Posts Tagged ‘seo’

Why Would You Hire a Social Media Strategy Company That Isn’t Social?

December 2, 2011 2 comments

The answer is you wouldn’t.

Yesterday I received a spam email from “Paul” at “Social Brand Online” in my Linkedin inbox.  Here’s the text in it’s mass-produced, cut-and-paste glory: Read more…

A Proposal for the Filter Bubble and the Future of Objectivity

May 26, 2011 5 comments

The Filter Bubble

So, first off, you need to watch Eli Pariser’s TED Talk about “The Filter Bubble.”  It’s getting a lot of traffic and discussion.

Okay.  Disturbed?  I am.

Human beings have a hard enough time agreeing on the basic facts of any given situation.  We don’t need more impediments in the way of our shared perception of reality.  In spite of the fact that more people have greater access to more information and interaction online today, I think most people would agree the United States is more polarized (particularly political rhetoric) than it has been in some time (and some research  even says we’re less informed). Read more…

Why Higher Ed Websites Suck (Follow-up on XKCD-Inspired Discussion)

August 16, 2010 Leave a comment

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Mike Petroff at .eduGuru had a clever rebuttal (“Redesign Your University Website According to xkcd”) to the criticism posed by the recent XKCD cartoon chastising college/university websites.

Having been involved in higher education web design for the better part of my professional life, I thought it might be valuable to break down the “whys” behind the problematic aspects of so many sites.  The common theme for most of them is trying to reach too many audiences with the front page of the website.

Things on the Front Page of a University Website (and why they’re there):

  • Campus Photo Slideshow
    Limited technical resources, a lengthy approval process, and an inability to shrug off the old constraints of print media are to blame for the ubiquity of campus photo slideshows.  The prevailing belief is that people like to see people who look like them (and apparently also pictures of the buildings they’ll be studying in) so that’s what makes the montages the dominant content.  Problem is though, colleges have such a diverse constituency that in an attempt to depict it all an incomprehensible mashup results.
  • Alumni in the News
    Most schools see alumni as an important constituent group; they contribute money, they give their time, and they serve as good evidence to the community that the school is successful in its mission.  Administrators also figure that students are compelled to attend by seeing examples of the outcomes of education.
  • Promotions for Campus Events
    Current students and community members one of the many audiences served by college websites, and as a nod to the outdated principles of traditional advertising, most schools think that advertising events on a high-traffic page will result in higher attendance.
  • Press Releases
    Yet another of the many disparate audiences that colleges/universities cater to is the media, and the public relations side of the college try to make information as accessible as possible.  Most schools also use press releases as their method of disseminating news to students and the community.
  • Statement of the School’s Philosophy
    This is one of those mandatory “the president/chancellor/board of trustees says” items that no one really reads, but which is given disproportionate attention.
  • Letter From the President
    Again – another “president says” item that everyone feels is mandatory.  These letters are also included in printed materials like the catalog where they’re also summarily ignored (and often the letter on the website is exactly the same  as the letter in print).
  • Virtual Tour
    For whatever reason, college administrators are enamored with the spaces in which they work and figure this will be a selling point to prospective students.  To be fair, this may be the case for large universities that have impressive, sprawling, ivy-covered campuses – but it’s not the case for the majority of schools.

Things People go to the Site Looking For (and why they can’t find them):

  • List of Faculty Numbers and Emails
    Actually many school sites do have faculty numbers/emails, and of those – many have them accessible from the front page of the site in a “people finder”/”phone directory.”  Trouble is, the lists are often incomplete or hard to find.  This is attributable to a couple of factors: 1) many sites are organized by department, so one needs to find the department of the faculty member to find their contact info, and 2) many adjunct faculty are not listed because they change regularly from semester-to-semester and most schools don’t have a publicly-available database of this info.  That’s not to say that there isn’t a database – there is in the form of the human resources department.  Understaffed IT departments usually don’t have the time/resources to write the scripts necessary to query these secure databases.
  • Campus Address
    This is actually an unfair criticism; most college/university sites have the campus address in either the header or the footer of every page on the site.
  • Application Forms
    This is also a curious inclusion as most schools prominently display an “apply now” button on the front page of the site (and nowadays the link usually goes to an online application form – as opposed to a printed copy that one would need to mail/fax in).
  • Academic Calendar
    Ideally the academic calendar should be merged with all of the other campus activities calendars into one super-calendar tool that is easily searchable.  Unfortunately as is the case with many other enterprise databases, the tools are either powerful OR user-friendly; never both.  Most schools have complex space reservation management systems (because in addition to scheduling thousands of sections of classes, they have myriad events happening on campus and often maintain catering/room rental operations) – but it’s difficult to crowbar these into being user-friendly calendars.  Conversely, static web pages or simple databases can’t handle the load that event schedulers require, so a lot of schools have both.
  • Campus Police Phone Number
    Good point.  I have no excuse for this not being on the front page of the website; though I would say that it’s unlikely in an emergency that anyone would take the time to fire up their laptop/mobile browser and go surfing for the campus police number – they’d likely just dial 911.
  • Department/Course Lists
    This is another unfortunate case of enterprise databases clinging stingily to the data they hold.  While departments are usually a common part of any college website navigation scheme, the course lists are not.  They’re either hidden behind the wall of a database (with an insufferably complex search tool) or they’re locked inside of a static PDF.
  • Parking Information
  • Usable Campus Map
    The campus map is an unfortunate case of trying to appropriate static content designed for the world of print materials for the web, so JPGs and PDFs are turned into web content.  Fortunately the tide is turning, given how open Google and Bing are with their interactive maps – so now many schools are able to embed helpful, dynamic maps into their sites (without having to have a Flash designer on staff).

A Case Study in the Importance of Data Integrity

August 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Data integrity is really, really important.  No, I mean *really* important.  It’s tedious, boring, and unsexy – but how we tag, label, sort and publish information is critical.

Eye of Sauron

It’s more important than before because the good news is that it’s being used more than ever (instead of wasting away in moldering file cabinets).  The open architecture of so much of the Web 2.0 platforms means that we can mash data in new ways for new ends.  The bad news, though, is if the data isn’t sound – it can lead to problems.

Case in Point: my friend and colleague Donna Kragt in Grand Rapids Community College’s Institutional Research & Planning Department just informed me that I helped uncover a state-wide problem in how colleges in Michigan report data to the Federal Government.

If the Internet is Middle Earth, I try to be the equivalent of the Eye of Sauron for GRCC [ask your geek friends].

I discovered that “Braintrack College & University Directory” (a 3rd party student-oriented website) was incorrectly informing students that GRCC offers degrees in Public Relations Management.  I found out that they had scraped the data for GRCC’s profile from a federal database.  They also scraped a variety of other data from other locations, like our Student Life offerings and enrollment numbers.

One’s first instinct might be to get upset with Braintrack for repurposing this data – but that’s  misguided.  It’s actually good that other entities like Braintrack are doing so; it ultimately helps put GRCC in touch with more students (they’re a third party so their reporting on GRCC has more credibility than our advertising efforts, plus they may format the data in a more user-friendly way for prospective students, and they may even do their own promotional campaigns – all of which benefit us).

Related to data integrity is a story that was just published in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Marc Perry (“College Web Pages Are ‘Widely Inaccessible’ to People With Disabilities”) about a study showing that most college web content can’t be viewed by people with visual impairments.  This is important not only for ADA compliance, but because computers (like those that power search engines) are very similar to people with visual impairments: they rely on text to be able to experience the world – and making a site more ADA-complaint also allows search engines and social networking platforms to more easily index the site.  On a positive note – Blackboard (the course management tool used by GRCC) was just lauded for its handicap-accessibility.