Please forgive the amount of time it has been since our last post. The last several weeks (months really) have been quite hectic.
After many delays and detours, I am happy to announce that we are ready to launch the new university website. We will be doing a “soft launch” first, adding a link today from the current version of the site over to the new version. This should give us a few last opportunities to collect feedback and make last-minute fixes (expect adjustments!)
Many of you have already been asking about getting templates and about branding direction. These are all coming. Because of the amount of CSS updates we have had to do I haven’t wanted to release the code only have it change shortly thereafter.
Let me take this opportunity to thank all of you who have worked with us, met and talked to us, and otherwise helped in providing feedback and direction. This was truly a campus-wide effort, and your cooperation is a big part of the success that I hope we can all share.
For years, Google has referred to “click here” as “a not-very-optimal way of linking”. But you might have heard that, nowadays, web links should say “click here” or click “here” instead of providing more detailed link text. In fact, one marketer informed me that Google actually prefers “click here.” I was interested in looking up the background of that rumor, since SEO has been a specialty of mine, and I worked as a consultant in that field before I was a Quality Rater for Google.
As I reviewed Google’s revised Link Scheme document, it doesn’t recommend that we add click here, only that we don’t add useless “links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites,” such as There are many wedding rings on the market. If you want to have a wedding, you will have to pick the best ring. You will also need to buy flowers and a wedding dress.
True, according to John Mueller from Google, links in press releases should be nofollowed, but that refers to a link attribute, not the link text. It doesn’t recommend that we add click here. And it doesn’t apply to articles on our own websites, such as Texas A&M Today.
Since we are a government agency charged with making our websites accessible to people with disabilities, the law is more strict with us. Section 508 is being updated to mirror the W3C’s WCAG 2.0 Accessibility standards, which includes the following goal:
“2.4.4 Link Purpose (In Context): The purpose of each link can be determined from the link text alone or from the link text together with its programmatically determined link context, except where the purpose of the link would be ambiguous to users in general. (Level A)”
One reason for that goal is that screen reader users often skim through all the links on a web page, and without meaningful link text, all they would hear would be “click here” “here” and “here.”
For further reading
Campaign tracking codes don’t require advance setup or technical expertise. Any writer and marketer can and should include tracking codes in the links they send or tweet out, especially if it’s an ad they’re paying for. That way, using Google Analytics, they can see which of their efforts is most effective.
Here’s an example of a link:
(Okay, that part was easy).
Here’s an example of a link with tracking code:
The code may look complicated, but here’s the breakdown:
?=twitter or facebook or tribune and so on.
utm_medium=social or email or banner or adwords and so on.
&=12thman-Launch or 04/08/2015-email and so on.
&=tweet-graphic, website-link or get as specific as you want, to see which link or ad brought the most traffic.
Even better, use & instead of &. It’s more correct and may avoid problems.
To analyze your campaign results, log into Google Analytics and, from the left menu, choose Acquisition > Campaigns > All Campaigns. Then under Primary Dimension, you can look at your data in different ways:
- Source / Medium
Last week our team met with Kyle Boatsman from the university accessibility office to review our development copy of the new university website and identify any weak spots. While talking to Kyle we learned something interesting that I had never heard before, and which I think is very important for our development projects.
Kyle mentioned that the campus Disability Services office gets more requests for help from people with cognitive impairments than any other type of disability. While this is a known audience for accessibility remediation, we (and I think most web developers) have always thought of vision as the most important accessibility issue to design for.
The key to making sites accessible to people with cognitive impairments is to make content easy to find. The biggest challenge for these users (and the nature of most of their requests to Disability Services) is locating content on the site.
This, then, draws accessibility and usability even more in line with one another. It also has implications for site design. We need to make sure that our most important content is identified and easy to find on the page. Pages should be easy to read and navigate. It may also mean that we reconsider extraordinarily long-scroll pages with multiple areas of content.
Luckily we had already embraced these principles from a usability standpoint, so the new design is in good shape accessibility-wise as well. This is a good example, though, to show that what we consider general good practices often have a more specific importance than we might realize.
The annual Texas A&M University System Technology Summit is scheduled for February 16-18, 2016 and it’s going to be bigger and better than ever! When it comes to next year’s training budget, Summit is going to get you the biggest bang for your buck.
This year we are crowdsourcing the Summit! You’ll find us on reddit at /r/techsummit. Want to hear about something specific at Summit this year? Know a colleague that would make an extraordinary speaker? Didn’t like the fish for lunch? Join the conversation and submit or vote on ideas.
The 2016 Technology Summit offers:
- A beautiful and convenient location at Moody Gardens in Galveston, Texas (did we mention you can visit the rainforest during the conference?)
- A valuable opportunity to network and learn from colleagues across the system
- A variety of sessions across six tracks, from technical to leadership and project management
Summit registration opens June 25th, so bookmark techsummit.tamu.edu and check back to get in on early registration pricing.
I have heard many musings about Google+ in the last several months – it is going away, there are so few people on it that it is useless, it is a waste of time, and quite a few more. Granting that the exposure that you could get on the Google+ platform is inconsequential compared to posting on such platforms as Facebook and Twitter, is there still value in maintaining a presence on Google+?
If your only concern is social media, then perhaps not. If, however, your goal is driving traffic to your website or expanding the reach of your message then the answer is a resounding YES!
The screenshot below should be enough to convince you. This was taken from a search today for “Texas A&M University.”
When we have good Google+ posts they show up on the Google Knowledge Graph – the search page’s right column. This is the area of the page that people not familiar with the term they are searching for look first, usually even before the page links returned. This means that we in effect have the ability to put whatever message we want to convey on the front page of the search returns. You (literally) can’t buy that kind of exposure.
Perhaps, then, we need to shift away from thinking of it as a companion social media platform (where its value is rather limited) and more to a companion to our search efforts and broadening the overall reach of our messaging.
7 Things You Should Know About Web Accessibility: #7 – What are the implications for higher education?
Just as we consider things like usability, security, and SEO, we need to consider accessibility. Accessible websites provide a better experience for everyone and help the University comply with legal mandates for higher education. Colleges and universities can commit to web accessibility through policy, but it also takes an investment in the employees that build websites – professional development to give them the knowledge and skills to do the work.
Commit to Accessibility
Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day. Many organizations are hosting events or providing resources to help people learn more about accessibility issues. Wherever you’re at in your web accessibility knowledge, it’s a great time to learn more.
Over the last several years, there’s been a steady increase in legal advocacy geared toward making web content accessible. In higher ed., that includes college and departmental websites as well as online course content. There’s no indication that this trend will change, so I expect web accessibility to continue to be an important consideration for colleges and universities. In the short term, I think we’ll actually see an increase in demand for accessibility specialists. In the long term, I think we’ll see that strategy shift to training and hiring more people that understand accessibility within the context of a broader expertise. For example, instructional designers that understand universal design and web professionals that understand general web accessibility issues.
Video and Captioning
A particular focus for higher education will be online video. The propagation of flipped courses and other video-heavy instruction methods has brought a great deal of attention to the accessibility of these formats for students with disabilities. The National Association of the Deaf’s (NAD) recent lawsuit against Harvard and MIT is the first of what I expect to be many such cases.
If you’re not already captioning your videos, start. Incorporate captioning into your production process. Captioning provides a number of benefits for your visitors, and like most things, it’s much easier to do on the front-end than to go back and add later.
Educause covers this topic pretty well. In short:
“IT accessibility requires specialized knowledge and therefore requires an investment in training of faculty and staff.” 7 Things You Should Know About IT Accessibility
The same is true for web accessibility. Like any aspect of website quality, it requires expertise to implement and do well. From an organizational perspective, that requires an investment, but improving the quality of our websites certainly makes the investment worth it.
How much does it cost?
It depends, but it’s probably less than you think. If you’re familiar with web standards and current best practices, you’re already well on your way. Many web accessibility problems come up because general web standards aren’t being followed, not because a developer is unfamiliar with a particular accessibility issue. For the folks who spend their days working on the web, sitting through a couple of workshops, reading some articles, and maybe going to a conference will set them up well for success. Here are some options for training and resources:
- Web Accessibility Essentials (TAMU)
- Web Accessibility Advanced (TAMU)
- AccessU (annual conference in Austin)
- WebAIM (online articles; onsite training; training in Utah)
If you’re looking for something in particular or have questions about raising the accessibility expertise of your entire team, get in touch with us: IT Accessibility at Texas A&M.
It’s the right thing to do.
There are many people who believe providing equal access to websites is simply the right thing to do. The web is an important resource for many, many services. We get our books online. We take classes online. We do our shopping, pay our bills, and watch our favorite TV shows – all online. Providing equal access to a website means providing equal opportunity to use and enjoy everything it has to offer.
However, whether you share that conviction or not, we need to consider the core values of the University. Our time working at A&M should be a reflection of those core values, and providing equal access is certainly a part of that.
It’s the smart thing to do.
Here are some of the benefits of web accessibility, beyond equal access:
- Improved SEO. Some of the best practices for building an accessible site will also help your search rankings (e.g., captions; transcripts; descriptive headings, links, and page titles).
- Larger audience. About 1 in 5 people has a disability in the U.S, and that number is growing as our population ages. Not all disabilities will affect the way someone uses your website, but there are many that do.
- Better usability. In the process of implementing good accessibility practices, you’ll often find and correct issues that were causing problems for all your users. Poor color contrast is a great example of that.
- Marketable skills. Whether you intend on continuing your work in higher education, moving to the private sector, or starting your own company, there is going to be a demand for web professionals that understand accessibility standards. You’ll increase your value by having experience in this area.
It’s the law.
Even if all the other justifications don’t convince us, there’s still this: A&M is required to have accessible websites and web applications. Federal civil rights laws, namely the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. Both of these laws require A&M to provide equal access, including fully accessible technology. The University, A&M System, and state of Texas all have similar regulations to align with the federal mandate.
The IT Accessibility website links to all the regulations, if you’d like to look at them in detail. Alternatively, the University of Washington has a great page that summarizes the resolution agreements and lawsuits in higher education. I find reading the resolution agreements to be far more instructive than trying to parse through the regulations themselves.