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TAMU Webmaster's Blog

Information and insight from the A&M Webmasters

Updated Departmental Site

October 17th, 2017 by Erick Beck

Marcomm has been so busy for the past couple of years working on external projects.  This has caused support for our own websites to badly deteriorate.  We have taken the first step in turning that around.  We have removed the previous version of the Division of Marketing & Communications website and stood up a Phase 1 replacement.

Screenshot of Marketing and Communications home page

The content is pretty bare at the moment.  The objective of Phase 1 was to remove the old, bad content and at least replace it with a stub that contains only the essentials.  We will be beginning Phase 2 shortly to flesh it out into a fully developed site filled with useful content.

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017 Future Projects, Ongoing Projects No Comments

Google Analytics Documentation Available

October 4th, 2017 by Erick Beck

We tried to use last week’s GoWeb presentation on web analytics as a way of re-energizing our campus-wide discussion on analytics.  As part of that, the GoWeb analytics special interest group (SIG) has updated our documentation site.

These pages will explain what Google Analytics is all about, what we are trying to accomplish with the campus-wide effort, and give instructions on how to set up and manage your own analytics. Whole books have been written on this topic, so we are obviously presenting an overview, but we hope that this will be a good start for those of you on campus who want to become more active in your own analytics use.

Wednesday, October 4th, 2017 Analytics No Comments

Upgrade to CentOS 7

September 26th, 2017 by Charlie Harris

In my post about Ansible at the beginning of the year, I mentioned that we made the decision to migrate all of our virtual servers to CentOS 7 from SuSe Enterprise. The process is coming along steadily and we now have all of our HTML production and test servers, as well as our application test server, moved over to CentOS 7.3.

Other than a few differences, the change has been very smooth and easy. The major issues have not been related to changing distros, but some of the packages. The move from Apache 2.2 to 2.4 was probably the biggest just due to the syntax changes. Most of those are fairly minor though just to get the sites up and running again under the new version.

The main reason for the move was that we wanted to align ourselves more with what TAMUIT was moving toward. They have been migrating a lot of things over to CentOS as well, and we decided that now was a good time. A lesser reason was that when it comes to help, especially online, there is just so much more out there for Redhat/Fedora/CentOS than SuSe.  Most of the time this wasn’t a real issue, but every once in a while we ran into things that where much harder to troubleshoot in SuSe than if we had been using a Redhat or Ubuntu based distribution.

I will miss zypper though. I still think that overall it is a much better package manager than most any other one I’ve used. Yum is not bad now that I’m getting more used to it, but zypper just had so much built into it that makes things just a little easier to do and find.

Overall we are happy with the change and look forward to continuing with CentOS for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, September 26th, 2017 Systems No Comments

Move In Day

September 22nd, 2017 by Joe Prather

We are excited to have Res Life Move-In Day on the app again. It was even better than last year with more hits. Using CampusBird to display parking locations, drop-off zones, and dorms. Giving users useful tips and hints on the landing page.

Friday, September 22nd, 2017 Mobile App, Uncategorized No Comments

Howdy Week Success

September 13th, 2017 by Joe Prather

Howdy Week on Texas A&M mobile app was the biggest success yet based on traffic, it received 198,104 views in one week.

This was the first year Howdy Week was inside the TAMU App agenda module. We look forward to next year being a bigger success.

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017 Mobile App No Comments

Using GTM to block test and dev sites

August 28th, 2017 by Erick Beck

I would guess that few of us remove our Google Analytics or Tag Manager calls from our site code when it is on a test or development server.  Depending on your setup, this could mean that hits to these environments increment (and distort) the analytics for your production sites.  A simple use of a blocking exception can prevent this.

This process is even simpler than previous examples since we don’t have to use a GA variable at all. Here, we just set up a blocking trigger that fires when the page hostname contains “test” or “dev” or whatever string you use to differentiate your test environment from production.   Then add this trigger as an exception on your site’s tag and none of your test/development sites will add to your analytics count.

Monday, August 28th, 2017 Uncategorized No Comments

Blocking Triggers Refined

August 23rd, 2017 by Erick Beck

In my last post about blocking triggers I showed how you can use exceptions to prevent Google Tag Manager from firing particular tags.  Because the HotJar tag contains the service ID value for that site we had to create individual tags/triggers for each site.

But what about when you have a more generic tag that is not linked to a particular service ID?  For example, you want to include an HTML or javascript snippet, but you still want to be able to control which sites it is or is-not displayed on.  You could create individual tags/triggers for each site as we did with HotJar, but there is actually a better solution.

The process starts the same, by adding a variable to your GTM.  This time, though, we will use the “Custom Javascript” variable type instead of the “Constant.”  The javascript we use then sets the URL of all of our sites that we want to exclude into an array.  It then loops through the array and tests whether the page being viewed is in that array.  If it is, then the function returns “true.”

At that point we can continue the same process that we showed for the HotJar tags.  Add a trigger that executes when the variable value returns “true” and then make that trigger an exception.  Now you are excluding that tag from firing only on the sites that you put in your javascript array.  To add or remove sites, just update the array in the variable and republish your tag workspace.

There are several other variable types. I have barely scratched the surface.  DOM Element looks particularly interesting.  This or another combination might actually solve the problem of needing duplicate tags for our HotJar implementation.  I will let you know if we ever get that far.


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Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017 Analytics No Comments

Blocking Triggers in Google Tag Manager

August 17th, 2017 by Erick Beck

In looking at how to optimize our sites download time, one common recommendation is to combine all javascript into a single file.  An even better piece of advice – if there is javascript that your site doesn’t need, don’t download it in the first place.

One of the areas that we identified as being bloated was how we ran our HotJar heat map implementation through Tag Manager.  HotJar tags require an individual id number corresponding to the site being monitored.  Since we have several dozen sites, that means several dozen tags.

The default for tags is to run on all pages.  This meant that all of our sites were firing off all of the HotJar tags, regardless of whether they were even for the proper site.  Realistically that might not amount to much, but I knew we could do better.

One solution might have been to create different triggers for each site, but that would have quickly become unwieldy.  After stumbling across an article talking about trigger exceptions I decided to go down that route.  I first created a variable “Block Sites” with the value of “block” (it could have been “1” or “true” or whatever.)  From that I created the trigger “Block All Sites” that consisted of the simple comparison “When Block Sites = block” (in essence, “when 1=1”.)   The key is to then add this as an exception to your exiting tag firing triggers.  So the tag fires normally if the exception is not present, but does not fire at all if the exception is present.

In theory, since exception prevents the tag from firing, your page never downloads and runs the code associated with the tag.    We do not continually run HotJar, so we can keep the exception in place until we are ready to start collecting data. Then all we have to do is edit the tag to remove the trigger exception and publish the new version.

I do believe there is another way that eliminates even this through the use of an all-javascript trigger, but I’m not myself adept enough with javascript to get all the pieces put together.  I will post at least the first part of the process in a later post that doesn’t include the requirement to match the HotJar id value.

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Thursday, August 17th, 2017 Analytics No Comments

Retiring domain

August 14th, 2017 by Erick Beck

Please be aware that in the near future – sometime in the Fall – we will be retiring the domain.  This does not mean we are retiring the central Google CSE search; it will still be available at

The domain is a holdover from previous iterations of the campus search, and has been largely unused for some time.  I looked through log files and it is getting very little traffic compared to For the sake of reducing maintenance and overhead, we have made the decision to remove the service from that URL.

So those of you who still do have a search box that points to, please go ahead and start migrating the code for your forms.  I will let you know once we have a firm shut-off date.

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Monday, August 14th, 2017 Search No Comments

Retiring Campus Tours Website

August 10th, 2017 by Erick Beck

Please be aware that in the near future we will be retiring the Campus Tours website at  Everyone working on this site had the best of intentions, but implementation never lived up to expectations.  With the content growing stale and the site not aligned with the brand, it is time to take it down.

A new virtual tours project will be started, but in the meantime anyone whose pages are still linking to this site should update the links to the current panorama tours that we have in the Campus Bird map implementation –

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Thursday, August 10th, 2017 Ongoing Projects No Comments