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TAMU Webmaster's Blog


Information and insight from the A&M Webmasters

www.tamu.edu

Gameday and Website Traffic

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?

Thursday, October 13th, 2016 www.tamu.edu No Comments

New Aggie Traditions 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.

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Thursday, April 28th, 2016 www.tamu.edu No Comments

Slight modification to WWW Template Files

As I mentioned yesterday, we are rolling out the first set of updates to the university site today that have been requested by offices across campus. One of these affects the page footer, specifically a couple of links in the Admissions section. While these changes have been live on the web pages, we just pushed it out to github yesterday.

This shouldn’t affect most of you, but if you have downloaded the template files from github you might want to either grab the updated version or make these changes in your own code.

Friday, September 11th, 2015 www.tamu.edu No Comments

WWW and Beyond

Thank you to everyone who has made comments about the new university web site over the last few weeks, whether that was a “great job” or a “can you include my link too?” or even “I liked the old version better, can you put it back?” We really do listen to suggestions, and continue to make adjustments based on this feedback.

Rather than immediately making each change based on individual requests we will, at least for for the next month or so, be rolling them into a series of scheduled releases. Anything that is actually broken or in need of immediate attention, of course, will be fixed right away, but the bulk of the updates will be scheduled on a weekly or bi-weekly basis until we get everything rolled out. The first of these is scheduled for tomorrow.

Now that we have a little breathing room and a little time since the site has gone live, we are starting to look at what’s next on our list. We have several other projects that we have been working on but have never had the opportunity to fully devote resources, so hopefully we will soon be able to announce several initiatives.

Thursday, September 10th, 2015 www.tamu.edu No Comments

At Long Last

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.

Thursday, August 13th, 2015 www.tamu.edu 2 Comments

Demo of Upcoming University Website

Most of you have heard by now that we are redesigning the university website, and some of you have even had a glimpse at it. On May 21 we will be doing an open presentation of the site for the uweb community. Come see the new elements, how it will work, and what it might mean for university branding online down the road.

For those of you unable to join in person, we will be broadcasting on TTVN Channel 6.

This will also be the first time we have hosted anything since moving into our new offices, so also feel free to come over just to see our new digs.

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015 www.tamu.edu No Comments

Next trip through the Cycle

Many of you have heard me describe the process of development since I moved to Marcomm as a life cycle. We started seven years ago with an environment, process, and code base that is best described as broken. The first stage of the cycle was to go through each of the sites that were online and simply fix them, making them functional but not necessarily what we wanted them to be. The next stage moved us from being functional to working well and heading in the right direction. As we tackled this cycle we also added a lot of new offerings like the campus calendar, university mobile site, and most recently the campus tour site. As we were doing each of these we were looking over the fence for the time that we could take that final step and “do things right.”

Last week we got those marching orders. We were told that we need to start reworking the TAMUtimes web site and expect to have it ready by the Fall. Given how integrally tied TAMUtimes is to the main university website, and since www.tamu.edu should be the cornerstone of the new cycle of development, we are going to tackle both of them over the spring and summer. That is a pretty lofty goal, but I am sure we will be able to get it accomplished.

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014 Future Projects, www.tamu.edu No Comments

University Website Republished

This morning we relaunched the university website with the cosmetic updates that we mentioned before the holidays. The two things that you’ll notice right away is the featuring of the social media buttons – in keeping with Marcomm’s emphasis on maintaining a national leadership role in social media – and the greater tie-in of the campus news section with TAMUtimes.

As well as these design updates, we have completely overhauled the template code and rewritten it in HTML5. This is the beginning of a trend that you will see in all of our new sites. We have also (finally!) gotten the site moved into the Cascade content management system. We have migrated a few sites into the CMS, but this one will be by far our largest and most complex. I’m hoping that we will have the rest of our sites put into the system by the end of the year.

Next on the list list is the president’s website. Kim Miller and Jenni Walthall are now leading the design team. We have come up with a preliminary page look, and hope to have it rolled out in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012 www.tamu.edu No Comments

University Website Touchup

Last week we mentioned in Brand Council that we will be giving the university website a slight makeover soon. We don’t intend anything drastic, just a few cosmetic touchups that will increase visual appeal, strengthen the ties to university branding, and make the integration with the TAMUtimes website more apparent.

While we make these changes, we are also using the opportunity to make some behind-the-scene changes. The template base has been rewritten to HTML5. This will be our first site published in HTML5, but we intend to begin using it for all new development projects. While the changes are minor, I can already say that I love the change to a more semantically rich markup. I have also noticed that the change cut the length of our page styles by more than half.

We will also (finally!) be putting the new page code into the Cascade Server CMS. We have already moved a few smaller sites into the system, but we are now comfortable enough with the system that we can start adding our larger and more complex sites as well.

With luck, all of these updates should be complete and online by the beginning of the spring semester in January.

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011 www.tamu.edu No Comments

Building a Successful Website

We get a lot of comments about our university website. The question that is probably most asked is “how did you do it?” While the site is far from perfect – there a a lot of things that I personally don’t like – I do think that in the broad sense it can be called a success…or at least an improvement over what it used to be. With that in mind, here is how we made a successful (or at least better) website.

Know Who You Are
In our case this meant getting back to our roots. The previous version of the site strayed away from the traditional Aggie color scheme. It wasn’t bad, but it never had the die-hard support of Old Ags (it could have been worse, the designers’ first draft was green rather than maroon. Luckily that was rejected by the powers that be.) This is, at its core, basic branding. Your website is the online showcase for your university, and it needs to visually express who you are.

Know Your Audience
This simple axiom appears in every writer’s guide, but seldom seems to be applied to university websites. Know who you are writing for and what content they want. In our case we determined that the primary audience for www.tamu.edu is prospective students and their parents. We kept this as a guiding factor when deciding how to lay out the site, what the core organizational areas would be, what content would get linked to, and what information of our own to post.

This was a difficult decision, and yes we did take flack from some of our on-campus users who expected basic intranet content to be posted. While we did in the end leave faculty and staff sections, we made deliberate choices of what to put on and (even more so) leave off. In the end, our primary users actually have noticed this focus and have commented on how refreshing it is to be considered the center of our attention.

Network with Peers
I attended several web conferences over the last few years and had extensive conversations with peers about what they were doing, what worked, and what didn’t. The biggest takeaway is that we’re all facing pretty much the same problems. So don’t reinvent the wheel – find out how somebody has already solved the problem that you’re facing.

Satisfy Your User
This should probably have been listed first, because it is the most important thing you have to do. Users come to your site to perform a task. Generally speaking that task is to find content of some sort about your university. That means their experience with your site is going to be determined by whether they could find what they were looking for. There are a few components to this:

  1. Make the information available – there are many studies that will show what college bound students and parents are looking for. Use this research as a checklist and make sure your site contains every one of them.
  2. Make the content simple to find – your design should funnel people to the information they’re looking for. If users can’t find content, for them it’s the same thing as it not being there.
  3. Identify (from above) the most sought-after content on your site. Move that content towards the top of the site and make many prominent links to it from pages throughout the site.
  4. Once you have identified your core organizational areas, compare your structure to everybody else’s site. I went through that list once for each of our core areas and identified any element that somebody else had on their site that I had have missed on my own list. While doing these sweeps, keep a lookout to see if there is a core organizational area that you have left off. Our “Student Life” section, for example, was added precisely in this way.

This process is a lot of work. It’s long and tedious, but in the end it means that you will have identified the important content that you need to have, which in turn means your site will be more useful for your users.

Collaborate
This step might be different depending on your university organization. We are a very decentralized campus where every office is in charge of their own website. Our office has effectively no control, and often little input, in what goes on these sites, how they look, etc. These sites do, though, contain the information that visitors to www.tamu.edu want to see. So rather than being an all-encompassing website, www.tamu.edu instead is much more of an aggregator site that links users to content managed elsewhere. In order to do this effectively we must work with offices across campus…asking them for what content is most relevant, where links should go, etc. We aren’t experts on everything that takes place on campus, so we rely on this communication to make sure we’re sending people to the right information.

Site Integration
Those who read often know that his is my favorite soapbox. Your overall web presence cannot be successful if it consists of several separate sites that don’t integrate and interact with one another. We approached the university website knowing that events from the Web Calendar and the University News sites were going to play a central role in providing page content. These are all piped in through RSS feeds and incorporated into the site. We have expanded on the concept, making sure that calendar events get embedded in news stories, photos from the image repository get used in calendar events, top-10 search terms get used in our departmental site, social media links on our 2nd level pages, and many others. We are always looking for ways of cross-site content usage.

Be Flexible
Just because your site is published doesn’t mean it’s done – it is instead just the beginning. Realize that nothing is set in stone and that you should always be willing to make changes. With a project this big you will never have gotten everything perfect on day one. There will be links that need to be updated, content rewritten, and perhaps even large-scale revisions to be made.

We understood this and took the approach that the site would evolve over time. As people across campus gained familiarity with the site they sent in comments, suggested changes, and requests for more new content. One of these involved the addition of a new element that combined several of these principles — the Research page now contains a feature box that pulls research-related stories from the TAMU News site. Collaborating with the Division of Research, this same feed will also be incorporated into their own upcoming site.

We were also willing to admit our oversights and make changes to correct them. Our recent run through the NCAA Womens’ Basketball tournament revealed that we weren’t doing a good job on the athletic page of getting people to the information they wanted at the time. We therefore set up a new element on that page that would feature our teams whenever they are in big events and provide links to get visitors to the information they were coming to find.

Conclusion
While I would love to say there is some magic secret or formula what leads to success, for us it has always boiled down to old-fashioned hard work, and then some more hard work after that. I learn new things on each project, but these basic guiding principles help keep me focused and the end result hopefully on target.

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Monday, May 2nd, 2011 design, www.tamu.edu 3 Comments

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