Archive for the ‘usability’ Category

On Link Styles – Are We Regressing?

Monday, November 16th, 2009

This will be a short post, as I’ve written about link styles before, specifically about how using underlined links in body text is still a best practice. If underlining is out of the question, then at least use a color that is in complete contrast to the text color. Why am I bringing this up again? I happened to be browsing some higher ed sites earlier this afternoon and I couldn’t help but notice that the trend seems to be getting worse, not better. Why?

Is it that we’re spending so much time focused on more complex user-friendliness issues (ie., can users navigate the site, is our online application usable, etc) that it’s almost like we’ve forgotten one of the fundamentals?

Dressing up link text with hover styles does nothing for the scanning eye. Finding what words are links on a website shouldn’t be an easter egg hunt. We should know *immediately* when we glance at a page that a word or phrase is a link, not after we move the mouse over it.


Frustrating Conversations – We Don’t Need Web Analytics

Monday, October 19th, 2009

It seems that some (notice I said some, not all!) higher education web professionals still don’t think using web analytics on their site is useful.

Why do I think this? It became apparent after a couple conversations during the HighEdWeb conference I recently attended in Milwaukee. First, let me say that this has nothing to do with the conference. It was a fantastic conference and I learned a ton from the great presenters and attendees. I would go again in an instant.

More than once, however, I found myself in the midst of a conversation about how using web analytics is pretty much “useless.”

I doubt that the people in the conversation had any idea who I was (who would?) and that I was actually presenting at the conference about web analytics (both conversations took place before the presentation). So, I decided to keep my mouth shut and just listen. I wanted to see *why* they thought web analytics was useless on their sites before I jumped in to defend the practice.

Conversations like these happen all the time. They could have very easily happened at any of our campuses. In any of our offices. I’ve heard it all before and I’m sure I’ll hear it many times again. So, I’ll bring up some excuses I heard and offer some recommendations.

So … here goes …

4 Quick Ways to Clean House Using Web Analytics

Monday, July 6th, 2009
Photo by:  Marcin Wichary

So I’m taking most of this week off to clean house. Yes. I’m serious. The *real* reason for the house cleaning is that my family is coming down next weekend with a toddler and someone who is allergic to cats (not the toddler) and I have two (cats, not toddlers).

In the middle of writing my lists (yes, multiple lists … I am a list writer) my mind began to wander to work. What are some of the “low hanging fruit” that we could clean up pretty quickly on our websites?

How can web analytics help us with this?

Let’s explore some ways to quickly clean up your online campaigns and/or websites using analytics as  a guide.

When Policies Become a Maintenance Nightmare

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

For those of us that work at large universities (with a lot of different sub-domains – or Web sites – handled by a lot of different entities within the university), there seems to be a problem with duplicate policy information on different sub-domains (or areas within the larger university Web site). 

This issue is always brought up at semester-or-fiscal-year-end because it’s the time that a lot of policies change.

Case in point – we recently changed a policy university-wide. A communication went out from the university to change the policy on individual college or unit Web sites.

Just for kicks, I ran a quick check for the policy on our university internal site search to see how many places the policy showed up. 1,119 internal pages (most at different internal Web sites or sub-domains) contain the name of the policy. Granted, some of those probably link directly to the main university page that contains the policy. What I found, though, is that a *lot* don’t.

Why You Need a Meta Description

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

This weekend I was checking out some organic search results for higher education sites. I was astonished by the number of higher ed sites that do not use a meta description.

Why the meta description is still important. The meta description won’t help your ranking in the top search engines, but it’s still very important.

It describes your page. According to an old SEOmoz post, the meta description is used:

  1. To describe the content of the page accurately and succinctly
  2. To serve as a short, text “advertisement” to click on your results in the search results
  3. To display targeted keywords, not for ranking purposes, but to indicate the content to searchers

The meta description is usually listed beneath the linked title in most search engine results. Key for click-throughs.  The keywords users search for in the top search engines are also bolded in the search result (the meta description and title tag). Again, key for click-throughs.

Internal Email Usability – Stop the Madness

Monday, March 9th, 2009

We’ve all read numerous great posts about effective email marketing. Keep it short, Use obvious calls-to-action.

What about writing effective internal emails, though?

I know, I know. It’s not as important as our external emails and so, it takes a backseat. Understood. I have to tell you, though, we all need to have a refresher course in effective internal email writing.

Measuring the Success of the Online Course Catalog

Monday, January 12th, 2009

The online course catalog is the place where prospects and students go to not only see what courses are offered, but what the prerequisites are, who the instructor is, how many seats are left and more.

The bottom line is the online course catalog is essential for higher education websites. Creating and maintaining a *usable* course catalog is as important. So how do you know if the catalog is usable?

Everyday Usability – Help my mouse doesn’t work!

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

Last week I got a new laptop and, for some reason, on my kitchen table (where I do most my work), my wireless USB mouse will not work properly with the new laptop. It works fine on every other surface *and* it works fine on the kitchen table when it’s plugged into my old laptop. Weird.

To troubleshoot, I open up the mouse properties and click on the hardware tab thinking that I need to reset some preferences. I click “troubleshoot” and it sends be through the little troubleshooting wizard. I hate these wizards, but I want to get to the bottom of the problem so I answer the first question.

And then the usability issue is screaming at me … the next question looks like this:


Fun with Card Sorts

Friday, November 14th, 2008

So you’re getting calls for information that is readily (or so you think) available on your website. Maybe you’re creating an Intranet and you’re not quite sure exactly how to organize the navigation.

I have two words for you. Card sort.

So what the heck is a card sort and why should we use it? A card sort is a usability test of sorts. It’s a technique used to help organize a website. A user is given a stack of cards with labels on them. The labels are usually navigation labels – page names (or potential page names) of the website. They don’t even have to be that granular. The cards can show topic areas instead of specific page names.


Help a User Out – Underline Links

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

I was reading a great post over at Usability Post about the top usability mistakes of websites. I got thinking about higher education websites and if we’re guilty of breaking any of the top 7 rules. Of course no website is perfect and probably *every* higher ed website breaks at least one of the rules.

To tell you the truth, this is really a rant about why we should still be underlining all content links. If links *can’t* be underlined for some weird reason, the contrast should be *dramatic* between the color of the link and the color the non-linked text. Dramatic. I’m not sure why content links *couldn’t* be underlined, but I’m sure there is an exception out there (maybe your Web Style Guide says don’t underline? Even then, I think I’d defy the style guide).