Takeaways from HighEdWeb

This fall, members of the web team traveled to Milwaukee to attend the 2019 HighEdWeb conference. The annual conference is sponsored by the Higher Education Web Professionals Association. With more than 100 sessions, the conference addressed a wide variety of topics, from using new technologies to building partnerships on campus. Here are some key takeaways.

Content Personalization

Including personalized content during the application process can influence where a student chooses to go to school. This includes personalized email messaging, homepage content and/or landing page content. Cascade has an engagement platform called CLIVE that would allow us to offer personalized content. It would enable us to:

  • Collect user data with web-based forms.
  • Offer visitors a more tailored content experience.
  • Track visitors, leads and conversions.
  • Create segments based on specific user attributes.
  • Increase conversion and effectiveness of our messaging through A/B testing, calls to action and design variations.

Accessible Table Editor

Accessible tables have the following characteristics:

  • Use of <th scope=“col”> for column headings.​
  • No empty headers.​
  • No merged cells.​
  • Use of captions (when needed).

View an open-source accessible table editor web component.

Communicating While Changing Strategy

It can be difficult to create a communications plan while your college is changing its strategy. The presenter’s internal communication plan included launching an intranet. Once a month, they produce an email newsletter from the dean that includes links to posts on the intranet. They also use the intranet to post stories that don’t make the cut for the university’s news platforms.

Their suggestions for an external communications plan include:​

  • Make minor but noticeable changes.​
  • Don’t focus on your homepage.​
  • Retire pages.​
  • Anticipate the return of past challenges.
  • Embrace never-adopters.​

Getting Tech and Marketing on the Same Page

It’s important to unite colleagues around common values. For example, different teams might not agree on the number of items in the top navigation, but they have the shared value of creating a website optimized for search engines. It’s easier to find solutions when you have goals in common.

Content Editing Tips

Follow these recommendations to write and edit effective web content:

  • Keep sentences short.
  • Use active voice.
  • Use plain language. Try to empower your audience by providing easily understandable information, instead of trying to impress them.
  • Chunk content and use headings.

Check your content before it’s published:

  • Read it out loud.
  • Read it backwards
  • Leave it and check it again later with fresh eyes.

Accessibility and Inclusivity

Accessibility means everyone can access your website and understand your content.​ It helps you reach the widest possible audience, as 26% of adults in the U.S. have a disability.​ Follow these tips for accessible content:

  • Use short sentences and paragraphs (max: 20 words per sentence, five sentences per paragraph).​
  • Organize information into bulleted and numbered lists.​
  • Use pronouns (you, we).​
  • Avoid jargon and acronyms. ​Use plain language.
  • Write to a 9th grade reading level. This is important for people with cognitive disabilities.​
  • Use proper heading structure. Headings are for semantic mark-up, not for style. Never use a heading based on the way it looks.
  • Ensure that link text makes sense out of context. Avoid “click here.”​ Never use a URL as link text, because screen readers will read every single character.
  • Use intentional and descriptive alt text for graphics. (Note: periods in alt text tell screen readers to pause before the next sentence.)
  • Avoid acronyms and abbreviations. They muddle clarity for any user, but especially for screen readers, which often don’t recognize them.
  • Use diagrams to supplement information provided in the text.

Inclusivity is important in creating web content that appeals to a wide audience. Inclusion is about welcoming and embracing diversity. To create inclusive content: ​

  • Use people-first language (“people with disabilities” instead of “disabled people”).​
  • Don’t use language that assumes level of education, someone’s socioeconomic status, that English is someone’s first language, etc.​
  • Default to neutrality. If there’s potential something could offend someone, rewrite it.​

Solving Difficult Situations

If you face a difficult situation or request, follow these steps:

  • Listen to the full request before responding.
  • Don’t say no right away. Try to find things to say yes to, if possible.
  • Self-assess. Be mindful of your feelings.
  • You don’t have to fight every battle or die on every battlefield.
  • Empower yourself and don’t be afraid to say no.
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