Posts that spark joy

The other day, I saw this blog post about tidying up your website using the Marie Kondo method. While I think peak Kondo-mania is likely behind us (unless she’s renewed for a second season, of course!), as our date for content migration approaches (probably late this upcoming spring!), that post got me thinking about how her tidying principles can help provide a good frame for tidying and improving websites here at Lane. There are six principles:

Commit yourself to tidying up

Like any other tidying project, working on cleaning up your website is going to take some time. The most Kondo-like advice, of course, is to carve out an entire afternoon. But at the very least, try to find a regular time to dedicate to tidying your website and cleaning out the ROT. Even an hour every other week is enough time to make a considerable impact.

Imagine your ideal lifestyle

If you spend a minute imagining what your dream website would look like, I’d be willing to bet a lot of your dreaming is related to the look and feel of the website. Don’t get me wrong, website appearance is important. But design alone is never enough to capture, retain, or influence an audience. As you imagine your dream website, I’d encourage you to think first about what your website goals. What specific behaviors are you trying to influence through your content? What actions are you trying to get visitors to take?

The Lane website has a surprising number of pages that aren’t really about getting anyone to do anything, but are instead about documenting internal processes, documenting old projects, or displaying mandatory information. Some of this is unavoidable. Our privacy statement isn’t about to be tidied up. But imagine a page that’s just a photo gallery. They may be compelling photos in that gallery. But because they’re buried in a gallery on their own, no one is going to find that page and take the time to look through the photos. Instead, choose some outstanding pictures and work them directly into your content. If you really need to have a gallery, use a dedicated photo site (like your Lane Google Photos account), and link to it.

As you imagine, try to think about how all the pieces of your online presence – photo, video, social, and copy – support each other and to tell a compelling story and influence an action. Think about how you can show, rather than tell.

Finish discarding first

Our largest pieces of the site have over 130 pages, and hundreds of attached files. Not only can that seem overwhelming, but thinking about all that content can make your head spin. By discarding first (even just a sentence here or there!), you’ll get a better understanding of your content and where the gaps are, and maybe spot some opportunities to combine pages into one, more cohesive page.

Tidy by category, not location

The advice in that blog post is spot 0n – don’t just think about if you need this particular page, think about if you need all the pages like that. So, for instance, don’t just think about if you need a page describing Underwater Basket Weaving 201, which hasn’t been run in three years. Think about if you need pages describing your Underwater Basket Weaving courses at all – after all, the course descriptions should be in the catalog, which got a pretty spiffy update this year.

Follow the right order

One of the Google Analytics reports we’re happy to provide you is a page popularity report. For each of your pages, we can help you discover how many times it was viewed, how many times it was viewed by different people, how long they were on that page, and if it was their first or last page. I’d recommend you use these reports from the bottom up: start with your least popular pages. Since you already know they’re not being seen as often as you probably wish they were, you already know they need to change. Look elsewhere on your site to see if there’s a place they can fit in or, even better, see if you can get rid of them entirely. You can email Lori or me for help getting one of those reports.

Find joy

This one is complicated. Because the web isn’t your house, and how much a page brings you joy isn’t really the goal. The real goals relate to helping increase access to education and helping students meet their educational objectives. So find joy in what that page does, and in the goals it helps accomplish. If you can’t relate that page to a goal, thank it for it service, and say goodbye.

 

Responding to an accessibility concern

At the beginning of the month we changed our normally static homepage to include the following animated gif:

Watercolor image of a fountain on campus, showing a bunch of leavesWe tend to swap the homepage image to be an animated gif about three or four weeks before classes start, and link it directly to our registration platform. While these images can be pretty, after you’ve watched them for a couple of minutes, they start to feel really annoying. And, invariably, after a week or so, the first complaints show up. But here’s how we respond:

Traffic graph for that image, showing a sizeable bump in the days after we launched it, with a dip lin the weekendThose images drive hundreds of clicks in the weeks after we launch them. So, annoying or not, if they’re achieving their objective, that’s what’s important, right?

But then we got a complaint email that wasn’t about the image being annoying, it was about the image being distracting. And that got me thinking – they were probably right. Motion can negatively impact people with various cognitive impairments.

Before we go into how we responded, let’s talk a little bit about why we’re using a gif. I mean, the gif format is 30 years old. Almost everyone has moved on to web video. But when we launched the updated website, we were stuck supporting all the way back to Internet Explorer 6. And for Internet Explorer 6, 7, and 8, there was no non-flash video option. So we build the website with support for images, but often not video (though we’ve been adding some support, it hasn’t been across all parts of the site).

WCAG 2.2.2: Pause, Stop, Hide

Stuck with gifs, I tried to resolve this as quickly as possible, since there was someone out that I knew was negatively impacted by the image. I quickly skimmed the WCAG 2.0: 2.2.2 standard, but it turns out this one is a little more complicated than I first thought. Here’s the full text:

2.2.2 Pause, Stop, Hide: For moving, blinking, scrolling, or auto-updating information, all of the following are true: (Level A)

  • Moving, blinking, scrolling: For any moving, blinking or scrolling information that (1) starts automatically, (2) lasts more than five seconds, and (3) is presented in parallel with other content, there is a mechanism for the user to pause, stop, or hide it unless the movement, blinking, or scrolling is part of an activity where it is essential; and
  • Auto-updating: For any auto-updating information that (1) starts automatically and (2) is presented in parallel with other content, there is a mechanism for the user to pause, stop, or hide it or to control the frequency of the update unless the auto-updating is part of an activity where it is essential.

On a first read, I assumed this success criterion didn’t apply. After all, there’s no moving, blinking, or scrolling information. Leaves are moving, but text is not. But, as many high school teachers I ignored told me, always read all of the instructions.

Attempt 1 – the programming solution:

My first thought was to do some searches and see if I could find a way to quickly add a pause button to animated gifs, since that would be an easy, site wide fix. I was definitely reaching here, but it turns out it’s a somewhat viable option. This solution involves creating a png of a single frame of the gif, and swapping them on click. That felt problematic to me. While it might work if you click to pause the image, because our image is linked to our registration platform, I’d need to add an actual button over the image somewhere. That can be rather involved, with making it cross-browser, all screen size friendly, and ensuring it’s sufficiently accessible itself.

Attempt 2 – reduce complexity:

With the button ruled out, I thought that the easiest thing we could do would be to just remove some complexity from the image. We could make the leaves go slower, and maybe remove a few leaves. After a bit of work, our student designer put together this image for us within a few hours of the initial complaint:

The same image, but with about half as many falling leavesThat image has about half as many leaves, so it’s a lot less complex. And the leaves stay off the screen for a bit, meaning there’s always time without motion on the screen.

But while I was able to confirm the reduced complexity image solved the problem for our user with the complaint, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I really ought to read the entire standard. 

Returning to the standard

It turns out that if I’d just scrolled the page down a little bit, I’d have seen the information in the very first sentence. Here it is:

The intent of this Success Criterion is to avoid distracting users during their interaction with a Web page.

While I still think the success criterion needs some edits to be more clear about what constitutes “information”, certainly the purpose of the standard is to reduce distraction. And both Penn State and WebAIM agree: animations need to be very short or user controllable.

Attempt 3 – short animation:

The next easiest fix was to turn off looping on the animation. That way there’s still enough motion to capture attention, but not enough to distract. Here’s what we came up with:

The same image, but with looping turned offOf course, there’s some some downsides. For instance, say you embed a gif halfway down a page, and it takes more than 5 seconds to scroll there (like this page! If you’re not seeing motion, reload the page and scroll quickly). The visitor will never see the animation (note – this is fixable with lazy loading of images, but those weren’t a thing when we built this site, and we’ve had trouble grafting them on). But for us, with the image essentially at the top of the page, it’ll probably work. This also doesn’t work for cinemagraphs, which depend on perfectly looping images to create the effect of slight motion in an otherwise still world.

Next steps:

After we had an actual fix in place, we did a quick check across the entire site for other animated gifs, and found only one other place where there was a problem. That image has since been removed completely.

We’re currently exploring finally adding video support for some of the last areas of the website that don’t support it. Video would not only provide a way to pause animation, it would also allow for much higher resolution images and more complex animations. But fitting video into pages is also more complex, and if we’re unable to find a way to do what we need without a lot of work, we might end up waiting for the next iteration of the website. More details on that soon!

Goal Evaluation 18-19

It’s summer time! And, as always, that means evaluating how we did on our goals for the year.

Goal 1: Launch at least ten new program pages – We definitely exceeded this goal, launching Film, Medical Assistant, and Music Technology, with a few more almost ready.

Goal 2: Launch an easier way to view what programs Lane offers – Done, having launched our program sorter.

Goal 3: Increase the number of organic referrals to the website by 5%, from 1,358,302 to 1,426,217 (or more) – Narrowly missed. We were actually up 4.78% (though our new user rate was down a little, so traffic quality may not have improved)

Goal 4: Determine what the next iteration of Lane’s website is going to look like – Progress! I don’t have a name yet, but expect this project to kick off with a fury in the fall. It’s our hope to launch a brand new, prospective student centric website during the summer of 2020.

I’d also like to note that we managed to hold the overall size of the site steady, at around 4500 nodes. But that number is likely deceiving – we have a number of placeholder nodes, which we’re just waiting on content on before we delete them. There’s also a couple of projects in the works which will let us migrate a few hundred pages off the site, including a new home for Board minutes and policies, and a new digital catalog. Expect a much smaller site in the fall!

Enjoy the rest of your summer!

 

Goals update – Spring 2019

We’re about half way through the year for our goals. Let’s take a look at where we are:

Goal 1: We’ve launched several new programs pages, including 2D Art, Cybersecurity, Film, Hotel/Restaurant/Tourism Management, Physical Therapy Assistant, and Theatre. That puts us in great shape for meeting this goal, with 8 programs launched in the first half of the year (there were 2 launched last post).

Goal 2: Done, though we’re still trying to work some of our non-credit programs in.

Goal 3: We’re close on this goal, but not quite there. To date, we’re up 4.61%. That’s a slight improvement over last check-in, but we’ll need to improve faster to get to our full 5% goal.

Goal 4: While we still don’t have any firm details, we’re hoping to soon. Honest! We’ve made some progress since last time.

A new way to view programs

A quick update on progress we’ve made on our web team goals.

Goal 1: We’ve made progress on launching refreshed program pages. Aviation Maintenance Technology faculty drafted virtually all their own content, and provided us with an awesome tour. Networking also went live, just this week, with updated content. I’m hopeful we’ll be launching two more right around the start of the next term.

We also launched a couple of pages for transfer programs that we hadn’t previously advertised:

Of course, a program titled “Other” anything isn’t going to be terribly glamorous page, but it’s the best solution we’ve found for things like advertising – we don’t offer an advertising program and we don’t have a bunch (if any) advertising classes. But we’re a completely valid, cost effective start to transferring to major in advertising elsewhere. That said, those programs were fairly repetitive to write, so I probably won’t count those 5 toward our goals.

Goal 2:  We’ve launched a new way to view all the different programs and transfer areas we offer at Lane. You can now browse our programs in one place, rather than having to check each department’s website, and you can see them organized by career community. We’re hopeful this sorter will also support guided pathways at Lane. Goal accomplished!

Goal 3: We’re actually tracking fairly well on this goal, with Organic Search sessions 4.46% higher than they were over a similar time period last year. Unfortunately, new sessions are down, so while we may be on track to meet this goal, we’re not necessarily attracting the right kind of traffic.

Goal 4: There’s work happening on this one, but nothing to report yet. Expect news early next year. In the mean time, if you have any thoughts on things the Lane website does well, things it does poorly, or things you wish it would do, let me know in the comments below!

 

Web Team Goals 18-19

Welcome to the start of another school year! The web team has gone through a number of changes over the summer. First, we’re no longer a part of Information Technology, and are now a component of Marketing and Creative Services.

As part of that change, we’ve had a few personnel changes. First, we’re officially declaring Tom a member of the web team. Tom is a graphic design instructor, who we were fortunate enough to be able to snag as a half-time graphic design analyst. He, and the students he supervises in the Design and Media Center, have already made significant improvements to the look at feel of the website and our communications. David and Jim will be staying with Information Technology. While David will likely continue supporting our servers, Jim will be moving away from doing website content work and entirely into IT tasks. Thank you both for your time on the web team, and welcome Tom!

So what’s ahead?

The last few years, we’ve focused on some simple metrics to try and improve the Lane website. In 16-17 we worked primarily on reducing the size of the Lane website, going from 5768 pages to 5550. In 17-18, we expanded those goals again, but also added two traffic goals. We were successful in reducing the size of the website, dropping all the way to 4532 pages. But we missed our traffic goals, making only minor progress on the bounce rate and missing our session count goal entirely.

Over the last two years, we’ve definitely learned that we do what we measure, so it’s important that our metrics properly reflect our intentions. For instance, one of the ways we were trying to simplify the Lane website was by reducing the number of pages. But one of the ways we met that goal was by cleaning out old training pages. Those pages probably aren’t why the website feels cluttered, but deleting those dozen pages definitely helped our metrics.

Here are our goals for 2018-19:

  1. Launch at least ten new program pages
  2. Launch an easier way to view what programs Lane offers
  3. Increase the number of organic referrals to the website by 5%, from 1,358,302 to 1,426,217 (or more).
  4. Determine what the next iteration of Lane’s website is going to look like

Keep your eyes on the homepage – you’ll see a change as soon as we’re ready to launch the pages to accomplish goal number 2, hopefully in the next few weeks.

 

Evaluating Goal progress, 17-18

All year we’ve been tracking progress on our web team goals. But now the year is over, and it’s time to reflect. We definitely made a lot of progress on some of our goals, but on others there’s only bad news.

1. Reduce the total number of pages on the Lane website by 5% (from 5550 to 5273)

We exceeded this goal, reducing the total number of pages by 18.3%, rather than just 5%. But it turns out this was not a well written goal. Of the 1,018 of pages we eliminated, 558 of them were Lane in the News items, which aren’t really pages at all.

This goal had a problem with language versus measurement. Drupal stores content internally as “nodes”. This is fairly easy to count – select count(*) from node. But there’s a number of types of content on the website that aren’t really pages but are nodes. Lane in the News items are one type, but we also have slideshow slides, FAQ questions, and landing page announcements. So while those content types count for the purposes of our metric, they probably shouldn’t.

Fortunately, we still deleted 460 actual pages, so we handily met this goal. But if we set a goal like this again, we’ll probably exclude certain content types (not only the ones previously mentioned, but also news releases and board policies).

2. Reduce the number of pages with more than 15,000 characters by 10% (from 249 to 224)

While we certainly met this goal, this count has increased yet again, from 144 pages last check-in to 145. These pages remain mostly meeting minutes and policy documents. If we do a goal like this again, we should probably limit what content types we look at.

It’d be really nice if there were an easy way to count words, rather than characters, but that ends up being a very difficult problem, especially when our content includes HTML mixed in.

3. Reduce the average character count of our pages by 10% (from 4650 to 4185)

For reasons similar to goal #2, we should probably have limited what content types we looked at. We wound up at 4,194 characters, which is close to our goal. This is likely not a goal we’ll continue though, as longer form content isn’t necessarily a terrible idea.

4. Improve the average age of our pages (the average late updated date) by 4 months (from 16 months to 12 months)

We’ve stayed steady on this goal since last post, at 17 months old. This remains one of our most difficult tasks. Despite the web team making more than 3,000 page revisions in the last year, more than 20% of the pages on the website haven’t been edited in more than 3 years – and many of the revisions we made were just link changes or typos. We’re often not qualified to do content changes. Please give us a hand!

Traffic Goals

We also had two traffic goals:

  1. Increase session counts for www.lanecc.edu during the period 6/14/17-6/14/18 compared to the previous year by 5%, from 3,228,904 to 3,390,349
  2. Decrease the bounce rate for www.lanecc.edu during the period 6/14/17-6/14/18 compared to the previous year by 5%, from 37.05% to 35.19%

Unfortunately, we met neither of these goals. We fell the furthest behind on pageviews, where we fell 14.24%. We did improve our bounce rate by 1.11%, but that’s a long way from our 5% goal. We did have a couple of wins, which seem to indicate a more engaged audience. Average session duration is longer, people are viewing more pages per session, more sessions are from new visitors, and organic search traffic is up.

In retrospect, while these were a good first attempt at goals, future goals should be more carefully targeted to what we’re trying to accomplish on the web at Lane. For instance, we could look at the percentages of traffic that come via organic search or referral, or we could look at tracking the percentage of people who request information about the college.

Goal Check-in #5

This is our last check-ins on progress for our web team goals. The next progress post will be to evaluate how well we did and establish new goals.

1. Reduce the total number of pages on the Lane website by 5% (from 5550 to 5273)

Regretfully, this number has slid up even further, from 5003 to 5107. Much of this has been due to news releases and in the news items (where we track mentions of Lane in news media). Next time we create goals, we’ll definitely be using a much more limited subset of page types. There’s still a bunch of open tasks to eliminate some pages, but progress is likely to be slow, as we’ve had to prioritize other work.

2. Reduce the number of pages with more than 15,000 characters by 10% (from 249 to 224)

Somehow, this measure also increased slightly again, from 141 pages to 144 pages. These pages remain primarily internal pages.

3. Reduce the average character count of our pages by 10% (from 4650 to 4185)

With an increase in the count of longer pages, we’ve also had an increase in average page length. As mentioned last goal, this goal is no longer really one of our goals, as we’re deliberately using some longer form content. But I still don’t like that we’ve slipped to 4,140 characters.

4. Improve the average age of our pages (the average late updated date) by 4 months (from 16 months to 12 months)

We’ve stayed steady on this goal since last post, staying at 17 months old. This remains one of our most difficult tasks, and we’d appreciate any help you can provide.

Traffic Goals

We also had two traffic goals:

  1. Increase session counts for www.lanecc.edu during the period 6/14/17-6/14/18 compared to the previous year by 5%, from 3,228,904 to 3,390,349
  2. Decrease the bounce rate for www.lanecc.edu during the period 6/14/17-6/14/18 compared to the previous year by 5%, from 37.05% to 35.19%

Since these are annual goals, they’re a little harder to compare against. But we can compare similar time periods. For the first ten months, 6/14-4/14, comparing 2016/17 to 2017/18, our session counts have decreased by 13.67%, and our bounce rate has shrunk by 0.83%. This is a bit of an improvement on our bounce rate, but our session counts remain crushing. A glimmer of hope: new sessions are up 8.26%, and average session duration is up 9.98%.

Unfortunately, we’re no longer seeing the increase in traffic on the redeveloped traffic that we used to see, though we are at least seeing level traffic on program pages.

Last post in this series will be in June, when we’ll lay out some new goals for next year.

Goal Check-in #4

This is our fourth of five check-ins on progress for our web team goals.

1. Reduce the total number of pages on the Lane website by 5% (from 5550 to 5273)

Regretfully, this number has slid up since last check-in, from 4948 to 5003. There’s a couple of things behind this: there’s been an unusually high number of news releases, we’ve added pages to support our new slideshows, and we just had a training. There’s still 18 open tasks on our tracker about eliminating pages, so there’s still hope we’ll improve further by our final check-in. But our primary lesson is that we need to improve how we count our public pages – training pages, which no one can see, aren’t really hurting anyone, and we should really stop tracking our progress on them.

2. Reduce the number of pages with more than 15,000 characters by 10% (from 249 to 224)

Somehow, this measure also increased slightly, from 136 pages to 141 pages. Usually, these pages are minutes from meetings. Lesson learned: we need an intranet.

3. Reduce the average character count of our pages by 10% (from 4650 to 4185)

Sadly, this measure has also increased a bit, from 3966 to 4058. As mentioned last goal, this goal is no longer really one of our goals, as we’re deliberately using some longer form content.

4. Improve the average age of our pages (the average late updated date) by 4 months (from 16 months to 12 months)

We’ve stayed steady on this goal since last post, staying at 17 months old. This is one of our most difficult tasks: please help us out! If you look at the listing of pages in your site from the right sidebar on the dashboard, under “Sites I’m responsible for”, you can sort that by updated date. Take a look at some of your older pages; you might be surprised by how out of date they can be.

Traffic Goals

We also had two traffic goals:

  1. Increase session counts for www.lanecc.edu during the period 6/14/17-6/14/18 compared to the previous year by 5%, from 3,228,904 to 3,390,349
  2. Decrease the bounce rate for www.lanecc.edu during the period 6/14/17-6/14/18 compared to the previous year by 5%, from 37.05% to 35.19%

Since these are annual goals, they’re a little harder to compare against. But we can compare similar time periods. For the first eight months, 6/14-2/14, comparing 2016/17 to 2017/18, our session counts have decreased by 11.13%, and our bounce rate has shrunk by 0.01%. This is a bit of an improvement on our bounce rate, but our session counts remain crushing. A glimmer of hope: new sessions are up 7.76%, and average session duration is up 7.98%.

We’re still seeing positive returns from some of the pages we’ve redeveloped. If you work on the website of an academic program, and you’d like to dramatically update your pages, please send us an email. We’ll get in touch about how you can get in the queue for content rewrites. We’re hoping to launch our next redesigned program very soon.