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?
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.
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. 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.”
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!
Do 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.
 Scrolling is easier than clicking. Bokardo.com/archives/scrolling-easier-clicking.
 Infinite Scrolling Is Not for Every Website. Hoa Loranger, Feb. 2, 2014. http://bit.ly/LTGxhJ
 How to Nail Down the Perfect Website Navigation. M.K. Anderson. Aug. 14, 2013. http://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/main-website-navigation-ht
 The decline of the homepage. Gerry McGovern. April 18, 2010. http://giraffeforum.com/wordpress/2010/04/18/the-decline-of-the-homepage/