Web Content Blog

Monday, September 12, 2016

Usability Testing: What, How, and Why

By Kari Barton

Recently, I was on a website and could not find the information I was looking for anywhere - not even after checking the FAQ page. It was so crucial that I find the information that I had to contact the company (with much frustration) to ask for it.

That experience made me think to myself: Am I the only one who couldn't find the information on my own, or is this a common problem? And furthermore, can people find the information I have on my own website? Does it make sense, and is it user-friendly? Conducting a usability test is the best way to answer these questions and improve your site. 

What is Usability Testing?

Watch Users in Action

To conduct a usability test, you will have a participant sit in front of a computer and ask them to complete some specific tasks on your website and then watch and record how they use the site - that's it. 

Why Do Usability Testing?

It may sound daunting to do usability testing on your site, but it doesn't have to be. And there is no replacement for watching someone try to use your website - you will be amazed at where they expect information to be and how they use the site! You may even find yourself saying "I would've never thought my users would think that way!"

How to Conduct Your Test

Usability testing does not have to (and shouldn't) be long, expensive, or complicated. Use the "KISS" method: Keep It Simple Sweetie. 

1. Prepare Tasks

Think about what areas of your site should be tested. Do you tend to get a lot of questions on the same topic that is answered on your website already? Start there. 

Opinions about your site are great, but what you really need to know is if people can find information. This means that you want your questions to be more like tasks and natural. For instance, if you want to know if users can find your webpage about student activities, you might phrase the task like this: "You're an undergrad student living on campus, and you want to get involved. Can you find things for students to do?"


  • Keep the task list to about five tasks per test.
  • Ask the participant to "think out loud" as much as possible, and brief them about the test before beginning.
  • Ask follow up questions ("And why would you expect that to be located there?").
  • Avoid giving clues in tasks by using generic terms, such as "places to workout" instead of LaHaye Recreation and Fitness Center.
  • Make it personal/natural (put the participant in the shoes of the user who would need that information).

2. Find Participants

The best participants to test your site are people from your target audience and who are not already familiar with your site - this ensures fresh perspectives. You don't have to have a large number of participants to get meaningful results. I would suggest five participants per test. 

Your participants could be people who are:

  • In your department and don't use the website often
  • From other departments that are willing to help you improve your website
  • Student workers
  • Hanging out in the library
  • Walking around campus aimlessly

If you're able, it's always nice to give participants a small gift to thank them for their time - like candy or branded items (pens, notepads, water bottles, etc.). 

3. Evaluate and Implement Results

After testing the site with the five participants, type your notes (you will have tons!) while they're fresh in your mind.

  1. Pick out the top usability issues that you noticed multiple participants struggling with. 
  2. Consider possible solutions for the problem areas
    • You may find the solution during the testing. For example, if multiple participants looked for information in the same place, then you might want to move it to where they were looking.
    • During (or at the end of) the test, ask the participant: "Where would you expect that information to be located?"
  3. Look for "quick wins" that will be the least amount of work but provide the most improvement.
    • Solutions could be as simple as adding a link on a page or changing the text of a navigation item, but this could make all the difference for the usability of your site!

4. Test Again

After implementing your solutions from your test, conduct another test with new participants to make sure that your improvements were effective. Who knows, you might find an even better solution than the first!

Thinking of conducting a usability test? Feel free to run your ideas by our Web Content Team for feedback and tips. We're here to help you!

Posted at 10:40 AM | Permalink

Monday, August 1, 2016

8 Web Manager Checkpoints

8 Things to Do Before You Publish

By Nathan Skaggs

Creating and maintaining your web pages can be overwhelming, and sometimes the web doesn’t get the attention it deserves. This is understandable when you have a million other tasks that seem more pressing than a web page.

However, visitors to your page don’t see it that way. It’s their first impression of your department and, in a greater sense, our university. So, you’ll want to make sure everything is in tip-top shape before your page is published.

Here are eight simple things you should look for on your pages before they go live.

1. Current Content

Keeping your content fresh and up to date should be your top priority. For academic departments, this means including any new degrees, specializations, or minors on the web. It’s important that all of the information for each program of study is accurate, too.

After all, this is most likely the first place a prospective student will go to find out more about your program. Don’t miss your chance by leaving out information or having outdated content.

It's important that you schedule regular web maintenance to review, update, and improve your pages.

2. Header Sequencing

It’s tempting to choose a heading style to make key phrases stand out from the rest of the content on your page. But, headings should be used specifically for labeling sections of content on your page. If you want information to stand out, use bold or italicized text. We also have some icons that you can use that may help bring more attention to important notes on your page.

As you’ve heard before, headings are important for scannability. Make sure your headers flow in a progressive order, from H1 to H2 to H3 and so on.

3. Voice & Tone

Your content should always be conversational and user-focused. If we’re just focusing on ourselves or our department in our content, we’re doing it all wrong. Instead, let the reader know how they will benefit from what we’re offering.

Follow our voice & tone guidelines to ensure your content is warm and inviting.

4. Spelling & Grammar

Let’s face it—we all make mistakes. With human error in mind, it’s important to use the tools available to ensure that those errors don’t make it out into the public for all to see. When an institute of higher education such as Liberty has glaring spelling or grammar errors, it’s just embarrassing. You can avoid embarrassment by using spell check and reading through your text ahead of time.

5. Paste as Plain Text

Having trouble with different size fonts or strange spacing on your page? It could be because you’ve copied the content from a Word document or another source and have pasted it directly into the WYSIWYG.

Copying and pasting content without using the “Paste as Plain Text” option can add extra html code to the page. While you won’t see the code, you’ll definitely experience the negative consequences of extra code once the page is live.

6. Navigation Sets

These are important for the user experience because they help them find other pages in your department that are relevant to them. You don’t want your users lost or without information simply because they couldn’t find it. Navigation sets will help them find what they’re looking for—and quickly!

Add an existing navigation set to your page by:

  • Opening the Page Properties
  • Checking the box to display departmental navigation
  • Selecting the set you want from the dropdown list

7. Links

Links are great to have on your page to lead users to more information. But they're not so great when they don’t work or aren't labeled clearly.

Before your page goes live, be sure to check all the links to make sure they're working properly and linked to the correct location. This includes links to:

  • External web pages
  • Other Liberty pages
  • Documents/PDFs
  • Email

A site search of Liberty.edu returned 1,780 results for links labeled "click here." Where do you think a link labeled “click here” will take you? It’s hard to tell because the link text is not descriptive. Instead, you should use words that clearly describe where a link is going.

8. Image Sizes

Always, always, always size your images in Photoshop before uploading them to your file manager. Sizing images in Web Manager can cause slow load times for your page, and may even impact the quality of your image. That’s because web browsers try to load the image at its original size.

Be sure to check your image sizes after uploading them to your page to make sure they're the right size!

Check It Off

Checking these eight things before your page gets approved will save you editing time in the future and increase your chances of a faster page approval.

Nathan Skaggs Web Content Associate

Posted at 11:07 AM | Permalink

Thursday, June 16, 2016

SEO Basics Guide for Beginners

A Beginner's Guide to Search Engine Optimization

By Diane Austin

You’ve got valuable information on your webpages that your audience needs, but they can’t seem to find it. Before you submit a request for a new website design, a blog, and three new social media accounts, try applying some standard SEO techniques.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and it is a way of making your web content easier to find. If you apply these SEO basics to your web pages, you’ll instantly be easier to find.

SEO Basics

Gather Your Keywords

Sometimes our institutional language and acronyms do a poor job of describing our services to outsiders. The first step in making your web pages SEO-friendly is to put yourself in the user's shoes. What do people call the thing or service you offer? Think of all the ways that your website visitors might refer to what you do and use those terms – or keywords – on your page.

Keywords in the Page Title

Put keywords in your page title, which is editable from Web Manager Page Properties. The title should be a big signpost to help visitors understand what your page is about. It also helps search engines guide visitors to your page when they search for you.

Keywords in the h1

Put your keywords in the heading 1 - or h1 - at the top of the page. There should always be one and only one h1 on your page. It is often the same or very similar to the page title. Your h2s and h3s – which should be used to further organize and subdivide your page content – should also contain keywords. Users scan webpages looking for information, so putting keywords in headings and subheadings makes them easy to spot.

Keywords in filenames

Before uploading images or PDFs to your webpages, save them with SEO friendly filenames:

  • Put the most important keywords at the front of the filename.
  • Use hyphens or dashes between words instead of spaces, underscores, or just running words together.
  • For PDFs, put revision dates in the document footer or description rather than in the file name.

Keywords in Alt Tags

Put keywords in alternative text or “alt tags” for images. You are using alt tags, aren’t you?

Alt tags help visually impaired users who rely on screen readers to tell them about your webpages. The alt tag should describe the image to someone who can’t see it. Your alt tag can help them “see” the image, but it can also help search engines see that the image is related to your keyword. Look for the link to our SEO Checklist at the end of this post for more details on how and where to add the alt tag.

Keywords in links

For anyone to find your page – including Google and other search engines – you’ll have to add links to it. The link text you use can also help your SEO efforts. There are 275 links on Liberty’s website that say, “click here.”  What will visitors find when they click there? Who knows! We do know that website users don’t like “mystery links.” Using the right keywords in your link text helps users follow the “information scent” to what they are looking for. For example, the link text for your internship page could say, "Internship Information" and the link to the internship application could say, "Internship Application" or "Apply for an Internship."

Example from the Helms School of Government

We recently worked with the Helms School of Government to improve their webpages, including SEO. Here’s an example of how we applied these SEO basic principles to their pages.

Keywords – Potential students are looking for degrees in specific subject areas. They want their education to train them for a career and they may even have one or two specific career paths in mind. The School of Government offers a degree in Criminal Justice with a concentration in Crime Scene Investigation, so we targeted all these keywords:

  • Criminal Justice
  • Crime Scene Investigator
  • Crime Scene Investigation
  • Crime Scene Investigation Degree

In addition to improving the Criminal Justice Degree page, we added a page for the concentration in Crime Scene Investigation using keywords in these places:

Page Title – BS in Criminal Justice – Crime Scene Investigation

H1 – Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice – Crime Scene Investigation

File name of header photo – BS-in-Criminal-Justice-Crime-Scene-Investigation.jpg

Alt tag for header photo – BS in Criminal Justice – Crime Scene Investigation

Text on the page included the keywords, related terms, and variations of the keywords in the body text – "Crime Scene Investigation degree," "career in criminal investigation," "Crime Scene Investigator," "Crime Scene Photography," "Crime Scene Management," and "Criminal Investigations."

Link text – the link text for the Degree Completion Plan is called “BS in Criminal Justice – Crime Scene Investigation.”

We also added a meta description to the page that appears in search results and includes the keywords and lets the users know the page will explain what the degree offers:

Seeking a BS in Criminal Justice - Crime Scene Investigation? Take a look at what we have to offer at the Helms School of Government.

Try it yourself!

Except for adding the meta description, you can do most of these things yourself. We’ve put together an SEO checklist to guide you and remind you of these basics.

If you need additional help or just want someone to look over your SEO changes, contact me by email or instant message. I'd love to talk to you about your web content and SEO.  

Posted at 11:33 AM | Permalink

Friday, April 29, 2016

Simply Said: Plain Language for the Web

by Debra Torres

Communicate with your readers - naturally

There’s a word that my Cuban mother-in-law uses in conversation that tells me when she’s ready to listen. And although I’ve tried and failed to learn Spanish many times, I do know that when this one rolls off her tongue, it means she’s all ears.

The word is “dime.” It sounds like “dee-may.” And it simply means: “Tell me.”

It reminds me of a phrase that I sometimes use when I’m ready to really engage in a heartfelt discussion: “Let’s talk.”

“Let’s talk” or “tell me” moments make for the best kinds of conversation, I think. To me, they indicate that it’s time to kick off your shoes, grab a cup of something warm, and have a heart-to-heart with someone you care about.

In moments like these, people talk at the same level. They naturally stay conversational and ease up on the use of complicated language. 

I think this is why I love writing for the web so much. It’s filled with “tell me” and “let’s talk” moments.

Or at least it should be.

Are You Relating to Your Audience?

Unfortunately, more often than not, we use the web as a platform to “talk at” or “down to” our users in a way that can create a disconnect with them. In a medium that can create a warm, one-on-one experience, our scholarly language can come off cold and standoffish.    

We don’t mean to communicate this way, I’m sure. Who tries to alienate their target audience on purpose?

I think that maybe we’re just not understanding that the secret to engaging our audience on the web lies in keeping our text simple and relational.

In a Q&A over on the Acrolinx blog, Deborah Bosley from The Plain Language Group suggests that when you're describing something to your target audience, you should write it the same way you would imagine them describing it to their friends. “That often means not talking to them like they’re subject matter experts,” she says, “but rather using language that’s plain, direct, and succinct.”

Bosley also gives some tips on plain language that include:

  • Keep your sentences short (15-18 words)
  • Keep paragraphs short (3-5 short sentences)
  • Use 3-5 headings per page 

Write for Their Reading Level

Because of a multitude of factors like disabilities, device limitations, and the fast pace of our culture, I suggest you write at an 8th grade reading level. With a level that low, you know you’ve lost a good portion of your readers when your web copy tests in at a much higher level.

If you’re looking over your pages now and seeing some room for improvement, you’re not alone. Huge companies and even government sites are seeing the value of plain language and are making the switch. And Google is even rewarding sites with better ranking when page text is written plainly and clearly.

Let’s Talk

The Liberty University Web Content Team wants to help you make your pages more readable for your users. For starters, you can read our Web Writing Tips and our Voice and Tone Guidelines. There are also many great posts in this blog that can help get you started. Connecting with your users in a way that they understand is not as hard as you may think. The answer is an easy one.

Keep it simple. 

Debra Torres Web Content Specialist

Posted at 11:13 AM | Permalink

Friday, March 18, 2016

Walls of Text: They keep your users out

By Kari Barton

Do you have a lot of vital information to tell your users? Of course you do! But let's communicate it better than providing the user with a giant wall of copy. They won't read this dense text anyway because it's too daunting and lacking that "information scent" which lets them know they're on the right track. 

You and I are web users as well as content creators, so we know first-hand that large blocks of text are not inviting to read. 

Creating Barriers

Here's a wall of text:

No one wants to read this. It's simply too long and doesn't look like it will contain any information that I want to know. I don't even know how to scan it because nothing stands out. 

Tear Down That Wall!

Here's the text from the example above, but redone: 


Now we can actually scan the text and pick out what areas we might want to read further. It invites us to read by breaking up the text into manageable chunks, and - best of all - it allows us to quickly find and focus on the areas we're most interested in. 

Here's how we broke down the wall:

  • Put lists in bullets instead of paragraphs: Bullets are great for quick scanning and identifying lists!
  • Added headers: Headers break up paragraphs and allow users to identify what section they want to read for more information. 
  • Added links: Linking is crucial on the web. Whenever appropriate, add a link to point your users to more information on a particular topic that you are referring to. 
  • Cut the unnecessary parts: If there are words and ideas in the text that don't help the user better understand the topic at hand, cut out that ROT!

You can do it too!

Take a look at your most text-heavy pages and consider if the page is still easy to scan and user friendly.

Test It

You can test if a page is easy to scan by showing it to someone (who is not already familiar with the page) for about 5 seconds and seeing if they were able to get the basic gist of the page. That's about how long your users will spend scanning your page before either finding what they're looking for or clicking the back button. Don't keep them out by building a wall!

Kari Barton Web Content Specialist

Posted at 10:54 AM | Permalink

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