In a word: no. As stated by the WAI, new links can be “…disorienting for people, especially people who have difficulty perceiving visual content”.
As with anything else on the web, there’s always an exception, and you should definitely check out the link above to read about some specific scenarios where opening a new tab/window can be appropriate. But those scenarios are rare. People know how to use the back button. Depend on that, rather than a new tab/window.
Today’s post is a quick one, to share this awesome captioning style guide from Humber College, which I found while trying to figure out the appropriate way to caption a choir singing a round acapella (I still don’t know the answer). In addition to the most helpful information I found on captioning music, also included are suggestions on timing, dialog, sound effects, and accents. Since we need to caption almost every video on our website, it’s worth a quick glace to get an idea of how it should be done.
That post explores the very real limitations of automated tools. Tools like that can be useful, and help us by checking some of the low hanging fruit. But they never do a great job. For instance, just to highlight one obvious example mentioned in the post, here’s some examples of alt text on a logo which links to the homepage which would pass an automated check, but are really terribly inaccessible:
alt=”The Lane Community College Logo”
alt=”Lane Community College”
You know what some good alt text would be? “Visit the LCC homepage” – it’s a linked logo, so provide the purpose of the link.
When it comes to automated accessibility tools, use them to give you an idea of the overall accessibility of a page, but always double-check some items yourself – particularly ones that are difficult to for a computer to check, like link purpose.
I know, I know, we’re in week 4, and I’m finally putting out my first post of the year. But it’s 2020. It’s that kind of year.
Last week the web team attended the 2020 HighEdWeb annual conference. This is one of my favorite conferences, and it was even better this year because it was absolutely free online (though in central time, which made for some early mornings). Here’s some gems:
One of the groups at Miami University did a lot of extensive testing. People don’t self serve. If you have a lot of links and resources that you want to put out there, consider a drip campaign to slowly provide those links at a pace people can digest. Use social to highlight different resources at different times. Include titles that highlight the problem the resource solves (“Looking for a tutor late on a Sunday night before class? Look no further!”). Track what you do to see what works (and reach out if you’d like help setting that up!). Rather than a resource page, consider a blog, where those resource links can be provided in context, and do some content marketing for you. We’ve also covered resource pages in the past.
Stop posting flyers and event posters online.
Especially now, when we’re not going to see them in person. Flyers and posters are designed for print, and don’t translate well to digital. If you’re considering putting a flyer or poster online or on a digital sign, reach out – we’ll connect you with some graphic design resources, and help design for the medium you’ll be promoting on.
The college website is for prospective students. And those students know when they’re being marketed to.
Carlton did a great session where they detailed extensive user testing before their homepage redesign. They found things like:
prospective students (particularly Gen Z) think the entire website is for them. Even the section clearly labeled “Alumni”. But your homepage should be for them before any other audience: most other audiences search for something, then land on some other page. Prospective students are the most likely, by far, to land on the homepage.
they know when pictures are staged. They want to see people in place: shots that show what students actually do some place on your campus, and how that sets you apart. Person under a tree reading a book? Clearly staged. Dining hall shot? Every college has a dining hall. Candid shot of a class outside? Student learning to machine something? Much better.
The large hero image on a program’s website sets the tone and creates a greater impression than all the text there.
From one of their slides: “Students want #nofilter, but we’re giving them #fellowkids”
FAQs don’t work.
While we may think splitting our content up into questions is easier for the student, it actually makes things harder to understand. Read your entire FAQ page, make groups out of the content and write a header for each one, and then rewrite the content in each group to paragraph form. It’ll work better for everyone. Here’s a page with the slides, a sample FAQ with real life before and after examples, and some other resources for why we should stop using FAQ pages. You can also review our previous post on FAQs.
While I know I’d promised to put most blog content on pause, I wanted to make a quick post about the availability of our new site archive.
Every once in a while, we create a snapshot of the entire www.lanecc.edu website. There’s a couple limitations to that. We can’t capture:
Files that aren’t linked from a page somewhere
Pages that aren’t linked from another page
Pages that are password protected
Some of the dynamic content (for instance, all the forms are disabled)
All of the changes that have happened since the last archive.
corrections to broken links (there were about a dozen internal links that are broken)
This type of snapshot, created using httrack, creates a standalone site that isn’t dependent on a content management system, meaning it’s very resistant to security problems, and is the only real option for creating a semi-permanent archive. I say semi-permanent, because while I intend to keep this archive up as long as possible, it’s possible, if not likely, that changes in browser rendering will eventually make this archive difficult to view as intended.
This year’s archive will allow us to remove a bunch of old content from the website, to further prepare for our new website. It also sets us up for splitting all the employee content out of the website: the current Lane website is monolithic, but under the new site, we’ll have audience specific websites.
Today’s helpful resource is the Plainlanguage.gov’s web language guidelines. While the whole thing is worth at least a skim, we’ve already covered a lot of the content in depth (see, for instance, the content redevelopment series). But I want to just briefly dive into the section labeled Follow Web Standards. There are four items that get their own subsection:
Don’t cut and paste the text of print documents to create web content. People are more likely to leave your webpage, potentially costing you time and money, because they will not take the time to find what they are looking for.
Print writing is different from web writing.
If you’ve created print materials, you’re going to need to rework them if you want them to be effective on the web. Make sure you’re speaking directly to the page visitor, and using conversational, but clear language. The purpose of print content is different than the purpose of web content.
It’s been a while since our last redesign post, but don’t think we haven’t made some progress. We’ve been averaging about one video call per week, and are getting closer and closer to development work. Some of the things we’ve done:
Developed Batch 1 Designs
Our first batch of pages included the homepage, a career community page, and a program page. Our assumption is that these are some of the first pages most prospective students are going to look for, so we wanted to dive right into them. Our homepage is definitely going to shift direction, and be focused very narrowly on prospective student.
User Tested Batch 1
To be certain that we were on track with design and the information architecture, we did some intensive testing with some real prospective students. Users were asked to perform specific tasks, with people watching exactly what they did and seeing where they struggled.
Finalized Batch 1 Designs
We made some changes to the designs to address issues uncovered in user testing. Some were easy to address, but one has been a particular thorn.
Lane has a lot of different offerings, and people are confused by them. We have degrees, 2 year certificates, 1 year certificates, less than 1 year certificates, career pathways certificates, and non-credit credentials. There’s even more variety within the certificates. Some are financial aid eligible, some are not. Some are stackable with a degree, some are independent. Some are stackable, but you choose between multiple options. Some are technically stackable, but are marketed to a different market segment than the degree. We’ve gone several rounds with trying to balance standardization of design (to reduce confusion) with the flexibility to accommodate all our programs (to stay accurate). We’ve landed on a layout we think will work, and we hope to test it again, but it’ll be difficult to know if it’s worked for all programs until well after launch.
Reviewed Batch 2 Mockups
Our batch 2 pages included some Registration and Tuition related pages. While we’re pretty happy with the design of these pages, they’ve helped highlight a problem for us: our internal organization doesn’t always match how people think about us. For example, consider how students pay for college. We have a lot of departments that deal with money: a Financial Aid office, a scholarship and student employment office, a veterans benefits office, a bursar, and several people that work with sponsored accounts. There’s probably more. There’s really good reason for splitting them apart, and each requires a ton of very specific expertise. But if I have a question, and I’m not sure which of those areas can answer my question, who do I call?
Started Batch 3
Our Batch 3 designs relate to the application sorter and steps to enroll pages. We’ve done quite a few versions of these since our last redesign in 2013. For instance, our sorter page swapped from being person type oriented to goal oriented. Yet, despite all those changes, our sorter continues to be one of the least liked pages on the site. Our new design is going to try to leverage some of that experience, and include information that can help you navigate either way, while simultaneously emphasizing the most commonly used enrollment pathways.
Our greatest amount of work has been the content planner. This maps content on our current website to the new website, and identifies where the gaps are. We’ve got a bunch of folders and empty documents set up in google docs right now where we’ve been starting to develop new content and rewrite some old content. There were more than a hundred pages which we need to keep, but which don’t have an obvious home in the new website, and I’ve been slowly making my way through. Some of the rewritten content will be launched before we launch, while most of the new stuff won’t be launched until the whole site is ready.
Meanwhile, as we continue our review of every page on the website, Lori’s been aggressively working on some of the recommended page merging and deletion. Thank you to the dozens of you that have helped us delete old pages!
After we finalize batch 3 this week, we’re hoping to do another round of prospective student testing. Very soon development will start, and while the site is being built, we’ll continue our work on content.
One of our big challenges will be photography. Normally for a website redesign you’d schedule a couple of professional photo sessions on campus, but due to COVID-19, that’s tricky. Before launch, it’s unlikely campus will look quite as busy as it would normally, we won’t see groups of people together, and the people we do see may be wearing masks. I’ve been trying to make it out to campus once in a while to get some photos, but there’s only so many empty shots of campus we can use. If you have any amazing photos – ideally where everyone in the picture has signed a photo release – and you’d be willing to let us use them, send them our way!
Five years ago I tried to take my dog hammock camping. She got cold overnight, and I had to put her in the car to get warm. When I wrote up the trip on my personal website, I linked to a dog sleeping bag manufacturer, since I naïvely thought my dog would sleep in one and keep warm (spoiler alert: she will not).
A couple weeks ago, I got a backlink request from a website that wrote up a guide to buying a dog sleeping bag. This request fit the form of a standard backlink request template so well that I based a fill in the blank backlink generator request on it:
This isn’t the exact email I got, but it’s close enough to get an idea of the structure of a request. They try to include a little information about you, which they can look up online (like your job title). They include something vaguely complimentary (like calling your post “amazing”). Then they explain how their site would fit perfectly in with your content before wishing you well.
I think the process goes like this. Someone writes a vague template, based on a script available on some SEO website. Then they search for some term like “College scholarships” or “Student Resources”, and go through the top 50 or 100 pages, emailing the site owner with an email customized just enough that it won’t feel generic, unless you get a lot of backlink requests.
So how do you respond?
Consider not responding at all. There are ways to automate gathering contact information (using a WHOIS record or various screen scraping techniques), so it’s entirely possible that your request was sent by a script, instead of a person. Don’t feel bad about ignoring a computer.
Definitely don’t click on the link they sent you. If someone sends you an unsolicited link, never ever ever* click on it. If you’re really curious, at least Google the url first. See what you can learn about the page. Don’t just trust the text of a url – there’s ways to spoof that too.
You can also just forward those requests to us. Believe me, we get a lot of them. Our general rule is to not respond to backlink requests for commercial websites, and to avoid including links to commercial websites in our pages. We sometimes make exceptions for local, non-profit organizations. But since those organizations are part of our community and usually know someone at Lane, they tend not to reach out using a form email.
Remember, linking to a website from your page can provide an implicit endorsement of that page. Make sure you trust what you’re linking to.
Back in the resource pages post, I briefly mentioned backlink requests. Since if you don’t get these regularly they can be difficult to identify and understand, I thought we could dig into them. Backlink requests aren’t evil, and getting backlinks can certainly help your Search Engine Optimization (SEO). But the people making the requests don’t necessarily have the interests of our students in mind, so you should know how to spot requests and why they’re sent.
A quick refresher. Search engines mostly work by looking at how pages link to each other. Pages that get linked to a lot (that have a lot of inbound links) are considered more authoritative. Links from those pages are worth more than links from sites with fewer inbound links. If you have a website that you’re trying to get to rank higher in search, getting other sites to link back to yours will help.
One way to make that happen is to ask. You can do that many different ways. For instance, you could find a website with a broken or outdated link, and suggest to the website owner that they link to your site instead. Or there’s the testimonial strategy, where you write a testimonial and offer it for free to another website, with an expectation they’ll attribute your testimonial to your site. Offering a guest blog post is another. The most straightforward is to ask directly. And the easiest place to ask for your link to be included? A resource page.
College websites are particularly attractive targets. While as mentioned above, Google certainly provides a lot of search engine weight to links, there are all sorts of other factors they consider. One of those is domain name. Not every domain is easy to get. Anyone can purchase a .com, a .org, or dozens of others. But some, like .mil, .gov, and .edu are very hard to get. If you want an .edu domain, you need to be an accredited post-secondary educational institution. And you can only have one.
Because an external agency has guaranteed the validity of the domain, Google is thought to give .edu sites a little boost over sites with more open domains (part of why you probably don’t want a .com for your department!).
When someone sends you an email, requesting you put their link on your site, ask yourself if they stand to gain financially from an increase in traffic on their website. The link they’re sending you might not sell anything directly. But that page might link to something that does or to a page with advertising – linking to a page on a site provides a boost to that page’s rank, which in turn provides a smaller boost to all the pages that page links to.
We should also remember that linking to a site provides something of an endorsement of that site. Particularly on resource pages we’re effectively promising students that we’ve validated these resources as good and trustworthy. Make sure they are.
Next post we’ll look at the structure of a backlink request and how to respond.
WebAIM’s analysis of the accessibility of the top million homepages came out the other day, and we made the top 25% for the first time. That puts us as #7 in the state for Community Colleges, #13 for Oregon public colleges. Well done SOU for being the highest ranked college in the state!
That’s two successive improvements to our rank. Hopefully we’ll move up quite a bit post redesign! See our entry on WebAIM’s site.