Web Communications

    A Couple of Useful Check-Lists.

    Key Words

    • Posted on by Doug Widner
    • 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.

    Applauding User Testing

    • Posted on by Doug Widner
    • 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 berea.edu 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 berea.edu and inform the design and development of our upcoming mobile-friendly version. I’ll share more in future posts.

    Web Content Audit Spreadsheets Available

    • Posted on by Doug Widner
    • 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 berea.edu. 

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

      • purging unnecessary and/or out-of-date content from berea.edu
      • 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

    • Posted on by Doug Widner
    • 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!

    Strategic Planning for Web Content

    Web Content Audit … OMG! Part 2

    Web Content Audit … OMG!

    • Posted on by Doug Widner
    • 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. (more…)

    A New Slider

    Boom Bar Banner

    • Posted on by Doug Widner
    • 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 Berea.edu home page. (more…)

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