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TAMU Webmaster's Blog

Information and insight from the A&M Webmasters


Off to eduWeb

Today will be my last day in the office before heading out to eduWeb in Chicago next week. It will be a great opportunity to talk to other folks from across the country and compare what we are doing to them.

We are continuing to work on the new website, and I’m hoping that by time time I get back we’ll have enough of it ready to start showing stakeholders on campus.  There is still time to send any suggestions our way for elements that you want to see added/expanded/altered.

One of the dilemmas I’m currently trying to tackle is how to handle the campus services page.  We’re such a huge institution that making it all-inclusive could easily be a site unto itself.  So I’ll ask the same thing that I did for the phone number list – does anybody actually use the pages currently at http://www/home/services/ or do you just use the search engine to find what you’re looking for?

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Thursday, July 22nd, 2010 2 Comments

Summer Conferences

We have gotten our approvals and everything is now in order for our conference linup for this year.  I will be attending EduWeb in Chicago this July and both John and I will be at HighEdWeb in October. I am thankful that we will be able to have a presence at both of these conferences and have the opportunity to interact with colleagues from our fellow universities around the country.  John and I have also sent in a proposal to present a session at HighEdWeb and are anxiously awaiting word on its approval.

Those of you who are attending either event, drop us a line to let us know you’ll be there. We would love to meet up and compare notes.  We had a good group in Milwaukee last year with some great after-hours conversations.

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Monday, May 3rd, 2010 Uncategorized 1 Comment

Budget Usability Testing

Is web usability testing possible for less than $50, in less than 2 hours a week? That’s what Chas Grundy of the University of Notre Dame said in his eduweb conference session. So while John and Erick are at HighEdWeb, I’ll finish up with my own conference notes.

Usability testing can be as simple as sitting 3-5 users down in front of your website, and watching what they do. With screen capture software and/or a webcam, you can even record them.

Chas offered several suggestions and encouragements on web usability testing.

  1. Focus on the big issues. Begin today.
  2. Decide what to learn, how to learn, who from, when to test. Most users are similar. If high school students can’t find your “Contact Us” button, neither can rich elderly potential donors.
  3. Explain to the users that there are no right/wrong answers. In fact, they’re not being tested at all – the web developers are.
  4. Test early, test often. Don’t wait until the site is set in stone.
  5. You can test using paper prototypes and mockups, even before your site is finished.
  6. Test competitors’ websites too, to see if alternatives work better than what you’re doing.
  7. When you test, give users tasks. Don’t leave it open-ended.
  8. Encourage your users talk out loud over the tasks, but don’t offer any direction yourself.
  9. If you ask about something, people will create opinions where they had none before.
  10. What web users say is not always what they do. Ignore speculation.
  11. Fix the obvious, do special testing on the hard parts, then retest.
  12. Design once, increment forever.
  13. Remember: everything we do could be wrong. We don’t know until we’ve tested it.

Chas suggested several usability testing software tools…

…and several websites on usability and usability testing:

  • – The online home of Web usability consultant Steve Krug, author of Don’t Make Me Think.
  • – For usability research, many turn to Dr. Jakob Nielsen’s website. For graphic design beauty, they usually look elsewhere.
  • – A one-stop source from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services on how to make websites more usable, useful, and accessible.

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Tuesday, October 6th, 2009 Usability 1 Comment

eduWEB: the role of writers

One of the purposes of the eduWeb conference was to bring together marketing and web people. One show of hands suggested that the audience was evenly split. I myself am fairly evenly split, having written both PHP code and annual reports – both coder and copywriter.

According to Sarah Stanek, Senior Writer at California State University East Bay, the underappreciated members of the web team are the writers. Writers need to be at the first web meeting, not the last. They need to become trusted as the content authority. The writer should be the managing editor on the Web team. Professional writers can offer four things: ability, authority, access, and accuracy.

How can experienced writers make a website better?

  1. They can encourage each member of the team to agree in advance on word count, voice, content lifespan.
  2. They can help to break log jams in the workflow. Stanek’s advice: ask for corrections and edits to the website, make them, acknowledge they’ve been made, then go live.
  3. For students, they can provide deadlines. For administrators, they can suggest topics to write about.
  4. They can help review blog posts before publishing, if necessary. “Boring is okay, long and boring is not,” says Stanek. Moderate comments quickly. Don’t be afraid to close comments either.
  5. They can write interview questions (but not the answers). Put ideas in their heads, then put cameras in their faces.

Under the influence of social media, some web strategists are calling for professionally-generated content (such as marketing copy) to be replaced by user-generated content (such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter) because “it sounds more authentic.” But Stanek sternly insists that professional writers do not sound inauthentic.

In fact, says Stanek, “student bloggers write about ten times more formally than I do.” At a major university, over-formality may be a more serious problem than students writing ungrammatically. But that’s a whole other issue: where do people get the idea that stilted writing makes them sound smarter? I think the University Writing Center has a 12-step program for that…

True, journalists who cut their teeth writing for newspapers and magazines need to adapt their style for the Web, but any professional knows how to adapt. Writers have had to deal with an electronically-oriented audience for a long time.

Besides, in the past forty years, people haven’t changed as much as all that, even if buzzwords have. “Blogging is not a meaningful verb,” Stanek says. “The word is writing.” Marshall McLuhan wrote, “The medium is the message,” in 1964. That is, simply because a story moves from a newsletter to the Web, the message changes. If only because the screen is harder on the eyes than paper, writing for the Web needs to be shorter and scannable.

A “pencast” of The Role of Writers session (audio synchronized with notes) is available.

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Tuesday, September 15th, 2009 Web Content 2 Comments

eduWEB: do kids just want to do stuff?

At edWeb 2009, you could hear speakers and participants in higher education websites describe the limitations of the latest new media technology. And you could also learn about how to use the latest new media technology. The irony was not lost. As Boston College’s Rick Allen pointed out, “social media won’t fix the yellow background on your website.” › Continue reading

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Tuesday, August 18th, 2009 Social Media No Comments

eduWeb – Expectations by Incoming Students

This was probably the most useful and informative of the sessions presented at the conference.  It summarized a 2009 study that was released just last week.  The study used 1,000 high school seniors and asked them what they expected to see on a university website and what would happen if a particular topic was not there. Rather than trying to summarize I’ll link you to the document – it is a very worthwhile read with a few confimations of expected behavior and a few surprises. The long-and-short of it, is, though, content matters.  It matters a great deal.  What you have on your web page and how you present the information can make a difference betwen keeping and losing them as a student.

The summary concludes with a list of recommended steps for keeping your recruits engaged and returning – you can be we will be looking over that list in our office and seeing how we can implement them.

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Wednesday, August 5th, 2009 1 Comment

eduWeb – Online Video

Examples of how to use videos on campus:

Create a “build your own adventure” virtual tour, where the tour changes depending on answers provided by the user.  For example, those indicating that they will live on-campus go to one branch while those living off-campus go through another.   A good example is

  • The successful video is short and to the point: ~2.6 minutes
  • Give a Share This option
  • Catchy titles make a difference.  Think “Ninja!”   Here title truly is more important than content.

An admissions office might want to create a series of How-Tos

  • Use these to create a knowledge center
  • admissions, financial aid, tutoring, etc.

Think outside the box.  Online videos are great, but consider distributing through DVD.  This might be of particular use to recruitment centers in urban environments.

Prospective students generally look at video for one thing – “Will I fit in?”

Be creative. Boon Oakley on YouTube uses visual elements of the “page” as a progress meter / navigation bar.

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Monday, July 27th, 2009 Branding No Comments