Library Websites Worth Looking At

If you haven’t ever read/seen Aaron Schmidt’s work, he’s got that snarky sense of humor that I very much appreciate. For example, his take on QR Codes in Libraries.

Anyway, he and his organization posted some evals of quality library websites. Worth a look, especially if you’re ever looking for libraries/features to model a library website after in the near future!

Helping Google stifle Black Hat SEO

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) seemed to me a strategy that web vendors and spammers used to generate traffic to their sites. As a web user and novice web designer, understanding how Google separates white-hat and black-hat SEO—literally, the good guys from the bad guys—helped me make sense of it a little more.

Google also depends on regular searchers to help by pointing out when something is wrong with your search results. If you do a search, and there is something that doesn’t fit or is sketchy, you can point it out to Google. Kevin Purdy, in his TechRepublic article “Give Google better feedback and get better results” shows us how. 

screenshot of Google Feedback link and popup

Have you ever noticed the “Send feedback” link at the bottom of your search results and thought, “Yeah, no thanks. I’m not writing an email to Google or going to another tab to fill out a form. I just want some better search results, so I’d rather spend my time trying it again.”? As it turns out, it’s Javascript that keeps you right in the page, where you describe in words and then show Google by highlighting what was wrong. And you can go back to your search. Google takes the feedback seriously and uses the user feedback to improve its algorithms. Maybe you don’t see the direct results, but it’s for the “betterment” of the web!

I also have to give credit where credit is due, I learned the most about SEO and what Google does from this article I read in another library school course, LIS 451 (but liked Purdy’s visual view of one of the biggest takeaways I got from the article): Cahill, K., & Chalut, R. (2009). Optimal Results: What Libraries Need to Know About Google and Search Engine Optimization. The Reference Librarian, 50(3), 234-247.

Reference:

Purdy, K. (2012, February 21). Give Google better feedback and bug reports and get better results. TechRepublic. Retrieved December 5, 2014, from http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/google-in-the-enterprise/give-google-better-feedback-and-bug-reports-and-get-better-results/ 

What I like about WPBeginner

I started with a WordPress.com blog in fall 2012 (well, actually my instructor hosted WordPress.org blogs for those of us in his course that summer, but I had to transfer the content after the course ended). I played with WordPress.com for a year before I decided that it was time to take back control and have access to the HMTL code again (not that I was using it more than pasting in Goodreads widgets, but still.)

For me the transfer process and install of a self-hosted WordPress.org site was daunting. It still is. There is something about domain hosting that trips up my little brain. However, I do follow detailed, step-by-step instructions well, and lucky for me, they are out there.

WP Beginner was exactly what I was looking for, more than once: http://www.wpbeginner.com/

For example, here were the instructions I needed to transfer WP.com to WP.org. I think as we start the actual coding for our upcoming redesign projects, this article about creating child themes is really going to come in handy because it explains how to modify some of the stuff the WordPress takes care of for you by providing themes. When we sketched out our ideas and chose color schemes in the early planning stages, we based them on our creative imaginations, not existing WP themes, so we’ll have to compromise those idea or pitch them unless we do some modifying. So in this case, I’m pretty jazzed about having some instructions.

Another thing this site does really well is answering the question, “How can I do X with WordPress?” and enlightening you to some of the possibilities that you might tap into within the realm of this CMS. I had no idea that you could password-protect a single post, for example, but here’s how. Let’s say you want to mess with the line spacing in the CSS, which we learned how to do from our course readings, but since we didn’t handcode the content, it might not be obvious what the classes or IDs were tagged with–maybe not the hardest thing to examine and figure out on your own, but I think I would appreciate someone just telling me what to look for specifically in WP. I still need help with Google Analytics, and I am encouraged by the help WP Beginner has to offer for that too.

So, if this is your first experience with WordPress, this is where I would start: http://www.wpbeginner.com/guides/. In fact, the guides pretty much go in order of the things you would want to do:

  1. How to Pick the Right Domain Name
  2. How to Choose the Best WordPress Hosting
  3. How to Install WordPress on Your Site
  4. How to Select a Perfect WordPress Theme
  5. Recommended Plugins for WordPress
  6. How to Install and Setup Google Analytics in WordPress
  7. Setup a Professional Email Address for Your WordPress Blog

Eddie Bauer’s Survey-Game Marketing

I got the following email from EddieBauer.com the other day, because I had been “selected to help them choose new styles for the upcoming season…”

Eddie Bauer survey email

I followed the survey link because it sounded appealing to participate in. This is what I got:

survey landing page

survey instructions page

Basically, they had gamified the survey process by trying to make it feel like The Price is Right as if you were guessing the prices of the items instead of offering feedback. Clever, because it kept me engaged in the process, even if it was apparent early on that the things I shop for at Eddie Bauer (trousers and long-sleeve shirts) were not the items being survey (mostly cargo pants and running pants). I’m afraid because the survey was set and not adaptive to focus in on the few things I did respond to positively, they missed the “target” by targeting me!

I was a little disappointed at the end of the survey when there was no fanfare or results on if I had “done well” with the What Would They Pay? survey-game. Missed opportunity, Eddie Bauer! (It would have been neat to see the average results of what people stated would be appropriate pricing–though I’m sure this would mess with their marketing if they decide to price higher than the average when potential items launch.)

A look at the FamilySearch.org genealogy form

This February, I was out in Salt Lake City for a snowboard trip, and while there, I spent an evening après-ski at the LDS Family History Museum. (I’m not LDS, but their genealogy library is a-maz-ing, and when in Rome…) Anyway, long story short, part of the experience was a “guided introduction” to the FamilySearch.org genealogy tool with my own personal church elder.

The thing about the way FamilySearch works, compared to Ancestry.com for example, is once you’ve entered enough of your family tree that it overlaps with the content of another user’s research, your content merges and you’ve basically crowd-sourced your research (for the good and the bad–errors and all). It’s nearly as powerful as Ancestry.com, but free.

The initial form that FamilySearch uses takes you through entering information about your father, your mother, your father’s father, your father’s mother, your mother’s father, your mother’s mother, etc. to build your tree. It allows you to skip family members or details that you don’t have information on (recommended so that you don’t taint others’ trees). Once you register, the form is available here: https://familysearch.org/first-run/#/

It’s a pretty nice way to enter genealogy information because it is linear and guided. The caveat is that once you leave the series of forms, by clicking out to another part of the website, you can’t go back. When you try to return to your tree, you get the bare structure of the tree, not the form. This is what happened to me in SLC when I was working with Elder Summers (and he didn’t know how to get back to it).

The other day, I was doing a “family tree research” workshop with high school students during an enrichment period and it happened to a student. I did manage to peek at the URL of another student’s browser, and try the “first-run” path and it worked for her, since she wasn’t very far. However, I am beyond that point in my use of the site that the handy-dandy guided form is not available.

So, final analysis: nice form if you can get it!

Color Accessibility in Web Design

My boyfriend is slightly colorblind and often complains about the contrast on our GPS devices when they switch to night mode (we use the Waze app and also a Garmin). He can’t see the magenta road highlight against a dark background (and I can see it just fine)–so we have to use day mode, or I navigate verbally. He also had a lot of trouble with the Ian’s Pizza (a local Madison fave) website before their redesign because it was dark red on black. For an idea of the scheme, see here: Ian’s Pizza site in Internet Archive

When I was adding color to a recent website assignment with CSS, it occurred to me at the end of the process that the color combinations I chose might have been [relatively] pleasing to me, but maybe not so much to someone with color vision problems. Since we weren’t designing for beauty at the time, I left it be, but later I did go out seeking solutions. While I can recognize color schemes that seem to go together, picking them is another thing!

Here’s what I found:

I really like this tool: http://paletton.com/. There’s a lot to it that is above my web design skillset at the moment, like using the widget and scripts on your page to get your color themes and the accessibility right. What I liked most is that you could pick a color and scheme and it serves up a palette for you with the hex codes. Kind of like someone handing you paint swatches that work together at Sherwin-Williams. Then you can add a colorblindness simulation and see how your choices might look to certain populations. (In fact, there are all sorts of goodies to play with–I suspect this could be a powerful tool, once you learn to work its features. Similarly, my instructor mentioned http://www.checkmycolours.com/ in one of our discussions, but I liked that you could be proactive too with Paletton and address it before it’s embedded in a live url. For kicks, I ran the Ian’s Pizza link above through it… Major fail, Ian!

color test results

In this article, Designing for Color Blindness, the author suggests not designing specifically to accommodate for colorblind people, because you’ll choose weird colors to everyone else. Instead, he says to make your pages valid, accessible and appealing. I guess, but I know someone who would have appreciated a little foresight and extra checking…

Redesign and the Ugly Website

I’ve been pondering a website redesign project I’ve got coming up. Ugly websites bother me just about as much as ugly fonts. (If you have never heard me rant about Comic Sans, I have a barrage of articles I have collected in my case against Comic Sans to share with you.) For my class this semester, we are collecting and sharing articles on information architecture and web design strategies on the discussion board–a professional learning community in action! Here is my latest contribution:

Krasny, J. (2014, July 14). Ugly Website? 4 Reasons to Skip a Redesign. Inc. Retrieved from: http://www.inc.com/jill-krasny/when-it-pays-to-have-an-ugly-website.html.

In this article, Krasny takes a look at reasons why an “ugly” website maybe shouldn’t change. She suggests that the old classics, like Craigslist and Wikipedia who haven’t really changed at all since their origins, are better off because:

  • users love them the way they are (think of how upset people get when Facebook changes how their feed looks)
  • they simply work (great UX + practical layout)
  • they have flexible systems enough to accommodate content changes
  • they reflect your brand (maintain the “feel” of your product/service)

In a way, these tips protect the aesthetically simple, yet productive websites: nothing flashy, just the facts. We can learn from this as we design by recycling the things they do right. That said, there are plenty truly ugly websites with elements that should NOT be repeated. I really loved this infographic too and the lessons it offers, especially on color schemes and layouts. These are probably the easiest, data-driven fixes we can make for a redesign!