Do you have web projects that need to be done but you don’t have the staff to do them? Have you been thinking about submitting an RFP to have a website developed? If so we have good news for you.
Several month ago Marketing & Communications submitted an RFP to create a pool of vendors to be granted a master contract for web development. We, along with members of the GoWeb team, evaluated the submissions and came up with a list of vendors who we believe will do high quality work at a reasonable price. University Purchasing has now gotten everything approved and into the BAM system, so we are ready to announce the pool to the campus community.
Having these master contracts in place means that if you have a web project you can contract directly with any of the vendors in the pool for any project without having to go through the RFP process. The list and a brief description of each firm’s specialties is located at http://marcomm.tamu.edu/toolkit/web/web-development-vendors.html.
If you have questions or would like more information about one of the vendors on the list please let me know.
Google recently released a limited access to Data Studio, which allows us to create highly visual analytics reports. Their product description page shows two examples of how different – and how impressive – the reports can look. We all know that presenting the standard Google Analytics dashboard to our decision makers is largely ineffective. There is simply too much information formatted in a hard to read manner. Data Studio can make your analytics effective simply by making them read by the people who need to be reading them.
Creating a Data Studio report is similar to using such services as Gliffy or Visio. You can select whatever metrics that you want to display, position them on the page, and style them to reflect your own preferences or office branding. Almost any metric that you can access through the GA dashboard should be accessible from within the Data Studio interface.
I have recently created a few reports and given them to my decision makers, and the results were beyond spectacular. One administrator spent several hours looking at the Data Studio report on the day that I sent it, probably more time than had been spent in total on the typical dashboard reports that I had been sending for two years. This review resulted in a meeting of that particular project team and decisions being made to change plans on how to proceed on it. The idea of “data driven decisions” suddenly made sense…because now they had data that was accessible to them. Of course this result will not be the typical response, but it does show that repackaging our analytics data into easy to read reports is an effective way of increasing its perceived value and even the amount of attention and use it receives.
One of the basic claims of many bulk email platforms is the ability to track when the email is opened, which they call the number of “opens.” They usually do this by adding tracking codes or transparent images that are tied to the recipient’s email address. The Maestro system on campus does not have this feature activated, which is probably a good thing. At the same time, we have not been able to gauge how many of our readers open the Texas A&M Today newsletter when they receive it.
Even those platforms that do keep record of “opens” do not always make this available to your Google Analytics. Not a requirement, but it is convenient to have all of the information in one place when you start to look at your site usage.
By adding campaign tracking codes to links in the email, we were able to see that many of our news stories became popular just because they were featured in the email newsletter. But until now, we couldn’t tell how many people open this email newsletter when they receive it.
We recently built a method within Google Tag Manager that does allow us to track when (but not by whom) our emails are opened… at least if we define “open” as opening the mail and downloading images. Using the Google Analytics Measurement Protocol, we created an “image” (really just a URL) that stores an Event Category of “email,” an Event Action of “open,” and the title of the news story as the Event Label. This works because the email thinks it’s a real image and tries to download it, sending the information to Google Analytics.
Our analytics show that recent issues of the Texas A&M Today newsletter were opened by more than 20,000 people the first day they were sent, 3,000 the next day, and 1,000 the third day.
We have been playing a bit with the streetview phone app for creating our own photospheres. The cool thing about these is that we can add them directly into Google Map entries. Check out this view, for example, of the Architecture Quad behind our building. Definitely not ready for prime time yet, but it is a start. We are also seeing a demand, with several hundred views over the weekend without much advertisement.
Our long term goal will be to use these test photos to build up our expertise so that we can tackle a new version of the campus virtual tour site. Combining these panoramas with the Campus Bird campus map framework we intend to give the tours a much needed facelift.
Ask a random student on campus where they are from and it has always seemed like the majority will say they are from Houston. Coming from the Dallas area myself, and knowing how many of my own high school classmates came to A&M, that has always seemed surprising to me.
Looking through our analytics, though, the numbers support that anecdotal conclusion. One of the pieces of information that you can get from analytics is the geographic location of the user – from the country level all the way down to the city. While there is some margin of error when you look at the by-city numbers, they are accurate enough to make some comparisons.
Unsurprisingly, College Station is at the top of the list, with just over one-third of traffic coming from here. That makes sense given the amount of student, faculty, and staff traffic that we get. What did surprise me, though, was how much more more traffic we get Houston than anywhere else in the state. Just over 15% of traffic comes from Houston – more than Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio combined.
These numbers are fairly consistent across all of our sites. I have started watching the combined view of all university sites that have joined in on our campus-wide tracking code and there isn’t any change after adding several colleges, departments, and offices.
Whether it is proximity, the number of old-Ags living in Houston, or some other factor, the percentage is significant enough that it should be taken into account if we ever do location-based advertisement or programs.
Recently, we completed our move to WPengine to host all of our WordPress sites, including this blog. It involved some untangling of multi-site installs, as well as the normal bumps that come with moving to a new way of doing things, but overall the process was fairly smooth. We feel like this move will help us in the future, not only with keeping everything updated and current, but also speeding up our process of getting out new sites as the need arises.
I love running my own machines, but in this instance it just made too much sense for us to move to a hosting service. WPengine was very helpful on the few occasions when we needed it and were very knowledgeable. There are also a number of features that will be very useful in the future that were not easily done on our end. In all, we have been happy with the results so far and are looking forward to being a little more flexible and agile in the future.
There have been a number of groups around campus that have moved to WPengine. If you are considering a move to a hosted service, or have other questions, feel free to reach out to us. We’d be happy to discuss it with you.
Note: This is opinion, of course, but what’s your opinion? What would you add or subtract? What web design trends do you think have passed their “sell-by” date?
* infinite scroll
* hamburger menus on desktop
* autoplaying videos
* dropdown menus
* disabling zoom
* gray text in white
* articles split across multiple pages
* full-width hero images
* icon fonts
* tables for layout
* browser sniffing
* device detection
And another perspective:
Earlier I mentioned that we had updated the university’s mobile app. Part of that same project was to bring our mobile website into line with the app’s content. In the past the two had been separate, and in some cases competing, platforms. Now they include the same content, presenting a consistent user experience for mobile browsing on our campus.
This was accomplished through the framework that powers the mobile app. In many ways it should be thought of as a content management platform rather than an app publishing platform. It allows us to create the content in the back-end application and then publishes both to a native app and to a mobile website.
Another project that we just pushed out this week is a new Aggie Traditions site. We began this site almost two years ago, but it kept getting put off for other projects. Unsurprisingly, then, I am overjoyed that it is finally live.
This began as a pet project. I had noticed that there were several websites about traditions across campus. The Traditions Council had one, the MSC had one, Athletics had one, and even HR did. There was a lack of consistency of quality and even of content across these sites. I therefore reached out to the other site owners and we got together to plan a single site that could elevate our traditions and which we could all support.
Getting it finished took some maneuvering – tying it to the mobile app which did have a set-in-stone due date – but we are all happy with the results.
The biggest project we have been working on for the last year is not even a website, it is a complete overhaul of our university mobile app. We began this process over a year ago, and it finally went live on Monday.
It is available on the app stores now, either as an update to the previous app or a new download if you do not already have it installed. If you don’t, I highly encourage you to go and give it a look.
The new app, based on the Kurogo platform, will be a significant improvement over the previous version. Our guiding principle in the project has been to identify content that will be useful for our campus users and get it within the app. The Kurogo platform helps us in this by providing the concept of personas – instead of trying to cram all of the content onto a single dashboard the users can select their audience type and see a screen with content relevant to them.
We do not see this as a one-and-done project. While Phase I consisted largely of replicating the content from the previous version of the app into the new platform, the entire project will be a multi-phase process where we continually bring in more content, more services, and more audiences.
Our hope is that this can become an important content platform that is embraced and wholeheartedly used by our campus community.