Category: Best Practices

Website and Content Backups

There has been some confusion over what our CMS does and does not back up as a part of its revision process, so the purpose of this blog post is to clarify things. This information is accurate for both Percussion Rhythmyx and OU Campus.

Content Backups

Enterprise Content Management Systems store pieces of content. You have a Generic Page which stores the meat of your webpage’s content. However, there is more. Think of a sidebars and sliders (Highlights). Images. And navigation—made up of Navons. There are also Files. Maybe some Script items or Personnel Information items. All told, any given webpage is made up of 50-100 total individual items.

Any CMS does a good job of keeping track of revisions for these items. Each revision is basically a backup of that individual piece of content. As long as an item is not deleted (purged), we will have a history for that item. If the item is deleted, then its revision history is also deleted.

Webpage Backups

Enterprise Content Management Systems do not store webpage backups. If you want to see what a webpage looked like on January 12, 2012, you won’t be able to in an easy manner. That is because you would have to comb through the multiple individual content items that make up that particular webpage. What’s more is that you won’t be able to determine if any content items were deleted between January 12, 2012 and today. So, even if you combed through all the related content items that comprise a webpage, you still may not have an accurate picture of what it looked like on a specific date in the past.

Information Services provides short term webpage backups—typically 30 days—to guard against losing content in the event of server failure or other technical issues. This does not help with long-term history of your website, however.

Alternatives

Over the past ten years of using a CMS, we have found that it is very rare to need to reference a specific webpage backup from more than a week or two in the past. The web is constantly evolving and websites are meant to be living documents that change frequently. Clients who house important records on their website—such as the Registrar—develop internal processes to back up and keep records outside of their website.

The free online service Internet Archive: Wayback Machine is a great tool for looking at the history of webpages. It crawls various webpages across the Internet and takes and stores snapshots. It is limited in that it does not take snapshots daily or sometimes even monthly. It is a great place to start, though, if you need to find a general history of a particular webpage.

If you are concerned about backing up your web content for internal or even legal reasons, such as your policies and procedures or course requirements—and you do not have an internal process already in place—we recommend subscribing to a paid service that will automatically create webpage snapshots for you. The Internet Archive and other vendors have subscription services with different features and price points. If you are interested in subscribing to a paid backup service, contact cmshelp@mtu.edu and we can discuss your needs and budget.


Best Practices: Search Engine Optimization and Usability

Do you have pages with a lot of text and wonder if that is OK? Are your pages user-friendly? Do you want to increase your search engine rankings? Here are some tips to make your website better for your users and increase your visibility in searches.

Content-Rich Page Examples

The What is Biomedical Engineering page shows good use of headings in a page that has a lot of content. The sections don’t drag on because the headings break up the content. They also make the content more scannable for both users and search engines. Using the images to break up the large amount of text rather than placing them at the top or side of the page is another way to make the page more user-friendly.

Notice the keywords that are bolded and others that are linked to relevant pages. Highlighting the keywords in this way makes it look better to search engines and may increase your rankings. It also makes the most important topics pop out to the reader. Just be sure not to overdo it (a couple times per story should be enough). Google knows when you’re trying to cheat and there is a penalty for it!

The What is Mechanical Engineering page also uses these principles. In addition, this page includes bullets to further break up the content and make it feel less overwhelming. Properly using headings and bullets makes your content easier to read.

Keywords

Keywords, and how you use them on your pages, play an important role in search engine optimization (SEO). But keep in mind there can be too much of a good thing. You can be ranked lower for “keyword stuffing.” Write naturally, then pick out the keywords to highlight.

  • Use keywords in the URL. The URL is determined by the names of the folders.
    • Keep folder names to one to two keywords separated by a hyphen.
    • Always use lower case; never symbols or spaces.
    • These guidelines also apply to filenames (PDFs, Word Docs, etc).
  • Use keywords in the page title.
  • Use keywords in the headings.
  • Link keyword phrases across your site and to other relevant sites on campus.
  • Use keywords throughout the body copy and add style to them where appropriate (bold or italics).  Avoid underlines—they can be mistaken for a link.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Besides using keywords strategically there are several other things you can do to make your pages rank higher in searches. The University Marketing and Communications website provides more information and resources on these methods for improving your site’s ranking.

  • Publish relevant content.
  • Update your content regularly.
  • Include metadata, information about the content of your pages, via the keywords and description fields in the CMS.
  • Have a link-worthy site.
  • Use alt tags to describe your visual and video media.

Usability

Think about your users when writing the content and designing the layout for your pages. If it isn’t easy for them to navigate or is too overwhelming, they will not stay long enough to get the information you want them to have.

  • Use headings, lists, and bullets.
  • Don’t make the user click. They are happy to scroll.
    • Instead of 10 pages that each have one paragraph on them, it’s better to have one page with strong headings and several paragraphs.
    • Sliders were a great way to make a lot of content easier to digest, but clicking sliders to open them has become a problem, especially with mobile devices. Try using more headings, images, and bullets to break up your content rather than putting it in a slider.
  • Don’t overload your navigation—the tabs and links that give users access to your pages. The typical human brain can only handle so much information at a time.
    • Follow the rule of seven—keep your navigation down to seven tabs. The same applies to the page links under each of those tabs.

Please Attribute Sources to Migrated Content in Blogs

Attention web liaisons: if you copy existing content into your department’s blog from a web page or another source, please ensure that you have given credit to the author(s) by adding a byline. This policy applies to content that is authored by any member of the campus community (except for Tech Today), including individuals within your department, not only content that originates outside of the University. Plagiarism charges may be filed if credit is not given where it is due.

Thank you.

– UMC Web Team

Note: This was originally posted on October 4th, 2012.


Good File Naming Conventions

There are a number of good tips to keep in mind when you name your folders, files, and web pages. These tips will help to keep your URLs short and specific to what they involve. Good file naming will also help with search engine optimization.

  • Don’t include spaces or other punctuation in your folder or file name. If necessary, use dashes in this manner: “my-new-file.pdf”.
  • Try to keep your folder or file name short while still making sense.
  • Use key words.
  • Use lowercase.
  • Pick a filename and stick to it. Not renaming your file will keep the file indexed by any search engines.
  • Try to avoid using years, version numbers, or other naming patterns that date a file. Maintenance is reduced and user experience is sustained when you can just overwrite the old file with the new one each year and keep the filename the same. However, for archiving purposes, different filenames may be important (e.g., FY09). To ensure that your new filename updates properly, please let the CMS team in University Marketing and Communications know when you change a filename.

You may only work in one operating system, however your web files will be viewed by numerous systems. Therefore, it becomes essential that you play it safe and avoid common illegal directory and filename characters. Some are illegal because a specific operating system doesn’t support them, others because they are used as variables or reserved characters. Naming conventions are important in web addresses (folder names) as well as for binary files.

Do not use any of these common illegal characters.

  • # pound
  • < left angle bracket
  • % percent
  • > right angle bracket
  • & ampersand
  • * asterisk
  • { left bracket
  • ? question mark
  • } right bracket
  • / forward slash
  • back slash
  • + plus sign
  • : colon
  • = equal sign
  • “ double quotes
  • | pipe
  • ‘ single quotes
  • ` backtick
  • ! exclamation point
  • @ at sign
  • $ dollar sign
  • and blank spaces

Also, keep these rules in mind:

  • Don’t start or end your filename with a space, period, hyphen, or underline.
  • Keep your filenames under 31 characters.
  • Most operating systems are case sensitive.
  • Non-ASCII characters need to be escaped.
  • Separate words with dashes (not underscores).
  • Keep the overall filename length reasonably short.
  • Selecting Great URLs

Example:

Bad filenames Translates to
F&A Costs.html F&amp;A%20Costs.html
my PDF file#name.pdf my%20PDF%20file%23name.pdf
Good filenames
fa-costs-index.html
my-pdf-file-name.pdf


Note: This list is not exhaustive. It is meant to help you avoid common errors in filenames.