I think it is no secret that athletics drives eyeballs, and that includes to university websites. Without getting into the merits, a look back over analytics for the past five years shows that all of our largest traffic spikes come on days of a big game. This week was no exception.
Our site traffic on Saturday (the vast majority of which came during the game) was over twice the traffic we normally see for a daily high during the week. Not so surprising perhaps, but we all know that page hits are vanity metrics – what else more interesting can we see?
Looking at the most popular pages (other than the front page) we find a completely different set of pages being viewed. Frequently Asked Questions and About Texas A&M each received twice the traffic of any other page. After those two, At a Glance, Athletics, Traditions, Admissions, and History of the University round out the rest of the most popular pages. Again, not terribly surprising. The widespread television exposure probably meant that there were lots of people coming to find out more about us. But it represents a definite change from a more normal day in the type of content being read.
The geographic location of visitors bears this out. While Texas is normally by far the most common location, it barely beat out Tennessee. While the southeast was solidly represented, other areas such as the west coast, midwest, and upper east coast were also well represented.
The one metric that really stands out is the device that visitors were using. Only 20% of visits were from a desktop. We normally see more like 65% coming from the desktop, so this represents a major shift. Perhaps they don’t want to leave the TV to go into the other room, so instead pull it up on their phone or tablet?
What can we take away from this? One thing may be that events – whether football or something completely different – have dramatic effects on who comes to our sites and what they are looking for. How many of us actually change our websites to cater to this different demand? We go to great pains to optimize our sites and hit our normal target audience’s needs, but then never touch the content again. If our goal is to present visitors with the information they want, perhaps we need to recognize this trend. Almost 80% of our traffic was from new users. How much more effectively could we have reached this new audience if we had optimized the content for them that day?
So we have been using WPEngine for several months now and been able to go through a major site launch. Sometimes making a move like this can take a while to fully evaluate, so I thought I would just give another update after having used the service for a while.
Honestly, we’ve been very happy with the experience.
WPEngine’s staging feature has been an invaluable tool in getting sites prepped and tested before being easily pushed into production. Another massively helpful use of this is in testing plugin and theme updates before applying them. Simply copy your site to the staging area, apply the updates, and then verify the results. This gives you a nearly sure-fire way of knowing if an update will break your site or not.
Also, we have found their tech support to be great. It is easy to get a hold of someone knowledgeable, and their employees are very empowered to do a lot without having to go through an escalation process. The few times we have had an issue, they were able to quickly find and fix them with one phone call. When we launched Lead By Example, we called to let them know we had an important site coming online. They went out of their way to check out everything for us from their end to make sure it all went smoothly.
They also have a pretty good status page at wpenginestatus.com. You can subscribe to the service and get email alerts for any issues that might affect you. Thankfully it is usually pretty quiet, but it is nice to have the additional notifications.
That’s about it for now. As always, let us know if you have any questions. We’d be happy to talk further with anyone about WPEngine or anything else on your mind.
Modo Labs, the vendor for our university mobile app, has created a new blog series talking about how their client schools are using the product. Texas A&M was selected to be the first university profile in this series. They interviewed our local Marcomm team and asked about how we are using the app, what the most popular links are, how we partner with campus, and much more.
I have been learning more and more about how the map entries work as I get deeper into this project. One thing that winds up being much more important than I had first thought was the Primary Category.
When you edit an event you are given the choice of a Primary Category and as many additional categories as you wish. Whatever you add to the Primary Category will be shown on the public location entry. I had always thought this was largely cosmetic – I had never clicked on that link myself any time I had looked up a location. But, if you do click the link that will act as a filter and the search column will show you all of the other nearby entries with that categorization.
This, then, makes choice of category important. We do want it to be relevant to what our location is, but at the same time we want some consistency that will allow our locations to be cross listed in this sort of search. So the College of Medicine, for example, might be better served by using “College” as its primary category and “Medical School” as a secondary category rather than the other way around.
Categories are not completely open ended – Google has a select list of allowed categories (which unfortunately are not – to my knowledge anyway – published anywhere.) This means that we will have to create our own consistency with a common set us category entries.
One of the most important parts of optimizing your Google Place entry is adding and curating photos. The selection of good photos makes for better engagement with people searching for and viewing your entry, and Google seems to like and favor those entries that include photos.
There are two types of photo entry that you will need to manage – those which you add yourself and those which have been submitted by the public.
Adding your own photos is relatively simple – just navigate into your location’s dashboard page and click the “photos” link. From there add your profile and logo image at the top, and then as many other photos as you wish. The page breaks them down into interior, exterior, team, services, and additional photos. One positive thing that I have noticed already is that when you add photos to one location they can automatically be pulled in and displayed on related locations as well.
Equally important is curating the images that are submitted from the public or pulled in through Google’s web crawls. I have found that many problems with photos on the university entry – from poor quality, to advertising from nearby businesses, to images of a completely different location. There is no magic bullet to update these. I have simply had to get into the location entry and (repeatedly!) use the Report a Problem link to recommend that the photo be removed. This generally takes several attempts, but the system does eventually respond and remove the photos.
Good news on the Google Maps front. Yesterday afternoon our central account was finally accepted as “verified for bulk uploads.” This status means that we can claim ownership of the many location entries that have been created across campus and bypass the normal process of postcards and phone calls. This allows us to get on with the project in earnest.
While this allows us to more easily move forward, we do want to do so deliberately and with a plan. This project is not something that Marcomm can do on our own. I expect that this will be an enormously collaborative project where we work with members of your teams to identify and update content, fix inaccuracies, and promote the locations.
While we are still in the planning phases, one thing that I encourage you do do is create a list of the locations which you know are associated with your college, department, or division. Start looking at information that needs to be updated. As we meet with each of you I can add members from your team as co-owners or content managers so that you can make these updates.
I will hopefully be in touch soon.
We have just started a new project that likely will be keeping us busy for the next two years – organizing, correcting, and promoting campus locations on Google Maps. Those of you who have tried to look up various buildings or offices will understand why this is needed and why it will turn into such an enormous job.
We have over one thousand physical locations on campus, many of which have one or more organizational entities housed within them. While not every one of these has – or should have – their own Google Places entry, the number which do is pretty staggering.
We are therefore starting small. We have engaged Up&Up as a vendor to help us get started on a few iconic campus locations and to provide some training for best practices and for tackling some of the unique challenges our campus offers. Once we get past those locations we will likely form some sort of cross-campus team, either like what we did on the LiveWhale calendar or a special interest group through GoWeb,
I have already started reaching out ad hoc to a few of you to help round up locations and get validations. Many thanks for the cooperation that you all have extended. I think that does great credit to the trust and spirit of camaraderie we have developed in the campus web community over the past several years. I recognize we won’t e able to make this project a success without that kind of continued collaboration. And if I haven’t called you yet, be sure that sometime in the next several months I probably will…
For those of you who may not be on the GoWeb email list, we are having a presentation tomorrow (Friday, September 8) by Up&Up, one of our master contract vendors. They will be discussing why and how to update your department’s information in Google Maps to get better results in searches. Learn best practices for improving your listing and hear what Up&Up will be doing with Marketing & Communications.
In preparation for the Brand Council meeting next week, the Marcomm brand team has created revised brand guide site in hopes that you and your teams will have time to explore it and begin asking questions. We’re calling this release a “brand aid” as the site is not a complete redesign, but more of a reskin. A more complete redesign will be created in the future, but we know that there are immediate questions that need to be answered.
The primary changes you’ll find are in the color palette, design elements, and fonts. As promised, the Aggie Fonts package is available to campus staff at no cost to you. Also, take note of the “Download the Style Guide” button on the first page to get the August 2016 version of the Style Guide.
Be aware that the focus of this brand guide release is for print, but there are elements appropriate for the web. Again the color palette, use of imagery, and approved fonts are areas to pay particular attention to.
One feature that is entirely new to the LiveWhale calendar system that we have never had before was the ability to create RSVP lists directly within a calendar event. While we have never had the need for such an event within Marketing and Communications, other colleges were quite interested in the feature when we were evaluating calenadaring products.
The RSVP list is quite easy to set up. When you create an event, one of the options on the web page will be to add an RSVP form to the event. If you do select that option, it will then let you choose how many people to allow on the list, give you the option of having a waiting list once that fills up, allowing you to add information for a custom message to registrants, and many other options. You can also choose to get an email notification whenever someone registers.
To view and manage your list of responses is just a matter of going to the “Event RSVPs” within your dashboard. This page will give you the full breakdown of responses as well as an option of adding your own notes to any of them. When you are ready for the event, there are built in options to email all registrants, print the list, or export it to CSV (which would normally be put into Excel.)
I have already had questions about whether this is compatible with other campus systems. As of right now there is no interactivity, but this is something that we can explore as a second phase addition.