Adding Subpages in Conductor

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I just updated the Conductor User Guide to include instructions on adding subpages using the options that Conductor now offers.

When in the pages view, 

Adding Subpages

  1. Adding Subpages menuFind the page under which you want to add subpage your redirect page and hover over it until Add Subpages appears to the right of the name.
  2. Click on the down arrow until a window appears with your choices.
  3. Select Add Redirect from the menu as shown above.
  4. Name your redirect page.
  5. Insert the URL or slug for the page to which the visitor is to be redirected.
  6. Choose one of the numbered options.
    — 301 is a permanent redirect (recommended for SEO).
    — 302 is for a temporary redirect and, in most cases, should not be used.
    —307 is for a successor to the 302 redirect (better to use 301).
    —Rewrite means the server still reads the original URL .
  7. Publish.
  8. Keep or remove from the navigation.
  9. Create Redirect page.

Create Events Calendar Page

  1. Add Event CalendarIf the new page is to contain a calendar category that hasn’t been defined yet,
    1. Select Events in the left navigation of the Conductor admin screen.
    2. Select Calendar and add new calendar.
  2. In the Pages listing, find the page under which you want to add your calendar subpage and hover over it until Add Subpages appears to the right of the name.
  3. Click on the down arrow until a window appears with your choices.
  4. Select Add Event Calendar.
  5. Name the page.
  6. Select the calendar category you want to appear on the page.
  7. Publish.
  8. Keep or remove from the navigation.
  9. Create Events calendar page.

Create News Category Page

  1. Add news categoryIf the new page is to contain a news category that hasn’t been defined yet,
    1. Select News in the left navigation of the Conductor admin screen.
    2. Select category and add new news category.
  2. In the Pages listing, find the page under which you want to add your news subpage and hover over it until Add Subpages appears to the right of the name.
  3. Click on the down arrow until a window appears with your choices.
  4. Select Add News Category.
  5. Name the page.
  6. Select the news category you want to appear on the page.
  7. Publish.
  8. Keep or remove from the navigation.
  9. Create News category page.

Now add your news and events, making sure you indicate the correct calendar or news category, and they will automatically populate these new pages!


To FAQ or Not to FAQ

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questionFAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) are on nearly every website you go to these days. Are they good? Or are they bad?

While I’ve long argued that FAQ pages are overused, I am open to finding out I may be wrong. Here’s what I discovered in a recent review of others’ views on the matter:

Why You SHOULD Use FAQs:

  • People expect them. Visitors who can’t find the information they want (by quickly scanning your site’s navigation), they may go to your FAQ page to (they hope) find the information they want.
  • Search engines love FAQ pages. By providing lots of information on one page, you are making it easier for search engines to find all those keywords they love at once.
  • Some visitors like FAQ pages. They like finding all the information they want in one spot. (Note: This presumes you can provide all that on one page.)
  • They can provide links to other pages visitors might not have visited. (Like No. 3 above, if you can’t provide all the info on one page, you can, perhaps, provide links to that information on other pages!)

FAQs are a way to show you’ve thought about what your users should know but haven’t thought about your users—James Hupp

Why You SHOULD NOT use FAQs:

  • Just because other sites have them. If you don’t find that you have a set of actual questions asked by actual visitors to your site, you probably don’t need an FAQ page.
  • Because you have (lots of) actual questions asked by actual visitors. While that sounds like it contradicts the reason above, having lots of FAQs may simply mean that the rest of your site’s content isn’t addressing the needs of your visitors. Consider looking at the questions and figuring out if you could better address them on other pages.
  • There are better ways of presenting the content. These days, infographics, images, and just plain-ol-text can probably answer the questions your visitors might have in a much more attractive, easier-to-read fashion.
  • FAQs are often a junk drawer of all the information you haven’t taken the time to properly identify and classify. (It’s rather rude —and lazy—to ask your visitors to read a list of 20 questions just to find out their question isn’t even answered!)
    You can’t frontload the questions or the answers.

In summary, there’s no one good answer as to whether FAQ pages are good or bad.

Writing Your FAQ Page

askhrSo, if you decide (or the powers that be decide) that you need an FAQ page, how should you write one?

  • Make sure the questions are actually frequently asked questions. (A good example is the FAQ section on It is generated based on actual questions asked of askhr.
  • Break the page into sections, if really long.
  • If more than a few questions, consider using anchor links. List all the questions at the top of your page, and then link to the answers on the lower part of the page. In this way, visitors won’t have to read through the page just to find out if their question is addressed.
  • Consider breaking into sections or categories.
  • Link to pages with more information on the topics. But instead of just writing “learn more,” use keywords from the question as your links.

Note: Keep in mind that “best practices” from 2000 are not necessarily the same ones we use in 2014. New research, new code practices, and new methods of connecting to the Internet are always providing reasons to review why we do what we do and how we do it.

Super-Secret Timesaving Tips

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We get it.

You’re busy; you don’t have all day to work on your website, and you probably don’t want to.

To make the time you are working on your site a little more pleasant, we’ve put together some tips that just might make it better.

Keeping Text Together

Have you ever typed something like this:

Kate Russell
Information Architect
500 Grace Hall

Just to have it look like:

Kate Russell

Information Architect

500 Grace Hall

Well, the reason behind the line spacing is simple. The coding behind your page automatically puts in some padding between paragraphs to make the text easier to read. Therefore, when you put in regular returns, you are, in effect, telling the browser to pad between lines, just as if they were to be separate paragraphs.
The key to keeping your lines closer?

togetherSoft Returns:

Hold down the shift key as you hit the return at the end of each line. This keeps the text in the same paragraph, but on separate lines. Then at the end of your text, type a regular return.

Getting Rid of Unwanted Fonts

Have you ever copied text and pasted it into your webpage, just to find that there are fonts or colors you didn’t want to bring over, because they don’t match the fonts in your website?

The reason those funky fonts are there is because they were in the original document (Word, another website, etc.), and you pasted the text without using Paste from Word.

You can solve the issue in one of a couple ways:

  1. Copy the original text once again.
  2. Highlight the text on the webpage that has the funky fonts.
  3. Using the Paste from Word tool, paste the new text.


  1. Highlight the text with the funky fonts.
  2. Click on the blue eraser icon in the toolbar. This will erase the character formatting (bold, italic, font designations, etc.) and leave your text ready for styling by the styles set in your design.

Moral of the story: If you use the Paste from Word tool, you shouldn’t ever have this sort of thing happen, saving you time and frustration.

Finding Misspelled Words on Your Site

schoolIt happens to all of us at one point or another. We are careful when we type; we proofread; but we miss a word or two and, of course, someone points out the typo. Well, we can use the spellchecker in Conductor; we can proofread; and there’s one more thing we can do:

Use an online spellchecking tool such as this one at I keep this site bookmarked and keep a list of words to ignore on an electronic sticky note on my laptop.

Note: You’ll need to exclude words that the spellchecker will mark as typos. In my case, admin (what we call our site administrators), and a few other words are on my sticky note. When I want to spellcheck a site, I go to the link above and then copy the words to ignore from my sticky note, and run the spellcheck. It’s amazing what slipped through!

Here’s my list of “to ignore” words. You may have others.

  • Aacute
  • admin
  • eacute
  • hellip
  • javascript
  • iacute
  • nbsp
  • ntilde
  • oacute
  • ouml
  • rsaquo
  • shouldn
  • wouldn

Note: Your site must be live in order for the spellcheck to work.

Keeping Months and Days Together

With responsive design, sometimes the lines will break at inconvenient spots. For instance, I may write February 1, 2014, but that same date, on a tablet or cell phone, might read February
1, 2014

To keep the month and day together, I need to use

Nonbreaking Space

To create a nonbreaking space in MS Windows, type CTRL + Shift + Spacebar. To create a nonbreaking space on a Mac, type OPTION + Shift + Spacebar.

Finding Broken Links

404There’s not much worse than clicking on a link on a webpage, just to be disappointed by not going where you wanted to go. Aargh! 404 pages are not where I like spending my time!

But there’s a way to check your links, which you should probably do on a fairly regular basis, especially if you have a number of links to offsite pages.

Here’s how:

  1. Go to and type in the URL for your site (i.e.,
  2. Click on the big Check box, and wait for the results. Some results may come back saying that the links can’t be checked or are restricted; that’s okay. It’s the ones that are truly broken that you’ll want to fix.

Note: Your site must be live in order for the linkchecker to work.

I’m sure there are a lot of other shortcuts out there that will be helpful for Conductor admins to use. If you know of any, send me an email, and I’ll pass them along for all to use.

10 Website Myths—Busted!

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In teaching our University’s CMS, and in working with clients on their site, I’ve seen a number of myths about websites that need to be cleared up. Of course, these aren’t the only myths out there. You can always get on Google or Bing and find plenty more. But humor me for a minute, and see if you believe(d) any of these:

I don’t need to resize my images for my site.

Wrong. Dead wrong.

  • The larger the file, the longer the load time.

Images from photos.nd, or even from your cellphone, will likely be around 1MB (or larger) in file size. Images uploaded to your site should be around 50k in file size.

  • An increasing number of visitors to ND sites (and all others, basically) are coming via their cellphones or tablets. Those 1MB images eat up your visitors’ data allowances AND load more slowly.

You can “save for Web” in Photoshop, which automatically reduces the file size; or, if you don’t have Photoshop, you can edit your photos in PicMonkey or similar photo editor. The user guide has instructions for PicMonkey editing.

No one likes to scroll.

Actually, with the advent of mobile devices (think iPad, smartphones), people scroll all the time, without even thinking about it. Even on a desktop computer, most visitors won’t even notice that they’re scrolling. And by providing anchor links, you can make that scrolling effortless.

Scrolling is simply continuing to do what you’re currently doing, which is typically reading. Clicking, however, is asking the user to consider something new … is this new thing the same as what I’m already doing, or something new?[1]

That said, you should know that endless scrolling is not suitable for all sites—especially if your visitors are trying to find specific things in order to accomplish their goals.[2]

I know what my audience wants.

  • Do you? Have you asked them?
  • Do you even know who your audience is?
  • Have you asked your phone center or administrative assistants what questions they get that could be answered (or answered better) on the website?
  • Have you looked at your analytics to find words people use when searching for your site?
  • Have you looked at keywords used by your site’s visitors to find out what they’re looking for?
  • Have you compared your site to your peer’s sites to make sure you cover items they do?

We can just add pages any time we want; no problem.

Navigation items should be created based on research, not on needing to find a place for something after the site is up[3]. One of the reasons we work so hard to get the site map set up before your site skeleton is set up is so that the organization of the site, as a whole, makes sense to first-time visitors. Additions of random top-level pages can confuse visitors, making them second-guess the organization of the information you provide.

Top-level navigation is considered the most important level by search engines; thus, having more than 7 or 8 top-level pages reduces the importance of these pages. (Think of someone who types in ALL CAPS or uses lots of exclamation points. After awhile, everything looks the same, and all that emphasis makes important text nearly invisible.

We don’t need to test our site map.

Testing your site map should always be a strong consideration when building or redoing your site.

Unfamiliar Terms. From personal experience, we have found testing useful. For instance, when building a site for the Congregation of Holy Cross years ago, we had volunteers test the proposed site map through card sorting. Even though the volunteers were Catholic and felt they understood the language of the Church, they were all stumped by a term that the priests clearly understood; thus, the potential visitors had no idea what one of the top-level pages was about. Because we had tested and found this out, the site administrators changed the title of the page to a term familiar to their audience, assuring visitors would know where to look.

Audience-Based Navigation. Likewise, we need to test to make sure visitors to the site will understand where to go if we use audience-based navigation. Will they easily self-identify, or are there some who will be unsure where they fit? Will they then have to struggle to find the section relevant to their needs?

Site map testing can be relatively inexpensive and quick, depending on the depth of your proposed architecture. And finding problem areas before the site is built can save your visitors from frustration and you from headaches and expense down the road.

We can write the content after the site is designed and built.

Tell that to a designer, and she’ll probably have a mild heart attack! Designers need to know the type of content (and quantity) in order to produce a layout that makes sense. Will that tiny little column be large enough (and prominent enough) for the massive amount of text and images you want? That’s hard to tell if you have no content.

How will the content flow? Will it make sense for a designer to have a space for images that really cuts up a page if the content flow is disrupted? Making a page readable is as important as making it attractive, and having an idea of the content before designing helps a designer provide a usable, reader-friendly site.

Once we get the homepage set up, it’s all gravy from there.

“More and more customers are going straight to specific pages on your website, rather than the homepage.”[4]

With links to subpages and bookmarks, your homepage (while still important) will possibly not be the most-visited page. Treating subpages as less important members of the family will be a mistake as more and more visitors are coming directly to those subpages. The subpages then become the first impression of visitors, and we all know what first impressions are.

Every college website has pictures of students sitting outside, studying. We should, too!

  • Photos should be unique. If you’ve visited other college sites, you’ve probably seen a gazillion other images of students sitting on the grass. What makes the image special to Notre Dame? Those photos tend to lump Notre Dame in with every other college, leading the visitor to think, “Big deal.”
  • Images that aren’t relevant to the text on the page are not only a waste of a visitor’s time, but can be a distraction taking a visitor’s attention away from the information you want to pass along, or the task you want them to complete.
  • The wrong photos make a page look less professional.

We don’t need to worry about accessibility; we’re not a state school, and we have very few students with disabilities.

While Notre Dame may not be bound by law to provide accessible websites in the way that state schools are, we are bound by the standards and beliefs of this great university to provide the most accessible sites possible. Our designers and developers are constantly learning and applying best practices to make our sites accessible to all.

With all the ways a person can come to our sites, this is a continual struggle, but it is one that represents the way the University sees its role in providing excellence in all ways. Administrators of individual sites can also take part in this quest by keeping image sizes small and in following other best practices

Animated gifs are great!

vinam1Do you remember the kid sister/brother or neighbor who always bugged you to let them play with you years ago? How they would never go away, but always kept pestering you? Well, that’s how most website visitors view the majority of animated gifs. Yeah, they may be cute, but enough is enough!

Animated gifs that repeat (and repeat and repeat) are not only annoying, but they distract your visitors from the real point of the page. They can sometimes be so annoying and distracting that neither the visitor nor you will accomplish your goals for the page.

There is a place for animated gifs. But perhaps on your higher ed website is not the place. Think about

  • why you want one/them
  • how they will affect visitors
  • whether they add to or detract from the page.

And forgive me for putting this awful animated gif on here. But I think it proves my point that animated gifs need to be judiciously and infrequently chosen and used, or better yet, not used at all.

[1] Scrolling is easier than clicking.

[2] Infinite Scrolling Is Not for Every Website. Hoa Loranger, Feb. 2, 2014.

[3] How to Nail Down the Perfect Website Navigation. M.K. Anderson. Aug. 14, 2013.

[4] The decline of the homepage. Gerry McGovern. April 18, 2010.

Creating Compelling Content

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We’re lucky at the University of Notre Dame. We know most of our intended audience will eventually come to our sites. We have a captive audience of Irish fans, students, faculty, Notre Dame alum wannabes, and peer institutions.

And then again, we’re not so lucky. We don’t always have professional writers to craft our web pages. We often are called upon to write our text ourselves.

And we aren’t always great, even good writers.

So how do we create web pages that contain decent content?

First, I believe we have to ask ourselves, “what is good content?” For a higher ed site such as ours, the answer will differ from that for a retail site. However, a few things are constant, no matter what kind of site we’re crafting.

Here’s a checklist you can use to see if your site meets this guideline and other good practices.


Ask Yourself Suggestions
Is your content unique? There are thousands of higher ed websites. Does your site provide information that can’t be found elsewhere (even on other Notre Dame sites)? If not unique, is there a valid reason for including it on this site?
Is your content useful? Think of the goals of your site and of your visitors. Does the content help fulfill those goals?
Is your content easy to understand? Remember that you have all kinds of visitors to your site: high school students and their parents, non-English speakers, faculty, and just plain curious folks. Write so that just about anyone can understand what you’re saying.
Are your links valid? Linking to other sites is a good idea; however, those sites could change without you noticing it. Set up a regular schedule to check your site’s links. Here’s an easy-to-use web service for link checking.
Do your graphics or photos that help visitors understand your content? While photos are nice to have on websites, make sure that they actually add value to the page. Make sure they relate to the content and help the visitor relate to or understand the content.
Did you limit your ideas to one per paragraph? Several short paragraphs can get the point across to your visitors better than can one long paragraph. If the points are short enough, consider making them into a bulleted list (easily scannable).
Did you put your important content first?  Visitors will typically read only the first one or two words of each paragraph when scanning the page. Be sure to put the most important points first so that your visitors won’t miss them.
Is your content up-to-date? Old information is useless to your visitor and destroys the credibility you’ve worked so hard to establish.
Do you have an FAQ section? Frequently asked questions can be very helpful. However, make sure that these are truly FAQs and not simply information you haven’t taken the time to organize.A good example of an FAQ section that is based on feedback from callers is the one on the Notre Dame Human Resources Department’s site. This FAQ section is built on questions asked of the department’s help desk and is regularly updated as the questions change with the time of year.
Have you turned long paragraphs into bullet lists when possible? Bulleted lists can help break up the page for easier scanning. This will help visitors find information they might have otherwise overlooked.
Do your headings help your visitors find things on your page? For more information on using headings to organize (and even write) your content, check out “Five Things You Should Know about Headings.”
Is your text left-aligned? Although the default is left-aligned text, sometimes we insert images so that the text wraps on the right of the image. While this can seem, perhaps, a little less boring than right-aligned images, images to the right help visitors quickly scan and read your page without having to refocus and readjust to the varying margins of text to the right of images.


Five Things You Should Know about Headings

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If you’ve been in my Conductor class, you’ve heard me rant about headings. I encourage the ample use of headings and bulleted lists, but here’s a little background on why and how best to use them.

1. Heading order is important.

Headings can help visitors to your site quickly scan your page to see if what they want is covered. You have very little time to persuade them to stay on your site, and headings can tell visitors whether it’s worth staying.

Headings help visitors understand your organization.

  • Headings work like a map for your visitors. Visitors can quickly scan the page to find their general location, then follow the road signs to the specific information they want. They intuitively understand that larger, more prominent headings are major topics of the page; smaller, less prominent ones are the parts that go into further detail.
  • If you use heading styles based on color or size or font, tossing them about in an illogical manner, your visitors (especially those using screen readers) will have difficulty following your train of thought and logic.

2. Heading styles should be used solely for headings.

I understand; I really do. Sometimes, it’s nice to highlight some text for emphasis. However, the use of heading styles for this purpose is not a good idea.

Think of it this way. Imagine you don’t see well (or at all) and use a screen reader to read a web page. You would probably scan the page by having the screen reader read out links and headings, just to get an idea of whether you wanted to spend time on that page. If the page has a section of text incorrectly identified as a heading, you’d be confused as to what the author was trying to get across and why that text was a heading. It just wouldn’t fit with the rest of the headings on the page.

3. Headings should be unique.

Headings should describe the content that follows. By repeating headings on the page, your visitor may not realize that the content following the repetition is actually important and different from the first instance. Thus, you lose a chance to have your content read.

4. Headings should describe the content that follows.

Since search engines and visitors to your site, alike, will be looking at headings for clues as to the content, use your headings to succinctly summarize the content to follow. Using keywords (words that relate to the content and that might be used by folks searching for said content) will help search engines direct visitors to your site. Those keywords will also help your visitors and the search engines prioritize your content. (Keep in mind, however, that keyword stuffing is never a good idea.)

5. Headings grab your visitor’s attention; subheadings can keep it.

The large headings can help your visitor find out what’s on your page. The use of subheadings can help him realize the depth of information and specifics that you’ll be providing. These subheadings can lead him to the information he is seeking—a win-win situation.

So you’re convinced that you need to address the use of headings on your site. How do you go about it? Take a look at your page and then take a look at the questions below to see how your page stacks up.

  • Do your headings make sense in the order used? Think of the headings as the outline of your page. Is the usage of major points and subpoints logical? Do the headings lead a visitor through the page?
  • Are you using heading styles for non-heading text? If so, reformat any text that is not intended as a heading but that uses a heading style. You can user boldface or italics, or both.
  • Are your headings unique? Do they relate to the text that follows?
  • Looking at the page as if you were a first-time visitor, do your headings and subheadings make you want to read the text that follows?

If you’re putting together a new page, consider writing out an outline and then turning the outline points into headings. It’s just like your teachers told you years ago: By creating that outline (headings), you have half your page written before you even start!

Anchor Links: They won’t weigh you down

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When I teach Conductor, the content management system used at the University of Notre Dame, one of the fun things to teach folks is the use of anchor links. For the uninitiated, anchor links take you from one part of a page to another, or from one part of a page to a specific part of another page. They are shortcuts commonly used to avoid having to scroll though pages.

Anchor Links are Helpful.

  • Anchor links can cut down on the time it takes visitors to scan your page to find information they need (or you want them to see).
  • Anchor links cut down on the need for scrolling through a long page.
  • Anchor links can help visitors understand the organization of the page.
  • Anchor links can help keep your visitors happy! *

But many people, out of fear, lack of training, or who knows what, still don’t use them. I’d like to see that changed. And here’s an example of why:

Anchor Links or No Links?

Let’s look at an example of a fairly ordinary FAQ page. Looking at the two images below, which page would you rather try to navigate in order to find the answer to your question? (Click on the images to see them in larger format)

alt_example_of_faq_page_conductor_demo_site_university_of_notre_dame.jpgexample_of_faq_page_conductor_demo_site_university_of_notre_dame.jpgWhile the example on the right seems shorter, a visitor would have to scan or read each of the questions (trying to skip the answers to irrelevant questions) and have to peruse the entire page just to find out if his question was addressed. In the example to the left, a visitor could scan the list at the top, choose the question he was interested in, and click the link, thus going directly to the answer below. And, of course, once down at the bottom of the page, he could click the Back to Top anchor link and be taken back to the top of the page where he can see the navigation menu once again. Very little scrolling!

Anchor Links are Easy

Anchor links are easy to insert. In fact, here’s an anchor link to the instructions for inserting anchor links!

Inserting Multiple Anchor Links—A Cheater’s Method

Sometimes, I’ll migrate a client’s content to a new site. If there is an opportunity for anchor links, such as a long list of FAQs or list of faculty members, there is a shortcut I use so that I don’t have to designate “Link to anchor in text” for each item in the list. To do this,

  1. Create the list.
  2. Create the anchors.
  3. Go back to the list and highlight all the items.
  4. Click on the Link icon and then choose “Link to anchor in text” and choose the first anchor. (This will then link all the list items to the same anchor.)
  5. Then go to the second item in the list.
  6. Click on the anchor icon. This will automatically bring up the “Link to anchor in text” and the anchor chosen for all the items. You can then scroll down the anchor list to the correct one for that item.
  7. Repeat through the list items.

Although it may sound confusing at first, by doing so in the instance of the example pages above, I saved myself 12 steps!


* (For those who have gone through Conductor training, you’ll recognize my mantra: Keep your visitors happy!)

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Usability: Is THAT part of my job?

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I work on websites for the University of Notre Dame. Therefore, it’s expected that I should care about usability and accessibility.

There are no legal requirements that our sites meet certain guidelines, and the University’s administration isn’t hounding us to make our sites accessible, but the Web Group is very interested in and working hard to make our sites as usable and accessible as possible. Nonetheless, since I’m not a developer or designer, why do I care?

Well, first, it’s hard not to when you work with folks who are concerned about making websites that everyone can use; and second, I’ve had a recent flirtation with a minor disability (broken right wrist—in a sling, then a splint for two months) that really brought home how many disabilities there are and how many folks have to struggle with inaccessible or downright user-unfriendly sites.

So, I care about usability and accessibility. And so should you.

Accessibility and Usability Issues to Address

So what kinds of issues do visitors to our sites face, you ask? Good question.

Visual Accessibility Issues

  • Color blindness affects around one in 12 of visitors; using color alone to convey information may not be effective for those visitors (thus, the use of underlined text for links as well as colors).
  • Slight to moderate vision impairment calls for larger font sizes. You may know that you can increase your font size, but will your visitors? Tiny fonts were all the rage a few years ago, but now designers are thinking twice about small fonts as the standard.
  • Blindness or severe vision impairment requires visitors to use screen readers to “read” websites. If images don’t have adequate alt text, headers are not in a logical order, or links simply say “click here,” these visitors will be frustrated by your site. Likewise, if you use tables to lay out your page, you may be introducing usability issues since these visitors will not be able to see the entire table, but merely have the table “read out” to them by the screen reader. In order for a table used for layout to be easily understood, you would need to have special coding attached to the table, which is not feasible for most users. To avoid accessibility issues, we strongly discourage the use of tables for layout. Conductor provides templates for your use in laying out your pages; if you have special requirements, please talk with your account manager to see how we can help you meet those with templates and styles that are truly accessible.

Hearing Accessibility Issues

  • Do you have videos? If they have no transcripts attached, they may be of little use to hearing-impaired visitors.

​Hand/Mobility Accessibility Issues

  • Some visitors may not be able to use a mouse to negotiate the page and must rely on other ways to tell the browser where they want to go[1]
  • Too many links on a page can frustrate visitors using assistive devices and make for an unpleasant experience.
  • It may be difficult for these visitors to control their devices well enough to activate small buttons on the page.

Cognition Accessibility Issues

  • Sure, your site is for the best and the brightest, right? What if those best and brightest speak very little English? Your use of colloquial or special-interest terms may add to their confusion and frustration. Speaking in plain English without speaking down to your audience will go a long way toward helping them accomplish their goals on your site.
  • Dyslexic visitors may have a difficult time reading your site if the background is white; consider using a beige background instead.
  • Disorganized content will not only reflect poorly on your professionalism, but it will also add to your visitor’s inability to comprehend your message.
  • Graphical aids (icons) can help users navigate if they are generally accepted icons that make sense in context.

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Reasons to Address Usability / Accessibility Issues

  • When we meet with clients to create a new site or even revisit their old ones, we like to dig out the goals of the site—even to the goals of each page, whenever possible.
    That’s where goals come into play.
    You might be amazed to learn that many folks who have sites really don’t know why they have them. Oh sure, they know they need them, but they don’t know what they want to do with them.

    • Why do you have a site? It seems obvious, doesn’t it? You have a site because … well, because everyone has a site. But really, why do you spend all this time on a site? Is it to appease an egomaniac boss? To announce events no one will attend? Why?
    • What do you want to accomplish through the site?
    • What do your visitors want to accomplish by coming here?
    • How will you get them to do what you want them to do?
    • How will you decide if your site helps you meet those goals?
  • How would you like to be treated? Look at your site through the eyes of a visitor. Is it a pleasure to visit the site and do what you want to do? Or are you frustrated with the experience? (I tell folks in training that it’s important to keep your visitors happy, and if they are frustrated, they are likely to go to another school as a result of their experience on your site. While that may be a little farfetched, don’t discount the thought too much! Your site may be the initial or deciding interaction the visitor has with the University; their reaction to it may be more important than you can imagine.)
  • More visitors have accessibility issues than you might think. Discounting or disregarding visitors who might have difficulty with your site can be detrimental to your efforts—to say nothing about how insulting it could be to those visitors.
  • Different browser window sizes and functionality (think smartphones and tablets) mean that not everyone approaches your site in the same way. Things that look right on your desktop computer may not look or work the same way on a smartphone.
  • It’s the right thing to do.

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Ways to Address Usability / Accessibility Issues

So just how does a site administrator address these issues?

  • Listen to and consider the advice of the Web Group’s developers and designers when they propose changes; is there a reason they don’t want links that don’t change color when visited? Or links that are a light gold against a white background? These folks have the training and experience to guide you in making these choices when designing your site.
  • Organize your site before publishing. We work with clients to create a site map that will make sense now and (we hope) in the future. Having a good basis on which to build will not only help you know where to put content, but it will help your visitors know where to look for the information they want. Haphazardly adding pages with little or no forethought looks unprofessional and will lead to problems down the road.
  • Organize and carefully plan your content.
    • Be concise. Cut out unnecessary information. Use easy-to-understand words and phrases, and short paragraphs and sentences.
    • Use headings. You have a very short time span in which to capture your visitor’s attention. By using headings that stand out, you will help him quickly scan the page and decide if what he’s looking for is there.
    • Use numerals instead of spelled-out numbers (I know; editors will tell you otherwise for print). It’s much quicker and easier to see and read 9 cats in a bag than nine cats in a bag.
    • Never use Click here as a link. For the visually disabled, Click here means nothing; also, there might be a number of links on the page that say the same thing, adding to the confusion for all visitors.
    • Use bulleted or numbered lists. Again, you have a limited time a visitor will spare to scan the page. Bulleted lists are much easier to scan than are long paragraphs. (Save the numbered lists for information that is necessarily placed in a certain order—steps to take, order of importance.
    • Make your words count. In fact, make your first two words count since readers look at the first couple of words in scanning paragraphs.
    • Place your content in an inverted pyramid. Start with the most important information first, then provide supporting details, and finally, related information. By the time a visitor gets to the second or third level, he may have decided this wasn’t the information he wanted anyway, so he’s off to another page or site.
    • Use italics or boldfaced text (except in headers, which are already styled) in order to grab attention. Both should be used sparingly since too much of a good thing is never a good idea. The only underlined words should be links, since visitors have been trained to recognize underlines as indicating links; if you have underlined text that isn’t a link, you’ll also have an unhappy visitor.
    • Use images, but use them strategically. The standard “girls on the lawn” showing a group of coeds studying outside is so overused it now is the brunt of jokes. Try to make images relate to your content. And be sure to use appropriate alternate text (the text that shows up when a mouse pointer hovers over the image). Make sure the alt text explains the image; using names and places in the alt text can also help folks find your site!
    • Don’t use tables for layout. Tables are fine for actual data, but using them for layout increases your chance for accessibility issues.

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I have not, in this blog post, covered everything to be considered or all the best practices. As I stated before, though, I am very interested in making our sites usable and accessible for all. If you have any ideas or suggestions for doing so, please share them with me. I’d love to hear from you.

And if you, or someone you know, struggle with any of our sites and want to share your experiences (in testing or by simply sharing your experience), please contact me. It’s hard to solve problems we don’t yet know exist!


If you want to learn more about usability or accessibility, here are some great resources to get you started:

[1] A story I recently heard recounted the tale of a visitor in such a circumstance. He had to speak the name of the link or bug to “click” it. Unfortunately, the name on the bug had changed, and the link still referred to the old name; the screen reader could not negotiate the page until he had gone through a painstaking series of steps to create a grid of the page and finally tell the browser which grid cell he wanted to activate. Something that should have been as easy as saying something like “Enroll Now” took several minutes because the code underneath the button still said something like “admissions.”

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3 Things Good Websites Require from Their Owners

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Lessons from Pavlov’s Pet Treats

I bake and sell dog treats. I’ve been doing it since last spring and even have my own website. While I’m not getting rich at it, I’ve learned a lot about selling dog  treats during that time. And I’ve learned a lot about selling the University at the same time.

Pavlov's Pet Treats homepage

You see, I have a crummy little website at (any free advice would be appreciated). And I can look at my site and see how it pales in comparison to others and especially to those built by the Web Group at Notre Dame.

I know my site stinks; I just need three things to make it right so that it will actually sell treats: time, money, and an outsider’s view.

Requirement No. 1. Time

Between working at the University all week and baking nearly every night, I’ve not been able to find the time to think out a logical plan for my website. But I’m not alone in that.

Image of hourglass showing time running outToo often our clients come to us when they need a website “by the first of the semester” or “ASAP” or “right now, ’cause we’re sending out brochures and need to provide a website for people to go to.” Thus, they have not given themselves (or us) the time to think out what the website can truly do for them. It takes time and effort to determine

  • The goals of the site
  • The audience(s) of the site
  • How the audience wants to interact with the site
  • How the site’s success will be measured
  • How the site will be maintained

And speaking of maintenance of the site, too often clients leave that to an overworked, disinterested, under-trained employee to “stick this photo on the site” and don’t have a plan for regularly scheduled maintenance. (My dad would be so proud of me for using that term, which he insisted was the only responsible way to keep a car, a house, a furnace, or anything of value.)

Requirement No. 2. Money

My personal financial situation at the moment is not one to envy. My husband retired in spring; we lost a bundle on a business venture we closed; and Pavlov’s Pet Treats is eating away at any spare cash. I simply have no money for marketing and website design and building.Man viewing large bill

Again, I’m not alone. Although the University of Notre Dame is not as hard-hit as most higher ed institutions, we have a fiscally conservative administration (for which we still-employed staff are grateful). Thus, we have tight budgets. Our clients are often trying to squeeze the last penny out of their budgets, and they come to us with very little in the way of funds to pay for work.

Our Web Group has to bill for everything we do. Even though the money is “funny money” that goes from one pocket into another, if it’s not there, it’s simply not there.

So clients ask for the impossible. How much website can I get for $X?

In our case, we have DIY sites for a few hundred dollars. With the purchase of one of these, our clients can set up a site with varying degrees of functionality, often solving their problem quite reasonably. The Web Group has designed templates based on University brand standards (recently adopted), and these sites work quite well. With a little bit of training, clients can be off and running in no time. Is it the same as a custom design? No. Not by a long shot. But a DIY site can take care of a great number of needs our clients have.

Likewise, a template such as my current Shopify site could probably take care of Pavlov’s business—if I had the other two components.

Requirement No. 3. Outsider’s View

I am no designer. I am also not a developer. I am, however, in the field of information architecture and usability. But can I put together a site (even a templated one) that works as well as it should? Not without outside eyes.

You see, just as an author should never edit her own work, rarely can a site owner depend solely on his own opinion, review, and expertise to make a site as good as it should be. In most cases, the site owner is so closely entwined with the subject matter that he can’t see his site as a user would.

That’s where it helps to have outside eyes and expert review of such things as

  • Organization
  • How the Site is Organized—Is your site organized along the lines of your org chart for your department or program? If so, that probably makes no sense whatsoever to your audience. Consider, for instance, Notre Dame’s organization. Would you look under Food Services or Admissions for ID cards?  (Faculty and staff get theirs through Human Resources; students get theirs from Food Services.)
  • Amount of Information—Is it best to include several pages worth of information on one page? Or should it be divided into several?
  • Redundancy—Are there redundant pages? Should there be?
  • Design
    • Colors—Are the colors Web-safe? Can those with color blindness properly read all aspects of the site? Do the colors reflect the personality of the program or department? Are the colors consistent with a larger branding effort?
    • Backgrounds—Is the background consistent with the site’s personality? Does it interfere with the readability of the site?
    • Links, Images, and Videos—Are they appropriate in number, size, and location? Or is there a better way to place them so that they are found and more likely to be clicked on or read?
    • Functionality
      • Calls to Action—Are there too many on a page? Do the links all work? After a user clicks on action items, what happens next? Does it make sense?
      • Analytics—Can you track the analytics for your site? Will you be able to set up filters, goals, and other tracking to help you determine your site’s success/failure?
      • Accessibility—Does the site function well for those with disabilities?
  • Usability Testing
    • User Expectations—Do users read the terms the way you do? Do they use the site in the way  you intended? Or do they get lost because they don’t understand your terminology or come to the site expecting it to behave in a way you hadn’t planned?
    • Writing—Is your site too heavy on the long paragraphs and jargon? Do they lose interest because they can’t easily find something in which they’re interested and want to delve deeper?
    • Distractions—Are there too many calls to action, and do they confuse or distract your audience? Is the background too busy and does it pull attention away from the text or make the text hard to read? Does the page appear too cluttered? Is everything on each page really necessary? Or can some of it be removed or moved to other pages?
    • Navigation—Does the navigation make sense? Is it logical, or is it too complex? Does the navigation scent lead the audience down the right paths?
    • Design—Is the page attractive? Is it compelling? Or does it simply drive away your audience (or worse yet, bore them)? Is the design appropriate to the topic?
    • Images—Do the images help your audience? Or do they simply pull attention away from the text? On academic sites, it’s tempting to put the standard “students on the grass” image up, but will that really help move the audience to take the intended action? Or will they see the image as yet another students on the grass, just like every other college has. (One has to wonder if students ever study anywhere else!)

Now What? 

Okay, so I know I need those three things in order to fix my site. And now you know some of the challenges our clients face in building or reworking their sites. Time to roll up the sleeves.

While we’re at it, what else would you include in the requirements for good website needs?



13 Questions to Ask Before a Redesign

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I was asked to help someone at another college review the need for information architecture (what it is, whether they need to hire someone) as the school looks at a possible redesign of its website. At first, even though I do this for a living, the thought of giving someone else advice intimidated me. But then I sat down and looked at what I (and our incredible team of designer and developers) do when someone asks us to redesign their site.

It’s not Rocket Science

It’s not really that complicated on the whole, although the individual parts of it can be quite complex and time-consuming. I realized it’s a matter of simply thinking through the process and asking the whys and hows before making any decisions.

I told my peer at this other college what I would start with (below).

  • Who are the decision makers in the redesign process? (Very important to identify them right away)
  • Why do you want to redo your website? What’s broken? What’s working? (analytics and testing)
  • Who are your audiences?  Which one is your primary?
  • What are they looking for, wanting to do? (survey, focus groups)
  • What steps do they currently take to accomplish their goals? (testing)
  • Is it easy for them to find what they want? (testing)
  • What peer websites do you like, and why? What do you want to imitate (or not) and how can you improve upon it on your site?
  • What limitations are there to your CMS?
  • Who will be updating the site(s)? Who will be writing content?
  • Are there pages that can be combined/cut/added?
  • Is there a better way to organize the site? (card sorting, testing)
  • Is the design to be changed? If so, can the design help inform navigation? (wireframes, testing)
  • When content is migrated, especially if written by numerous people, is there a style guide to follow? (capitalization, serial commas, titles, that sort of thing)

I’m sure I oversimplified and/or left out things to consider. Let us know what  you would add or change!