Category: Usability

Common Errors on Webpages

There are many common issues you can watch for on your webpages to help increase the quality and search engine optimization (SEO) of your pages, make them more accessible, and follow Michigan Tech’s editorial standards.

Specific instructions that may be included below are for Michigan Tech’s OU Campus CMS.

Misspellings

It only takes a few misspellings to affect a user’s impression of your website. Be sure to use the spell checking options within OU Campus before publishing your pages. The system does not check spelling as you go. Within the editor you can use the Spell Check icon Spell Check icon to check the existing text and underline spelling errors. Before publishing you should always run the Final Checks, which includes a spelling check.

Large Image Files

Having images on your page that are too large can slow down the page load time and frustrate your users. All images that are used in the CMS should be created using the Image Editor gadget in the CMS. This process includes the files being compressed and optimized for the web to manage that file size. Be sure to insert or link to these edited files, not the original.

Email Address Links

Linking email addresses on your page make it easier for users to contact you, especially from a mobile device. When you paste text into the page or have an email address at the end of a sentence followed by a period, the addresses are not linked automatically. The easiest way to add the link is to put your cursor after the address, press space (this should automatically recognize the email address and link it), then delete the space. You can also use the Mailto Link icon Mailto Link icon to manually add the link.

Deprecated HTML Tags

There are several outdated HTML codes for some formatting that can get copied and pasted in if you’re not careful. While the text will appear how you want it to a sighted user, it will cause problems for screen readers. This includes

bold <b> should be <strong>

and italics <i> should be <em>

Be sure to use Paste as Text Paste as Text icon before pasting or Clear Formatting Clear Formatting icon after pasting to remove all of the potentially bad code, then use the formatting tools available in the CMS editor to apply the needed styles.

Underlines

On webpages, underlines signify links and should not be used to format text for other reasons. If you want to make some text stand out, use headings, bold, or italics as appropriate instead.

Empty Headings

Because screen reader users can navigate your page using the headings, having a heading tag with no content in it can cause problems. Be sure there are no blank line spaces between content on your page.

Missing Meta Information

A meta description displays in search engine results as the short summary of the page’s content. Along with the meta title, which is the text that shows up in the browser’s tab, it is potentially one of the only pieces of content a user will see from your site, so it plays an important role in the search engine optimization for the page. Keywords help your page rank higher in the search results.

If you do not fill out the Description and Keyword fields when setting up a new webpage, be sure to go back and add the information before publishing. In OU Campus, the meta title will automatically be generated based on the page and site titles.

Underscores in URLs

URLs with hyphens are preferred over underscores by Google. Hyphens make URLs easier for search engines and real people to read. Do not use underscores in your folder or filenames—only use lower case letters, numbers, and hyphens.

H1 Headers

Having multiple <h1> tags can confuse search engines. The only H1 heading on your page should be the page title. Do not add Heading 1 to the body of your webpages.

Words in All Caps

Not only can it be harder to read, but etiquette generally discourages the use of all caps online. Instead, use headings, bold, or italics as appropriate to make the message stand out.

Michigan Tech Editorial Guide

Michigan Tech’s Editorial Guide has additional information about text formatting, style, and punctuation. These are some of the common issues seen on our webpages that are easy to avoid. Following the Editorial Guide will help maintain a consistent user experience across all our pages.

Phone Number Format

Phone numbers should be formatted with hyphens, not parentheses or periods.

Example: 906-487-1885

And, Not &

Ampersand (&) should only be used for brand-specific words, Twitter or in lists and titles. Otherwise use “and.”

Time

Times should be listed using a.m. and p.m. When the time is on the hour, do not include :00, just list the number. Use noon or midnight rather than 12 p.m. or 12 a.m.

Example: 8 a.m.—2:30 p.m. or 8—11 a.m.

Dates

Dates should be spelled out and include the day of the week and year for informational purposes. Do not add nd or st to the number portion.

Example: Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Numbers Zero Through Nine

Numbers zero to nine are always spelled out except in recipes, with staff positions, or in credit hours.

Example: There were six people in class taking 3 credits.


External Links and Beware of the ‘Link Trolls’

As a web manager, you have a lot of responsibility. You have to keep your content “fresh” and accurate. It is a lot of work when you have 50+ webpages to manage along with various other job responsibilities. Making CMS updates typically falls under “and other duties assigned”—making things particularly difficult.

The ‘What’ and ‘Why’ of External Linking

We link to a lot of external websites—ones that Michigan Tech does not own or control. We link to resources about the local community and lodging, responsible research practices, and the products that our university uses. We link to information about disabilities. To our corporate partners’ websites. To sponsors, writing tips, and career advice.


Flexibility/Usability Tradeoff

As the flexibility of a system increases, its usability decreases. It sounds simple, but yet is so difficult to understand. Intel has a couple nice examples of this. Flexibility has costs. I would argue this holds true in general, but for now let’s focus on the web.

Making it ‘Foolproof’

Murphy’s Law claims, in part, that “nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool.” In basic terms, you cannot plan for everything. Rather, you should design and code for the critical mass of users needed to make your website successful. When you go overboard on flexibility, you decrease efficiency, added complexity, increase time, and spend more money for development. You may deliver a user experience that is worst than what you started with.


Why We Are Going Responsive

When universities or corporations redesign their website, the trend is to ‘go responsive.’ There are a few important reasons, beyond being trendy:

  • Mobile usage is exploding: More than 33% of our web traffic is on a mobile device and that percentage increases every few months. Our Athletics website has already seen “the flip” where more of their traffic is via mobile than any other platform.
  • Consistent user experience: if your customer is used to your desktop website, they should have a similar experience on a tablet or mobile phone. This is ensured by serving them a responsive website that adapts to their screen size. We believe in serving the same content, regardless of the screen size. Smartphones are fully capable of displaying all of the content that a desktop machine can.
  • It is recommended by Google: Google will boost your search engine rankings if a user is searching on a mobile device and your website is ‘mobile friendly.’ Although Google also values a separate version of your website as being ‘mobile friendly’, they recommend that your website be responsive.
  • Cost effectiveness: in the long run, it is easier to make your website responsive than it is to maintain two or more separate versions of your website. With multiple website copies, it is easy to be lazy and develop for ‘desktop only’ and then have to redevelop for the other screen sizes. A responsive website puts the focus on all screen sizes and one code base.


Image Carousels are Dead

Why do people always ask for image carousels, especially on their homepage? Ok, I understand that sometimes it is politics. “I can’t feature just one topic on my department’s homepage. Can we add seven images, so no one is mad?” Sometimes it is because novices thinks that it “looks cool.” Sometimes people see it on one website and think they should copy the effect. None of these are good reasons for an image carousel, though.


The Hierarchy of (Web) Needs

Being a web professional at a university can be difficult. Department chairs say things like “I want a website that looks different from everyone else.” A liaison says “I want the newest, craziest, most different website that you can make.” Everyone wants ‘cutting edge,’ although they don’t know what that means or why they are asking for it.

Those who don’t work in the web profession get lost in flashy designs, zany animations, and sparkles. They rarely analyze how many clicks it takes to get to the real information, how accessible a website is to those with disabilities, or how user-friendly a website is on an iPhone. They just want to be ‘wowed.’ Does their audience really want to be wowed, though?


Search Engine Optimization and Usability

Over the past month, 60% of our web traffic has come via some search engine. That number has hovered around 60% for months now. What does that mean? In a world where users automatically go to Google to find a website, it is increasing important that we optimize our websites for search engines (commonly referred to as SEO).

A number of the same principles for optimizing our websites (using headings, linking keywords, providing rich content) also create a website that is very user friendly. A good website follows usability best practices and SEO best practices.

To help our campus web liaisons, we have produced a guide about SEO and usability best practices.