Does phone number format matter?

The other day, Lori pointed out that the phone number format on one of the mockups from iFactory was different from what we normally use. In accordance with AP style, we use (541) 463-3000. But the new mockups use the format 541-463-3000. And it’s pretty common to see phone numbers formatted with two dots: 541.463.3000. Does the format matter?

Yes. It turns out google is better at recognizing some formats as phone numbers than others. That post tested ten different formats, and found that the one we use and the one iFactory used are the ones best recognized by Google. The double dot notation? To quote the linked blog: “The phone number format you should avoid at all costs is #3: [###.###.###].

Of course, that doesn’t settle which of those two is best. So I checked to see if there are any accessibility considerations with phone numbers. There are, but they don’t relate to visible format. All phone number formats are terrible, and something like (541) 463-3000 would probably be read to a blind person as “five hundred forty-one [pause] four hundred sixty-three three thousand”. There’s a fix for that, using aria-label on a surrounding link, but that just adds something for my todo list, and doesn’t solve the debate here.

And that’s how I found myself at 10pm, doing a survey of college websites, to see how they format phone numbers:

541-463-3000 25 Harvard, UO, OSU, Washington, UC Denver, KSU, UMass, FSU, F&M, UCLA, MIT, Cal State Fullerton, Ohio State, Penn State, VT, Louisiana State, Wisconsin State, Yale, Georgetown, Alaska, Berkeley, Skidmore, Colby, Baylor, OHSU
541.463.3000 10 Portland State, Gettysburg, NYU, SNHU, WGU, U Phoenix, UVA, Middlebury, GA Tech, U Maine
(541) 463.3000 1 Gonzaga
(541) 363-3000 13 Idaho, UVM, Dickinson, Michigan State, Kentucky State, U Penn, UConn, Binghamton, Dartmouth, Cornell, Ithaca, Notre Dame, American
Mix 2 Rutgers, Princeton
This, for a variety of reasons, is not a scientific study. They’re just the first 50 colleges and universities that came to mind (and now you know I don’t follow college sports), and I didn’t check their style guide. I just looked at the first contact number I could find. As I said, not a scientific study. Just evidence of a person who’s too far down this rabbit hole to give up, far too late on a weeknight.
 
Of course, that left me with a clear winner. And I had to know why. From a blog post in 2006, I learned AP changed their preferred style, and Lane hasn’t kept up. A quick email to someone who owns a recent AP style guide verified it.
 
So we’ll probably go with 541-463-3000. The parenthetical format, (541) 463-3000, feels like it come from an age when area codes were mostly optional. And for many of us, me included, that’s no longer the case. Just please don’t use the dotted phone notation on your pages!
related XKCD comic
 

Let’s talk about FAQ Pages

As part of our website redesign, over the last two months I’ve visited each and every page on the Lane website. As part of that process, we’ve cut a lot of pages, and at just 3413 nodes, the Lane website is now smaller and more svelte than it was when we launched it back in 2011 (and that includes more than 100 nodes that aren’t even real pages!).

But also as part of that process, I discovered that there were two categories of pages that had a lot of pages, and a lot of good information, but not necessarily a lot of value.

The first was contact pages. By convention, we try to have a page, usually located at a url like lanecc.edu/department/contact, which contains contact information for a department. This is an important page, and the way we structured things was an attempt to bring some standardization to the Lane website. But it also resulted in duplicate information (contact information is sometimes on the department homepage, and some departments also created employee directory pages). We’ll likely to contact pages differently next time around.

The second chunk was frequently asked questions pages. There are probably forty or fifty pages on the website that are full of FAQs. And while often the information in them is helpful, just by presenting that information in the FAQ format we may be making it less likely students will find and understand what we need to tell them.

For a good overview of why FAQ pages can be less helpful than other  content, you should read this A List Apart article. A brief summary of  issues:

  • Duplicate content – many times information on a FAQ is contained elsewhere
  • Lack of order – FAQ content doesn’t tend to flow question to question, making it harder to understand and process
  • Repetitive structure – since all the content gets phrased as questions, you’re often introducing extra words to the page that get repetitive to read
  • Increased cognitive load – often a student will come to your page with a specific question, phrased differently from how you’ve asked it, resulting in increased processing to determine if your question matches their question

I also think FAQs are problematic for people that aren’t searching for an answer to a specific question. If you’re just exploring a site, trying to determine if a program is for you then a FAQ often fails to guide you through content in a meaningful way.

If you happen to be stuck at home with some time to do website edits, one thing that would be really helpful is working on your FAQ page. Here’s my suggestions for slimming down, or dumping, your FAQ:

  1. Read through your questions, and make sure you still feel like each question is important. If one isn’t important, remove it. You might be surprised by how much old content is out there.
  2. Find any questions in your FAQ that have answers elsewhere, whether on your site or another page on our website, and get rid of them. Reducing duplicate content is possibly the most helpful thing we can do. We’ve found that many people have tried to be helpful by copying content from elsewhere on the website, ostensibly to simplify things for their audience, but almost always this ends up making the website bigger and more confusing.
  3. Find any FAQ questions that are related to some other page on your site, and incorporate them into the content on that page. For instance, if you have a question like “What prerequisite courses do I need to take before applying to this program?”, consider moving that content to your program application page under a heading “Required Prerequisite Courses”
  4. Are there any groups of questions that are related, and which could be combined into just a paragraph or two of more effective content, either on a new page, or as a new section on an existing one?

After all that, you may still be left with some FAQ questions which just don’t fit in anywhere. And that’s ok. Sometimes a FAQ provides the right solution. But even just shortening the length of your FAQ page can help students to better find information and improve the quality of your other pages.

As always, if you’re working on something like an FAQ and have a question, send us an email at webmaster@lanecc.edu.

Kicking off a Website Redesign

With the start of the new school year comes to the launching of our website redesign project! We’re pleased to announce that over this year, we’ll be working together closely with iFactory, a Boston based company specializing in higher education and non-profit websites, to completely re-envision what Lane’s front door on the web looks like.  iFactory has done a lot of college websites, including Santa Barbara City College, Central Wyoming College,  and Prince George’s Community College, and has already impressed us with their transparency and project management skill.

Since our last redesign, it’s become clear that the front page of an effective college website needs to be oriented to the needs of prospective students. The other primary audiences (current students and employees) need to have a better home online which more directly serves their needs, and which integrates the tools they most commonly use. So as part of this launch, we’re hoping to move some employee-centric pages (like CPDT, FPD, Budget, and others – there’s about 1000 pages in total that are really only important to employees) to a more employee oriented site, where we can offer greater flexibility in terms of content editing and viability. 

And we’re interested in your opinions on the college website. Some folks from iFactory will be coming to visit soon, and they’ll be conducting some interviews with folks around campus. But of course they won’t be able to talk to everyone. So if you have any feedback on the website (and remember, we’re just talking about www.lanecc.edu here – myLane and Moodle are outside the scope of the redesign), please email us at webmaster@lanecc.edu. We’ll be sure to pass that feedback along and use it as part of the research phase in this redesign. 

Accessibility and Pizza

This is just a quick post to share some news about the ever evolving legal web accessibility landscape. The LA Times has a nice write-up of Robles v Dominos, and how by declining to review the 9th Circuit ruling, we’ve conclusively determined that the Americans with Disabilities Act does apply to websites and apps.

While this doesn’t impact the college directly – we were already subject to website accessibility requirements – it does serve as a great reminder that digital accessibility lawsuits are on the rise, and we need to continually work to ensure what we do is accessible.

And remember, that work doesn’t include just websites, but all things posted online, on any website used in relation to Lane. PDFs have some pretty good checking tools that are worth looking at.

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!