Posted in analytics, benchmarking, strategy, usability

Building Better Experiments

I’ve said previously that one of my current goals is to redefine the process for completing our major page revisions to include more A/B testing to demonstrate why changes are being made.  While it’s just good practice, it is also becoming increasingly invaluable to show stakeholders how changes to text, layout and presentation impact user experience.

But I wanted to take it a step further. If we launch a new version of a page, how can we show the campus leadership the positive impact of what we’ve done? I’ve been trying to come up with a better process to illustrate the improvements to a user’s journey on our site.  Here are the highlights of the process I’ve been putting into place:

  1. Take a preliminary heat map to look at clicks & scroll depth. Then document how the page is performing in your analytics tool of choice. What is the current goal performance of the page? What is the bounce rate? Are we seeing return interest in the content?  How far are people scrolling? How much extra content is on the page that doesn’t speak to the topic?
  2. Show the stakeholder what’s going on currently. Have an honest conversation after reviewing the data about what’s working and what isn’t.  Many times, this comes down to whether we’re seeing our visitors accomplish the key tasks we want them to: explore more of the site, complete our calls to action, return to the page for more information.
  3. Here comes the fun part. Now, it’s time to think about what adjustments should be made.  What do we want/need people to do? What is causing paralysis of choice? Are there any requirements we are required to have? Can we get creative with them? (The requirements piece can be huge in higher education as we all have to deal with multiple accreditors.)
  4. Construct some sort of A/B test to measure how revising the current page and the associated content can help us meet our goals. I typically use Google Optimize.  At this point, reach out to the stakeholders to share what is behind the suggested changes.
  5. Identify the criteria for success. Do we want to see longer sessions? Do we want to see the completion of specific goals? Do we want to lower the bounce rate? See better mobile performance? Share that information with your stakeholders so everyone can understand what a successful experiment will look like. 
  6. Launch the A/B test. This is probably the worst part because you’ve put all this work into creating what you think will be a better user experience and now you need to wait for the results to roll in.
  7. If the test shows that the new version our performs the goals you set previously, celebrate the launch of an improved user experience.
  8. Repeat the heat map experiment. While we’re happy with the results of the A/B test, we also want to make sure a broader number of visitors agree. Are they now clicking on our new calls to action? Scrolling further? Not getting lost in the extra information we were previously including on the page? Converting at a higher level?

Most importantly, be sure to show your success and be consistent in testing.

Capture
Heat map data for the win! 

 

Posted in strategy, usability

Let the New Decade Begin

I wasn’t even making the connection that a new decade had arrived until my feeds became filed with “Top xx of the 2010’s” posts, but here we are (although my husband would argue the new decade doesn’t begin for another year. I still remember the Y2K debates that raged in my house back in the day).

I’ve been thinking about what the start of the next decade will bring for me and came up with a few timeless items I’m renewing my commitment to:

Accessibility
I am thrilled that accessibility is no longer thought of in terms of labeling a specific population. It’s become a mainstream item of importance for everyone. I finally have a validation tool that I have been using to make improvements to our web site, but am challenging myself to take it further by ensuring our social media posts, pdf’s and forms achieve new levels of accessible content. I also want to spend more time talking to our content providers about best practices and why accessibility matters to us all.

User Experience
I have mentioned in past posts that sometimes having an external consultant say the things you have been saying in terms of the importance of user experience can make all the difference. We’re currently focusing on making smaller but meaningful improvements to how our users interact with out site. One of my main areas to reinforce this approach is doing more A/B testing to show how these changes are impacting user experience. It is invaluable to be able to show our stakeholders why changes are being made and what results we’re seeing. Along with that is refining our analytics to provide numbers with context while getting people focused on what matters in reaching our digital goals.

Reminding Everyone Who the Web Site is For
This one is tough because we’ve all had conversations with very well-meaning folks about what “needs” to be on the web site. It can be difficult to convince these people that typically that content isn’t the case (Think for example of the classic debate over the mission statement. Very few mission statements appeal to a prospective student). Much like an increased emphasis on A/B testing, I’m having good luck using heat-mapping to show what our users are looking for, the importance of enhancing the mobile user experience, and eliminating extraneous content that induces paralysis of choice to our visitors. So before and after heat maps will be a greater focus around campus.

Personal Growth
When I think back on the last decade, I can’t believe the pace of change in the digital landscape we work in. But this speaks to the need to always be learning new things, trying new things and surrounding ourselves with people that we can learn and grow from.  There are so many online opportunities to learn and stretch outside our comfort zones. One lesson I’ve learned is that it’s critical to go beyond what’s on your job description to expand my knowledge base. That’s helped me understand what my colleagues are working on and perhaps struggling with, as well as provide fresh perspective of why they are asking for a particular thing.

Fight for What’s Right
At the end of the day, all these things point to one thing – putting our users first and never wavering from that.  In the rush of the day to day and the pressure from so many competing voices on campus, that can be hard to stay focused on. As 2020 begins, I’ll be doing the absolute best I can to provide a quality digital experience. While I know this will take many shapes in the next decade, the concept of putting users first will never losing it’s importance.

2010 web
A peak at the college web site at the beginning of the decade, including the obligatory Flash plugin. Speaking of usability, the red icon holding a seedling was actually a link to our giving page, not sustainability as so many thought.
Posted in advice, benchmarking, strategy, success

It’s That Time of Year

Ready or not, the end of 2019 is coming quickly (yes, I know Captain Obvious). And for many of us, that means receiving a message from the Powers that Be for a unit review of how the year went.  As I was wrapping up my summary, I thought of five tips to crush unit review time:

Use data
One of my absolute must-haves to include in any review is data. Show the Powers that Be facts to back up what you are telling them.  It’s much more powerful to say “implementing a new accessibility tool resulted in a 68.4% reduction in violations” than “we saw fewer violations after implementing accessibility tools”.  As important as analytics tools are, a time-tracking tool also does wonders to help easily show what we’ve done. Again, it’s much more powerful to say “we worked with 48 offices and departments across campus” than “supported a variety of units around campus.”

Think Strategically
It has been my experience that being able to tie at least some of our annual accomplishments back to the institution’s strategic plan goes a long way in showing the higher ups that we are on board with the college’s strategic priorities, understand why they are important, and our work supports these efforts wherever and whenever it’s possible.

Celebrate success
While it never seems like there is a good time to put together this information, I always find a ton of amazing work over the past year that because of the business of the day-to-day, I forgot about. The unit review is the time to celebrate everything you’ve accomplished.  Take a victory lap – it typically only happens once a year! Then it’s back to planning and executing.

Include one thing that didn’t work
After talking about how well things went over the course of the year, I think it’s important we acknowledge something that didn’t go as planned, what we learned from it, and how we plan on keeping it from happening again. I think it conveys that we’re able to honestly assess what we’ve done and are willing to grow.

What to build on
I always like to show what successes we plan on building on. We use a lot of Stop, Start, Continue exercises and this is a perfect time to incorporate those lessons.  I’ll be honest, I’m not a real fan of many team building exercises, but getting everyone on the same page thinking about what we need to keep doing, what’s not giving us any benefit, what we need to do more of is typically a good thing.

I’m using the free edition of Toggl for time tracking and it’s really taken a lot of pain out of this process for me. It did take a a while to figure out what was the best way to use the tags to provide something meaningful, but I’ve found a system that works. I have found the same with Sprout Social; getting the tags right helps with reporting and analysis.

What is your go-to tip for preparing an annual review?

 

Posted in advice, community, strategy

Rethinking the Army of One

I talk a lot about being an Army of One, the quintessential solo shop. I have worn it as a badge of courage for a long time. But it’s occurred to me lately that we’re never really flying solo. Support is there with us if we know where to look.

If you can’t get the internal buy-in to expand your staff immediately, there is help out there:

  • Student workers
    Hey we are on college and university campuses; we are surrounded by students that can help out. I am trying to hire students in their first year so once they are trained, they are mine for a while. As they grow in their role, they take on more responsibility. Don’t think they have to be communications or marketing students. I only ask that my students be good writers that have a strong attention to detail and are willing to ask questions. Since we are a liberal arts college, writing and critical thinking are two skills we require across all disciplines, so I find working in my office has helped them succeed academically as well.
  • Interns
    Again, this goes back to the whole campus thing, but students crave real-world experience. They want to find what sparks their interest and test-drive careers. Working in the digital world is a game-changer. Students love an internship where they can be creative and see the other side of the social platforms they love. Use their passion and their unique perspective to discover new ways to showcase the campus experience.
  • Allies on Campus
    Building a network of advocates is critical to advancing strategic digital initiatives in higher education.  Never did this ring truer to me than we revised our program landing pages. As we rebuilt our undergraduate pages, having the Provost and Deans in our camp propelled us forward in getting these pages prepared and launched, all with a clear plan for ongoing maintenance (bonus).  We began the effort by sharing research and best practice that empowered them to  communicate to our program chairs why these changes were needed and important to our continued success.
  • External Partners
    While we may not have large staffs, one thing we do have is the resources of our external partners whether it’s an agency or software vendor. One pitfall I used to find myself in is feeling like I had to solve all the problems myself instead of reaching out to these partners. Most of the time, they’ve done exactly what I’m looking to do which saves a tremendous amount of time scouring the interwebs for assistance.
  • Colleagues in Higher Ed
    The higher education community is a community like no other in terms of networking and support. Over the years, this amazing group (too numerous to give shout outs to because I know I’d forget someone) has given me the encouragement to chase my dreams, pushed me to continue to try new things, and stood by me when I was feeling overwhelmed.  It’s truly family. Family who believes in you.  Family who supports you when you need to know you aren’t alone. Family who reminds you of your talents and abilities when you’ve lost that perspective.

So at the end of the day, solo never means alone. We have more resources than we realize.

Posted in higher ed, public, reflection

Digital Leadership in Higher Education

I’ve just returned back from HighEdWeb 2019, another week in Milwaukee with the most inspiring friends, peers, and colleagues. As always, this conference is an amazing experience to reconnect, refocus and start re-imagining my approach to my work. Often times, after coming back from the conference, I’m thinking about new things to try to advance our digital strategy on campus. This year however, I am filled with thoughts on how to be a better digital leader.

We have all heard that everyone can be a leader. I know that all of us don’t have the opportunity to lead large teams or even have a cabinet-level role in our organization. But all of us can use our influence to make our digital spaces better.  After thinking about the sessions I listened to, I was struck with the fact that leadership is a choice we make every day, not just titles and awards (although don’t get me wrong, those are fun too!)

Some of the top lessons/reminders that I’ve taken from this week:

  • Listen to hear instead of respond. This happens so often to me, especially when I’m feeling challenged. I want to refocus on finding the mutual successes we can celebrate together for our school.
  • Remember that while I have the expertise in my field, who I’m talking to has as much expertise in their field. How do we successfully merge the two to create a winning situation for all of us?
  • Learn the lessons of no.  There’s so much increasing pressure to do all the things. We need to remember that we have to be able to understand that sometimes we just don’t have the bandwidth. But we need to say it in the right way and really think about if it’s the correct decision without making a snap decision in the moment.
  • No one has it all figured out. If they tell you they do, they’re telling you a story.
  • Meet people where they are. It might seem like we are getting a ridiculous request, but we need to connect with our colleagues coming to us and really understand what they’re looking for. Guide the conversation to get everyone to the best digital place.
  • Eric Qualman introduced the idea of being flawsome to me this week. While we’ve all heard the concept of failing fast and failing forward, what we need to remember is to really evaluate that failure and see what we learn from it. Otherwise, we’re not growing and advancing.

And one of my favorite lines from the Erik Qualman keynote: “if you aren’t getting pushback, you aren’t pioneering.” It’s easy to keep the wheels turning doing what’s comfortable and expected.  I need to continue to push myself to try new things, build new campaigns, and step outside the box. I know I’m not alone when I receive challenges to what I’m doing, I can react defensively. But that’s a sign that I’m shaking things up and need to show why I’m doing things and bring data in to show why it’s right for us.

So these are my golden nuggets from Milwaukee. I’m looking forward to putting them into practice on my campus and beyond grateful for the opportunity to be reminded of what it takes to be a leader.

 

Posted in personal

August

The month of  August saw us traveling to Mobile, Alabama as my son’s team headed to the 16-18 year old Babe Ruth World Series. And what an unbelievable experience for all of us. Obviously there was the chance to see the boys represent their area and play at the highest level of baseball (making it all the way to the quarterfinals, or as they called it, becoming one of the top 5 teams in the country). But the trip was so much more. We were totally welcomed into our Mobile family with more hospitality that we ever could have imagined. From spending nights together 30 to 40 strong to the genuine love and support we all felt.  I have a feeling we’ll all be connected for a very long time. We also did completely touristy things like go on a dolphin cruise (where we saw many) to a gator tour (where we managed to see not a single alligator) to walking the white sandy beaches to enjoying some of the best barbecue I’ve ever eaten.

Beyond that, there were local highlights as well.

  • Senior Pictures – hard to believe that my son is beginning his senior year of high school. There’s no better punch in the gut than watching the senior picture photo shoot and really understanding how fast the time has gone.
  • Soccer – after missing last season to rehab from an injury, my son was back on the pitch patrolling the goal. I’d honestly forgotten how much fun it is to be with these parents and think we’ll have a great season to enjoy.
  • State Fair – well of course, in this area, August means the State Fair and we made our annual visit to do all things fair: eat unhealthy food, walk miles, check out animals and exhibits and just watch the people (which for me is worth the price of admission). We have a somewhat different perspective since my husband worked there so many years and that’s actually where we first met many years ago.
  • Found a gem of a local watering hole in the Eagle Tavern, just a nice, small, neighborhood place with amazing food.

So the only thing missing was any time to read or enjoy a movie, but overall, I’ll take that.  Colder, rainier days are coming so there will be plenty of time for that!

Posted in personal

July

Well a little late, but next month you will see why! July was a wonderfully fun sumner month filled with all kinds of activity, excitement, and good friends!

  • Discovered Heritage Hill Brewhouse, where we spent an afternoon watching storms roll in over the hills while enjoying some amazing food and craft brews.
  • Of course there was plenty of baseball where we watched our son’s all star team fight their way through the loser’s bracker to capture the Mid-Atlantic Regional championship and advance to the Babe Ruth World Series.
  • Last round of graduation parties gave us the chance to catch up with old, dear friends.
  • Since it was the hottest days of summer, our air conditioning quit in time for the Fourth of July which messed up our plans, but gave us plenty of time to celebrate with the Boston Pops.
  • Watched The Incredibles 2, which I enjoyed as much as the original.
  • Binge-watched Stranger Things which is not a show I would typically be into, but was completely hooked from the first episode.
  • Hosted an intern from our Upward Bound program. I continue to be completely blown away by how bright and motivated these students are. And better yet, it took her only a day to feel comfortable joking around in my office.

As we got busier and busier, I found so much enjoyment on nights where we could sit on the deck grilling and enjoying a glass of wine. It centered me and reminded me to enjoy the simple moments.