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TAMU Webmaster's Blog

Information and insight from the A&M Webmasters

Google Maps – Photos

September 22nd, 2016 by Erick Beck

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.


Thursday, September 22nd, 2016 Campus Maps No Comments

Google Maps – Ready to Go

September 20th, 2016 by Erick Beck

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.

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016 Campus Maps No Comments

New Project – Google Maps on Campus

September 12th, 2016 by Erick Beck

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…

Monday, September 12th, 2016 Campus Maps 1 Comment

GoWeb Presentation – Maintaining Your Google Maps Locations

September 8th, 2016 by Erick Beck

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.

Thursday, September 8th, 2016 Miscellaneous No Comments

Brand Guide Update

August 26th, 2016 by Erick Beck

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.

Friday, August 26th, 2016 Branding No Comments

Calendar Features – RSVP Lists

August 17th, 2016 by Erick Beck

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.

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016 Calendar No Comments

Calendar Features – Images and Maps

August 15th, 2016 by Erick Beck

The first time I had seen the LiveWhale calendar system that powers our new university calendar was last October at the HighEdWeb conference.  In particular, Jason Pontius gave a presentation which really resonated with me.  He advocated for a calendar system being more than just someplace to post times and dates.  Instead it should be something that we use to tell about all of the wonderful things that happen on our campuses.  To market our events, and thereby market our university.  The calendar system that they built did that better than any of the ones we evaluated.

One of the things you will notice on the new calendar is that there is an increased use of imagery.  This is true on both the calendar view itself as well on on the specific event information pages.  As we visited with the people across campus who would be entering events, increasing their use of visuals was always the first thing we stressed.  The images pull in a visitor’s eyes, making them more interested in digging deeper and reading about the event.  Photos can also give a much deeper concept of what the event is about than any text description or contact information will ever do.

Keeping on the theme of visuals, another great addition is the use of Google maps to show locations.  Given the size of our campus, having these maps embedded on each event page can be vital to showing people exactly where the event is being held.  Almost all of the official locations on campus have been pre-loaded into the system for event planners to select from.  Because the system is based on Google Maps, off-campus events can easily be added to the map by simply pasting in the address and letting Google create a new pin.

We have already started receiving feedback on the new calendar, and both the public and the local event managers have recognized the focus that it puts on making the experience more useful and enjoyable for the user.

Monday, August 15th, 2016 Calendar No Comments

University Calendar Presentation

August 12th, 2016 by Erick Beck

I have posted the slide deck for those of you who missed Friday’s presentation on the campus calendar. This presentation covered the process by which we chose LiveWhale as our campus calendar, how we expect the system will be used, and an overview of some of its features.

Friday, August 12th, 2016 Calendar No Comments

Calendar Features – Importing and Exporting Events

August 12th, 2016 by Erick Beck

One of the biggest complaints that we had about the previous calendar system was that it did not import from other calendar systems.  That was a big disadvantage because many departments on campus used (whether through choice or mandate) another system for their departmental events, and no one wants to have to enter the same event into multiple systems.  So when we first started evaluating calendar products, the ability to import through feeds was one of the most important things on our list.

LiveWhale is able to do this very nicely.  By going into your “Linked Calendars” option you can point your calendar at an external iCAL feed and pull it into LiveWhale.  You further have your choice of linking the event to an entry within LiveWhale or to the original URL in the external system.  We have also had a few extra customizations added.  You can now set your linked calendars to automatically recommend events to the university calendar, and you can add custom images to your imported events.

LiveWhale also has several ways in which you can export events.  If you want to process and format the content yourselves, there is a complete REST interface that allows you to pull information out of the system through RSS, iCAL, or JSON formats.  Through structuring your URL call, you can pull your entire calendar or just specific pieces.

As well as feeds, LiveWhale has the concept of built-in widgets.  These allow you to create and store quite detailed queries and formatting which can be placed on your web page by the simple addition of a javascript call inside of a <div>.   Widgets can be quite complex.  The public facing side of the university calendar is, in fact, made up of widgets rather than native code creating the page look. This in effect allows you to use the calendar system as a back end and format the public-facing view however meets your needs.

Friday, August 12th, 2016 Calendar No Comments

A New Campus Calendar

August 11th, 2016 by Erick Beck

After almost a year of knowing we need to implement a new calendar, evaluating vendors, and customizing our final selection, we are happy to announce that our new web calendar is now online.

Powered by LiveWhale Calendar, this new system represents a significant step forward.  The new software is much easier to use and administer than our previous system, and offers many new features that make the calendar more valuable to both departments on campus and our website viewers.

Even more important than the new features is a new philosophy for what the calendar is all about.  Rather than being just a list of everybody’s events, we want to use the calendar as a platform to market the university by showing off all the wonderful things that take place on campus.  We want no not just give a time and date for every meeting on campus, but also to showcase things like the world leaders that the Bush School brings to campus, the prestigious authors that the libraries host, Fortune 500 CEOs that speak at the Mays school, and so forth.  Showing the types of events that occur here reinforces with our audience the concept of Texas A&M as a destination school.

To that end, we want to produce a calendar that not only gave event details, but does so in a highly visual manner that makes viewers interested in reading the event – and therefore more likely to attend.  The LiveWhale calendar system is beautifully set up to do this.  During several vendor conversations it became evident that they were in sync with what we want to do and that they have built a platform with exactly that in mind.

We will post a series of articles going over the new features of the calendar, how we hope to use it, and how you can contribute to the process.


Thursday, August 11th, 2016 Calendar No Comments