last question about the current web content audit: Yes, all you web content managers will get a copy of our audit results. Stay tuned.

Web Content Audit OMG

The webteam is grumpy. No sense in hiding it. Every free moment is expected to be spent on this nightmarish thing called a “content audit.” I swing by their workstations and their eyes are crossed, brows moist with stress perspiration, grimacing. One of them looked up at me and wailed, “Is there a lav needs cleaning somewhere?”

What, you might ask, is so gruesome about a web content audit?

Twenty facts need to be determined about all 4,000 pages constituting Here’s the facts list:

1-4 = Name of site, title of page, latest revision date, name of web content manager

5 = Number of links in the left sidebar (when present)

6-14 = Number of other links into this site, number of links to other sites, number of links into non-berea sites, number of links to PDFs, number of links to email addresses, number of links to social media sites, number of links to video files, number of links to audio files, broken links.

15-19 = Text review, image review/links, forms review, tables review, lists review (these are subjective answers written out in plain English).

20 = name of the template this page uses.

Answering all these questions about every page inside allows us to discover everything that may be broken or damaged on the page (e.g., we have to actually click on every link to find out where it goes or if it is broken). The more subjective “reviews” give the webteam members an opportunity to think about the efficacy of the element (text, images, forms, tables and lists). While we don’t perform a copywriter’s edit or a graphic artist’s critique, we can suggest when content may be out of date — “It’s a list of events wherein the most recent was December 5th, 2011.”  We need things like images, forms, tables and lists to be described in the audit (even if nothing is wrong with them).

Now you’re asking “Why in the world are you doing this?”

We’re preparing to modernize all of This means a new “look,” some new functionality, and mobile-friendly technology applied throughout. Unless you are completely satisfied with everything in your current website, you are going to like what’s coming. However, in many cases the conversion WILL NOT BE A PAINLESS PROCESS.

In my next post I will discuss some of the things about current sites that may need to be reconsidered before we convert the site.

Let me conclude this post by saying the web content audit we are undertaking will enable us to bring to your desk the whole list of things that need to be “reconsidered” about your current website. Those among you who are current “online” web content managers (meaning you’ve received credentials to make your own changes) are ahead of the game. In fact, you may be able to handle the conversion yourself simply by rebuilding elements that won’t work in our new “responsive” themes and then just changing out the templates when it’s time.

And if it’s not quite that easy, the webteam will be here to help.

A New Slider

I’m happy to report we have a new slider for general use throughout the constellation.

You will see a link to the “LayerSlider WP” plugin in your administrator leftnav when you are in edit mode. It is far more powerful than the Lambert Group sliders (All-in-One, Content) that we had been using.

So far the new slider has been used on this website ( and the home page.

Animated transitions in both 2D and 3D abound with this slider … it can be created in any size … each image can have multiple animated layers … all text is machine readable … there is plenty of on-board “help” and FAQs to get you started. And experimentation is downright fun!

Let me know if/when you deploy your own gorgeous version of this slider. We’ll use this blog to share your creativity and inspire everybody!

Boom Bar Banner

The emergency preparedness exercise scheduled on campus a couple of weeks ago required us to come up with an answer for fast and flashy messaging on the home page. I hope you got to see the “green ribbon” ABOVE the standard banner.

Webteam can activate this plug in on any site and, once activated, web content managers have complete control over when and how they use it. Think about it. Let us know when you want it activated on YOUR site!