OSU Extension has programs for Oregonians at every stage of life, from young children participating in 4-H Cloverbuds to seniors taking Walk with Ease or Better Bones and Balance classes. With this diversity of programming, it is no surprise that people of all ages visit and utilize the Extension website.

It is difficult to make generalizations about people’s web use based on their age, since it is often influenced by factors such as socioeconomic status, education, location, etc. that vary tremendously within one age group. Despite stereotypes, a teenager growing up in a rural area without regular internet access will probably be less “tech savvy” than a retired person who spent much of their career as a software engineer in a big city. However, because it’s our mission to serve all Oregonians, it is useful to look at analytics for visitors in different age groups to ensure that the website is serving them all effectively and determine if there are particular topics or methods of content delivery that are more effective for certain groups.

In this post, we will take a high-level look at this information. All analytics data provided is for the period January 1, 2020 to October 15, 2020. Note that Google Analytics is able to determine age data for about 36% of visitors to the site.

Under 18

For legal reasons, Google Analytics does not provide data about users that it determines to be under the age of 18.

Check out these articles on creating web content for children and teens:

Ages 18-24

A significant segment of this age group on the Extension website is made up of college/university students, as evidenced by the relatively high popularity of “academic” content used as citations or references in papers, such as items in the Botany Basics collection, as well as the fact that this group has the highest percentage of visitors from Corvallis.

Ages 18-24 user data

This is the age group that is reported to visit the Extension website the least, making up 11.6% of users for which we have age data. (Note, though, that this age group contains the shortest range and therefore the lowest number of individuals who could visit.) It also has the highest bounce rate (71.65%) and lowest average pages per session (1.44). This means that they are the most likely to visit a single page on the site and leave before visiting any others. They are also the group least likely to use the site search feature.

However, this group also spends more time on average on individual pages (2 minutes 51 seconds) than any other age group. This suggests that they are interested in the content on the site and are spending time to read it through. They are the group who least often leaves feedback on content (“Was this page helpful?”), but from the data we have their responses are almost always positive.

Contrary to what you may guess, visitors in this age group are more likely than visitors in any other to be using a desktop computer rather than a mobile device (this may be related to the number of students doing school work). However, for all age groups, a majority of users do use mobile devices. Even though this is the group most likely to be using a desktop, only 46.7% do.

Additionally, all groups of visitors are most likely to find the Extension website through an internet search through Google or another search engine. However, the 18-24 age group is the least likely to find the site through other methods (links on other sites, social media posts, etc.).

In terms of the content visited, this age group represents the widest diversity of interest. For the most part, a large majority of visitors to the Extension website are interested in gardening, food preservation, and (particularly over the last couple months) emergency preparedness topics. However, visitors in the 18-24 age group are the ones who most often visit content about other topics, including Sheep and Goats, Beef Cattle, Fish and Aquatic Life, Field Crops, and Business Management.

Takeaways:

  • To encourage visitors who get to the page from a search engine to visit more than one page on the site, be sure to include a “call to action” or other links on your articles and other content.
  • Be sure that your content includes information about author(s) and date published, etc. so that students (or other researchers) can create a citation for it.
  • Look for opportunities to create and promote content targeted at people in this age group who aren’t college or university students.
  • Consider targeting this age group when promoting content or programming that is new or uncommon in Extension.
  • Look for ways to promote relevant content to this age group beyond relying on them finding it through an internet search.

Ages 25-34

Visitors in this age group are the most common on the site, making up 23.19%, nearly a quarter, of all visitors for which we have age data. They are “middle of the road” for most statistics, including bounce rate, pages per session, and time on page, as well as for the devices they use and the ways they find the Extension website.

In terms of content interests, analytics suggests that visitors ages 25-44 are more interested in livestock-related content than other age groups, particularly beef cattle, sheep, and goats.

Takeaways:

  • Although this age group represents the largest group of website visitors, they are commonly thought to be underrepresented in “in-person” Extension programming. Think about ways you can utilize the web to increase participation from this group.

Ages 35-54

Google Analytics splits this into two groups, 35-44 and 45-54, but the statistics for these groups on the Extension website are so similar that it is easier to talk about them together.

This age group shows a significant drop in visitor numbers from the previous group. Numbers pick up again somewhat for visitors 55 and over.

Extension visitors by age

It may surprise you to learn that it is actually this age group that is the most likely out of all visitors to be using a mobile device. Over 70% of visitors in the 35-44 age group use a mobile phone or tablet to visit the Extension website.

Additionally, the 45-54 age group is the one most likely to find the Extension website through social media (12.7%). Facebook is the most common platform people arrive from.

In addition to the interest in livestock topics mentioned above, this age group shows a relatively high interest in crop production topics, particularly Field Crops, Hazelnuts and Nut Crops, and Tree Fruit.

Takeaways:

  • Think about reasons why visitors might drop off in this age group. Do we have programming appropriate for people who may be busy with family and/or career obligations? If so is it well represented online?
  • Don’t assume that only young people are visiting the site on a mobile device.
  • Make sure your social media strategy isn’t targeted solely at young people.

Ages 55-64

This is the second most common age group for visitors to the Extension website. Most statistics for this group are somewhere in the middle of the stats for the previous age group and the next.

One notable fact is that visitors in the 55 and over age group are much more likely than other age groups to leave feedback on content. The vast majority of all feedback is positive, but this group leaves negative feedback most often (55-64 ~7% negative and 65+ ~13% negative).

The 55+ age group also, perhaps unsurprisingly, represents visitors who have a relatively high interest in healthy aging and physical activity topics.

Takeaways:

  • When looking at feedback on content, keep in mind that certain groups of visitors may be more likely to leave feedback than others.
  • If you are making content targeted at older adults, look at examples like Better Bones and Balance or Walk with Ease as examples of effective web content for that audience.

Ages 65+

This age group is only the third largest group of visitors on the Extension website, but they spend the most time in a session visiting the site and tend to view the most pages. However, they spend the least amount of time on individual pages on average (2 minutes and 8 seconds). This behavior may indicate that this group has a harder time finding what they need on the site and so end up visiting many pages pretty quickly while they look. This idea is further supported by the fact that this group utilizes the site search feature much more than any other age group.

Contrary to what you might expect, this age group is not particularly likely to be using a desktop computer (in fact, slightly less than the 18-24 age group). The 65+ group is the one that most often uses tablets to access the website (~17% of visitors in this group use one). This age group is also the one most likely to find the Extension website from a link on another site.

Takeaways:

  • Make sure content is written to be easy to scan and read, so people can easily tell if what they need is on the page.
  • Tag your content with relevant keywords and topics so that visitors can find it through the site’s search feature.
  • Don’t assume that older adults are always using a desktop setup to access web content. In particular, don’t assume that they are using technology that can easily download/view PDFs or other documents.

Website updates

The Extension website’s analytics are powered by the Google Analytics platform. One powerful feature of Google Analytics is the ability for administrators to configure tracking of visitor actions (called “events”) that are more complex than simple page views. These include actions performed by visitors such as clicking a link or submitting a form. In this post we will cover the actions that are tracked on the Extension website and how to access data about them.

Actions tracked on the Extension website

The following are the categories of actions that are tracked on the Extension website:

  • Content CTA: A visitor clicks on the “call to action” (CTA) link at the end of a piece of content. This CTA can be customized for articles, otherwise it defaults to links to the landing pages for the topics the content is tagged with.
    • During August, 8,116 of these events occurred
  • Downloads: A visitor clicks on a link to download a file (e.g. a PDF or Excel document).
    • During August, 25,402 of these events occurred
  • Feedback: A user selects “Yes” or “No” in a “Was this page helpful?” form.
    • During August, 3,056 of these events occurred
  • Mails: A user clicks on a linked email address to send an email.
    • During August, 1,229 of these events occurred
  • Outbound links: A user clicks on a link that directs them to an external website (i.e. a website that doesn’t start with extension.oregonstate.edu). This includes clicks on the “Share” button on pages that visitors can use to share the link to social media.
    • During August, 135,661 of these events occurred
  • Search: A user performs a search using the site search function that doesn’t return any results.
    • During August, 479 of these events occurred

Note that a single action by a visitor might be counted for more than one category. For example, if a call to action at the end of an article links to the Extension Catalog website, that will be included in both the “Content CTA” and “Outbound links” categories.

Note about tracking document downloads

Note that Google Analytics can only track clicks to the document that happen on the Extension website. This means that if you email someone the link to a document, post it on social media, etc. Google Analytics will not track those clicks. If tracking these numbers is important, we recommend:

  • Converting the document to a web page
  • Storing the file in OSU Box, which tracks downloads from everywhere. To see this information, log in to Box and view the file. On the right-hand side of the screen, there is an icon to open the “Details” panel for the file. Here, you can see the number of times the file has been previewed and downloaded.
  • Creating a shortened beav.es link for the document that you share. Then you can log back in and see how many people have followed that link.

Accessing data about visitor actions

Content authors can access some data about visitor actions through the on-site analytics dashboard.

  • Downloads: in the lower-right corner of the “Top Content” section, follow the “Search Document Data” link. This will take you to a report of all events in the Downloads category. You can use the filter at the top to find data for a specific document.
  • Searches: follow the “See analytics for all of Extension” link in the top-right corner of the dashboard. In the “What visitors look for” section (last on the page), you will see data for terms that visitors have entered in the search box on the site.

To get data for the other action categories at this time, you will need access to the full Google Analytics back end. Submit a website support ticket to request access. We have created basic instructions for using the full Google Analytics back end. You can also see our recent professional development webinar to learn how your colleagues use analytics.

As I am writing this, many OSU Extension county offices and combined Research and Extension Centers have entered initial phases of resumption after several months of being closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While many of us are looking forward to a “return to normal”, we know it will take a long time, and even then it’s very likely that things will never truly go back to the way they were before.

I want to take this chance to look back on some resources that were created to support OSU Extension faculty and staff during the pandemic and remind us of how these resources can continue to benefit us going forward. The past few months have been tough for many of us, but it’s good to remember that the work we did then was not only valuable at the time, but will remain valuable into the future.

Virtual Extension Resources

Shortly after we received the announcement that Extension Offices would be closed to public visits, a team comprised of members from Extension Communications, ECTU, and PACE began work on creating and collecting Virtual Extension resources for faculty and staff. These resources are intended to provide guidance around delivering Extension programming remotely. These resources continue to be updated, and the Virtual Extension team is still available to answer questions, talk through issues, or take suggestions regarding remote program delivery.

Since they were launched, these resources have received more than 9,000 pageviews. The most popular resources have been:

  1. Video and Multimedia Recommendations
  2. Video and multimedia for social media, web and more
  3. General program delivery considerations (accessibility, civil rights, security and privacy)
  4. Live online, interactive consulting to a larger group
  5. Real-time or recorded online ‘lecture’

Keep these resources in mind as you provide remote programming or use a mixed modality approach. Some of our case studies show that remote delivery has increased the reach of programming beyond what was expected in “normal circumstances,” so also consider continuing to provide remote offerings even when programming can be fully in-person. In the spirit of inclusion, think about what audiences are excluded when they are required to travel and gather in-person to receive our programming, as well as those who are excluded by requiring the tech and ability to receive programming virtually.

Professional development webinar series

To complement the online Virtual Extension resources, the VE team organized a series of Professional Development and Connection webinars for OSU Extension faculty and staff. These have included presentations from VE team members as well as faculty  and staff from throughout the organization. Topics have varied from Zoom and other software tutorials, to social media and marketing strategies, to Spanish language instruction!

Recordings of all presentations are available online. Definitely check them out if you get the chance. If you would like to present a session or have a suggestion of a session you would like to see, get in touch with Victor Villegas.

As part of this series, Extension leadership has also launched two recurring opportunities for conversation and connection with Extension faculty and staff and leadership: Water Cooler Wednesdays and Ask Anita. These sessions continue to occur regularly. 

Public online resources related to Coronavirus and COVID-19

In addition to the COVID-19 resources for faculty and staff, OSU Extension has produced a multitude of resources for Oregonians about staying healthy and taking care of themselves, their families and their communities. Thanks to the content management system that powers the Extension website, these resources were entered quickly and automatically collected on our Coronavirus (COVID-19) topic page. This page has been viewed over 850 times since it was published. Just a small sample of this content includes:

It also includes links to a number of credible sources of information about COVID-19 (including OHA, CDC and WHO) in order to combat common myths about the virus that have popped up in our communities.

In addition to addressing the needs of Oregonians related to physical, mental and community health, OSU Extension also worked to provide resources to parents and other educators who needed to quickly change their methods of child care and education as schools closed. Resources created by faculty and staff from a variety of program areas and resources were collected in a “Youth education resources” topic page. Since March, this page has received 1,034 pageviews.

While these resources have been particularly relevant in the face of COVID-19, the topics they cover have always been and will continue to be important. Consider exploring these pages (or other topic pages) to see what resources may be related to your work now or going forward.

Innovative web and digital strategies

The work described above has led to connections and collaboration that didn’t exist before the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the Youth Portal mentioned in the previous section involved input, coordination and effort from team members from 4-H, Extension Family and Community Health, Oregon Open Campus, Outdoor School, Oregon Sea Grant, Extension Communications, and others. A subset of this group has agreed to work together in maintaining this topic page going forward.

Additionally, work on Virtual Extension resources has provided extra opportunities for collaboration between Extension Communications, ECTU, and PACE. Through these collaborations, we have been able to refine Extension’s strategy around content and event promotion through social media and newsletters. We have also launched a pilot of “Opt-In Forms” for topic pages, which allow visitors to tell us about their interest in a topic in order to receive a newsletter or other specially delivered content. 

The Coronavirus situation has also given us reason to utilize features of the Extension website that facilitate strategically “broadcasting” or pushing out content to many places with minimal effort on the part of most content authors. These strategies have included the following:

  • To provide website visitors with locally relevant information about COVID-19 and Extension’s status, two focus area templates were pushed out to all counties: Online resources and activities and County COVID-19 resources. These are able to pull in resources mentioned in the previous section while providing local context. Combined, these focus areas have received more than 500 pageviews.
  • We also pushed announcements out to counties as they enter different resumption phases (default/phase 1, phase 2). In total these announcements have been viewed nearly 1,800 times. These both point back to the page describing OSU Extension’s resumption status and plan, which has been viewed over 2,000 times.
  • Extension Communications has been continuously publishing news stories that highlight the impactful work Extension has been doing throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Through tagging, these stories automatically show up on topic and county pages where they are relevant. 
    • Please share these news stories on social media and in newsletters too — use the content bank to get the link, photo and teaser to share.

Special thanks

We would like to thank the following people, who have been particularly active in both using the website and taking the time to learn and think strategically about the most effective ways they can use the Extension website.

Since the Internet has existed, researchers have studied how people interact with it. Despite this, persistent myths about how visitors use websites have sprung up. In this post, we’ll take a look at a few of these myths and use research and data from the field and from the Extension website to determine whether or not they have a basis in reality.

Myth #1: Visitors don’t scroll and thus are likely to miss content “below the fold”

For years in the early days of the web, people were told that important content on a page needs to be at the top of the screen, where visitors can see it without scrolling. Recent research has shown, however, that this trend in behavior is changing. In 2010, users spent about 80% of their time looking at content in the first screen they could see. In 2018, they spent the same amount of time looking at the first three screens of content (see Scrolling and Attention). This is partially due to the prevalence of mobile device usage. On mobile devices, 90% of users scroll within 14 seconds.

At this point, nearly all web users are familiar with scrolling. What determines if they will scroll on a given page is whether or not they have reason to believe that they’ll find what they’re looking for by doing so. This concept of users following “information scent” is part of a larger field called “information foraging theory”, which compares the methods people use to find information online to the methods animals use to find food in the wild.

When deciding whether to take an action like scrolling or clicking a link (or moving to a new area to forage for food), two factors are considered:

  1. The “cost” of the action – how long it takes, how difficult it is to undo,  etc.
  2. How likely it seems that performing the action will get the desired results

Scrolling is one of the most low-cost actions a person can take on a web page – it doesn’t require loading a new page and you can undo the action without even moving the mouse pointer. Therefore, according to information foraging theory, if a user has to choose between two equally likely methods of finding information – clicking a link or scrolling on the current page, they would be more likely to choose scrolling.

What this means for you

  • At the top of the page, tell visitors what they will find by scrolling down. This can be done with a table of contents, a quick links bar, a short summary in the first paragraph, etc.
  • Make sure the sections further down the page are easily scannable – even though most users scroll these days, they do focus most of their attention on content near the top.

Myth #2: Visitors read all of the content on a page

Although this contradicts the previous myth somewhat, many content authors develop content for web pages with the assumption that visitors will read the entire page from beginning to end. For many years now, we have known this is largely not the case. Website visitors almost always scan the page in an F-shaped pattern, reading the first few words of each section or paragraph as they go down the page. 

The reason for this is based in information foraging theory, described above. Users scan in order to determine the likelihood of finding the information they want on the page. If in the course of their scanning they determine that the likelihood is high, they will decide it is worth their time to read the page or section in more detail.

What this means for you

  • Make your web content scannable as much as possible. There are several techniques for doing this:
    • Use headings frequently to break up text. These headings should describe the information found in the following section. On longer pages, you may consider further differentiating sections by using alternating background colors.
    • Use pull quotes, where certain sentences are enlarged and emphasized graphically like in a magazine.
    • When enumerating multiple ideas (such as a list of items or series of steps), break them into a numbered or bulleted list.
    • Keep paragraphs short, with one idea per paragraph.

Myth #3: Visitors to a website always (or almost always) start at the home page

When designing a home page or landing page, many people assume that it will be the first page that visitors see when they come to the site. However, this idea is not supported by the data. 

Over the past year (May 13 2019-2020):

  • 2.71% of visits to the Extension website started on the home page
  • 6.47% of visits started on a program landing page
  • 3.71% started on a county landing page
  • 1.95% started on a topic landing page
  • 0.22% started on a project landing page

This means that about 85% of visits to the site start on a page that isn’t a landing page.

In comparison, more than half of visits (57.6%) start on an article or a news story, mostly via searching on Google or other search engines for specific information. It is also slightly more common for visits to start on a program subpage than the landing page (6.79% of visits vs. 6.64% of visits).

What this means for you

  • Don’t assume that putting something on your landing page means all (or even most) visitors will see it.
  • Make sure that visitors can understand your content and get all the information you want them to have without needing to visit the landing page.

Myth #4: Visitors won’t find information if it can’t be found within three clicks of where they start

This is an extremely pervasive myth that we have addressed before. The first thing to know is that this measurement is not useful in telling you how easy content is to find. Technically, all content on the Extension website can be found within two clicks of any page by using the search feature. 

Additionally, although it is still often repeated, the “three-click rule” has been proven false. This is due to, again, information foraging theory. As long as visitors have a reason to believe it is worth their time to follow a link, that it will bring them closer to their goal, they will do it regardless of how many links they have already clicked.

What this means for you

  • It is better to “chunk” information into more pages with fewer link options rather than putting a large number of links all together to try and minimize the number of clicks to get to each destination.
  • Make sure visitors know why it is worth their time to click a link. This is mainly done by using meaningful link text. People are more likely to click on a link that says what they will see if they click the link (such as “full results of the study”) rather than something generic like “click here” or the link URL.

Myth #5: You should open links to external sites in a new window/tab to make sure visitors get back to your site

For a long time, it was considered a best practice to open links to external websites or applications in a new window or tab. It was believed that doing so would prevent the user from leaving your site entirely for the one being linked to. However, doing so leads to serious accessibility, security, and usability problems, to the point where today opening links in new windows is often considered one of the top usability problems on the web.

Additionally, data suggests that this idea is not accurate. Studies have shown that the back button is the most used control in web browsers. This means that by opening a link in a new window/tab and thereby disabling the back button, you are preventing visitors from using the control they are most likely to use to return to your site.

What this means for you

  • In almost all situations, you should have links open in the same tab as they are clicked in.
  • If you have control over the external page being linked to, provide links back to the original site (e.g. at the end of a Qualtrics survey or YouTube video).
  • If you or people you know have a personal preference for opening links in new tabs, learn the shortcuts for doing so (such as clicking with your mouse’s scroll wheel or holding Ctrl or Cmd when you click)

Myth #6: Visitors primarily use menus to find what they need on a site

Research has grouped web users into three categories:

  • Search-dominant: users who mostly use a site’s search feature to find what they’re looking for
  • Link-dominant: users who mostly use menus and links to find what they’re looking for
  • Mixed: users who use the site search feature and menus and links about equally.

In general studies, it has been found that about half of all web users are search-dominant. On the Extension website, the search results page is by far the most visited page on the site, receiving nearly twice as many page views as the home page.

Even for users that are link-dominant or mixed, heat maps we have created for the Extension website (which show where on the page users click) show that users are more likely to click on links in the main body of the page than menu items. You can see an example of this in the heat map below. Notice how, while the heat map was recording, the “Events” link in the quick links bar got many more clicks (23) than the same link in the sidebar (0).

 

This is also likely due to information foraging theory. Links in the body of the page have more context that allows visitors to determine whether clicking the link will get them the information they are looking for. The main body of the page is also where users are more likely to be scanning. It seems that if they can’t find what they need by scanning the page, then they will try the menus. 

What this means for you

  • Make sure important links are included in the body of your pages, not just the sidebar. A quick links bar or call to action page section is often a good way to do this. 

Web updates

Topic committees now have the ability to configure “topic categories”. These are a pre-defined list of keywords that will be available to select from when a piece of content is tagged with the corresponding topic. See instructions in the website user guide.

While people across Oregon and the world practice social distancing in response to COVID-19, they will continue to stay connected via social media. 

Since March 1, around the time the first COVID-19 case was discovered in Oregon, traffic to the Extension website from social media has risen by about 8% compared to the previous period, and we expect to see it continue to rise as our offices around the state begin to use social media more heavily. 

Learn what content has been working well when shared on social media. This can help you make your social media posts more effective.

Where is content shared?

On many pages on the Extension website, there is a “Share” button that visitors can use to easily share the page to social media, email it to someone, or save it to a bookmark service. In analytics, we can see the platforms where people have shared our pages.

Here are the shares since January 19, 2020. The following stats only include visitors who have used the “share” button on the page. We cannot determine how many people have shared a page manually.

  • Facebook: 140 shares
  • Twitter: 12 shares
  • WhatsApp: 9 shares
  • LinkedIn: 4 shares
  • Reddit: 2 shares
  • Tumblr: 1 share

We can also get an idea about how often our content is shared on various platforms by looking at how many times people arrive to our site from those platforms. In total, people arrived to our site from social media 10,074 times. The most common platforms people arrived from were:

  • Facebook: 9,398
  • Pinterest: 242
  • Twitter: 176
  • YouTube: 53
  • Instagram: 29

What this means for you

  • Facebook is by far the most common place where our content is shared. If your county/program does not currently have a Facebook account or doesn’t use it regularly, consider creating one or becoming more active.

What kind of content is shared

Similar to the above, we can look at the pages where visitors most often used the “share” button to share content to social media:

  1. Coffee Grounds and Composting: 26 shares
  2. Clackamas County 4-H Tack and Bake Sales: 10 shares
  3. Monthly Garden Calendars: 9 shares (all months)
  4. Rural Living Day 2020: 4 shares
  5. BBB Exercise Tutorials: 4 shares

We can also see where on the site people most often arrived from social media platforms:

  1. Put rose pruning and planting on the calendar: 309 times
  2. When to start seeds indoors in Oregon: 304 times
  3. Coffee Grounds and Composting: 302 times
  4. Branding: OSU working to settle the debate of the ages: 281 times
  5. Are there male and female peppers: 268 times

What this means for you

  • Educational content is the most commonly shared type of content. Especially during this social distancing period, consider including more educational content in your social media presence.
  • Content that tends to be popular is ones that address timely seasonal topics (such as gardening in the springtime), “hot” or “highly-discussed” issues in an industry, and “myth busting” content.
  • Events are also fairly commonly shared. If you are putting on an event (including virtually), be sure to advertise it on your social media and encourage others to share it. 

How effective is sharing content

To see if visitors are engaged with the content on our website, we often look at our website’s statistics.

  All website visits Website visits starting  from social media
Percentage of people who viewed only one page 65.76% 69.12%
Number of pages visitors saw when visiting our site 1.82 pages 1.55 pages
Average length of time people visit our site 1 minute 42 seconds 1 minute 17 seconds

This shows  when people arrive on the Extension website from  social media, they tend to not stay on the site as long as people who arrive from other means.

What this means for you

  • When you share content on social media, make sure that the page you share includes a “call to action”. For example, on an article like “Put rose pruning and planting on the calendar”, you might add a statement to the end of the article, such as “Find your local county Extension office to see when rose pruning classes are offered in your area.”

Hoping to avoid accessibility mistakes? Check out our top 10 things to avoid.

Accessibility means all visitors can access and use content regardless of disability. As a federally-funded institution, it is legally required that all our web content be fully accessible. We all have a part to play in fulfilling this obligation. These are the top ten mistakes we see on the Extension website that hurt accessibility.

10: Writing with the assumption visitors are using a certain device

Examples: Instructing users to right click on a link, scroll down a page, press a specific key on a keyboard, etc.

Why this is a problem: You can never know what kind of device visitors will be using to access your content. Many will not be using a mouse or keyboard because they are on mobile devices. Others will be using screen readers or voice commands.

How to fix: Use more generic terms for actions you want visitors to take. For example:

  • Instead of “click on the x option”, use “select the x option”
  • Instead of “right click on the file name and select ‘save’”, use “download the file”

9: Referring to the appearance or position of elements on the page

Examples: “Use the gray links to the left to explore options”, “click the orange button above to register”.

Why this is a problem: Elements on the page appear in different places depending on the type of device the visitor is using. Some visitors will not be able to see them at all.

How to fix: Avoid referencing other elements on the page. For example, include a link instead of pointing visitors to where it is already on the page. If this isn’t possible, use a label that doesn’t rely on appearance or position.

8: Writing in all-caps

Examples: “This event is FREE to the public”, “ALWAYS WEAR GLOVES WHEN DOING THIS”

Why this is a problem: Screen readers may assume a word in all-caps is an acronym and read each letter individually.

How to fix: Don’t type words in all-caps unless it is actually an acronym. To emphasize text, make it bold.

7: Relying on YouTube’s automatic captioning for videos

Why this is a problem: YouTube’s automatic captioning does not include capitalization or punctuation. Remember, many people using captions can’t hear the pauses where punctuation would be. They also can’t tell when a new speaker starts talking. YouTube also has trouble recognizing proper nouns and specialized terms (such as “agritourism”). 

How to fix: Use YouTube’s automatic captioning for a starting point, but be sure to check them and clean up as needed.

6: Opening links in new windows/tabs

Why this is a problem: Screen magnifiers are some of the most common assistive technology used on line. People with low-vision use these to zoom in very closely on a small section of the screen. In these situations, it is difficult to determine when a new window/tab opens. They may think they are still in the same tab and be confused why they can’t use the back button. It also takes more time for them to close out of the new tab/window and get back to where they were. 

How to fix: Avoid creating links that cause new windows/tabs to open (the most common are file download links).

5: Uploading content as a PDF when not necessary

Why this is a problem: Web browsers include accessibility features which programs that open files often lack. It requires more training to create accessible PDFs than web pages. Additionally, PDF files are generally larger than web pages. They are often slower to download, especially on a slow connection.

How to fix: Whenever possible, enter content into the website as text instead of (or in addition to) a file upload. E.g. articles instead of educational documents, subpages instead of program resources.

4: Using unclear link labels

Examples: “click here to register”, “download the paper here: https://oregonstate.box.com/s/jwq15kn7d5swzfma564ggzvk55cqhudg

Why this is a problem: Almost all visitors to a website will prefer to scan rather than reading everything on the page in order. Sighted people do this by looking at headings or section breaks. People using screen readers have other methods. They often have the screen reader pull out all the links on the page so they read through only those initially. If the links that get pulled out only say “click here”, “learn more”, or a raw URL, this functionality isn’t useful. Additionally, voice command software may allow people to “click” on a link by saying the label. If there are links that are unpronounceable, this functionality doesn’t work.

How to fix: Use link labels that describe what the visitor will go to if they click that link. For example, a link saying “download registration form” makes it clear what you’ll get when you click. On the other hand “click here” doesn’t provide any context for the link.

3: Not providing alternative text for images

Why this is a problem: Screen readers can only read “true text” (i.e. text you can highlight with a mouse). Therefore, any text included in an image is invisible to screen readers and the people who use them.

How to fix: When you upload an image on the Extension website, there is an “Alternative text” field. You should include all text and other content in the image in this field. If an image contains a significant amount of text, it is better to convert it to an accessible PDF or web page.

2: Not checking the reading level of content

Why this is a problem: Hard-to-understand text content is the #1 accessibility problem over the entire internet. It affects everyone who accesses web content. This includes:

  • people with learning or other disabilities
  • people who don’t primarily speak English
  • young people
  • people with low literacy
  • people in stressful or frustrating situations which may impair their reading comprehension temporarily.

How to fix: Put all your content through a reading level checker such as Hemingway Editor. You should aim for a level of 6-8. It is, generally, a myth that more complex subjects require a higher reading level. There are two methods that can improve readability without changing the actual contents.

  • Shorter/simpler sentences: Avoid run-on sentences at all costs. Every comma can be a point to at least consider splitting one sentence into multiple.
  • Breaking up chunks of text: Use headings, short paragraphs, bulleted lists, etc. to break up longer chunks of text. This makes the content easier to read and helps people skim to find what they need more quickly.

1: Using (or not using) headings appropriately

Examples: Using the “Format” dropdown on entire paragraphs. Separating sections of text with bold section titles without using the “Format” dropdown.

Why this is a problem: Incorrect use of headings is a huge accessibility issue for screen readers. More often than not, visitors using screen readers will pull out all the headings from a page first thing. This allows them to skim rather than read everything on the page in order. Formatting text as a heading when it isn’t gets in the way of this technique. Not formatting text as a heading when it is one will cause the technique not to work.

How to fix: Only use the heading options in the “Format” dropdown of the text editor for actual headings. However, be sure you do use them for all actual headings in the text.


For help implementing any of the fixes described above, submit a support request with the EESC web team.

UPDATED 7/17/2020

This month, we released a content analytics dashboard for content groups on the Extension website. Now, the most useful data about your content is in a simplified interface that you can access directly from the Extension website. 

Many thanks and kudos to the EESC web team’s student employee Hawii Boriyo, who implemented the dashboard and helped greatly with it’s planning and design!

How to access the dashboard

  • Login to the OSU Extension website
  • Visit the “My Groups” page
  • Click on your group
  • Find the new “Analytics” tab at the top of the page. This tab will take you to the analytics dashboard for the content in that group.
  • Explore your dashboard. There are tips on understanding the data on the right hand side of the dashboard.

See how your content compares to other content on the OSU Extension website: 

  • On the top of the dashboard, there is a link to “See analytics for all OSU Extension.” 
  • Click the link to expands the data displayed on the dashboard to include all content on the Extension website.

In the future, we plan to implement additional dashboard views that can provide data about individual pieces of content as well as all content by a particular author and program area.

Data available on the dashboard

Dashboard screenshot

The dashboard is broken up into several sections:

  • Top content: this section contains information about
    • How often content from the group is viewed (pageviews)
    • How many people visit the group’s content (users)
    • How long on average that people spend viewing the content
    • The most visited pages in the group
  • How visitors find us: this section contains information about\
    • The way that visitors find content produced by the group (see the help text on the right-hand side of the dashboard for definitions)
    • Websites, both internal and external to OSU, that link to the group’s content  

Dashboard screenshot

  • About the visitors: this section contains information about
    • The approximate locations of visitors who view  content from the group
    • The preferred languages of visitors to the group’s content
    • The types of devices used by visitors to access the content
    • How many times visitors visit content in the group
  • Visitor navigation: if you are a member of a program group, you will see this section with information about the first and last pages visitors go to when they visit the group pages
  • What visitors look for: when you look at the dashboard for all content on the Extension website, you will see this section with information about the most common terms visitors enter in the search box on the Extension website. It also shows the most common terms people enter that return no results.

 

How to use the dashboard controls

There are several controls on the dashboard you can use to expand or restrict the data you see. 

  • Date range: at the top of the dashboard there is a dropdown widget where you can select the date range for the data shown on the dashboard.
  • Page title: in the “Top Content” section, there is a widget you can use to see data about only a specific page or set of pages. To do this, type in the title of the page and press enter. If you don’t know the exact name of the page, you can click on the box that says “EQUALS” to reveal a dropdown where you can select “CONTAINS” instead.
  • Search terms: in the “What visitors look for” section on the all Extension dashboard, you can filter to see if the search terms contain a particular word. To do this:
    • Click on “EQUALS” to reveal a dropdown and select “CONTAINS”
    • Type in the word you want to filter by and press enter

How to interpret the data

The content analytics dashboard provides quantitative data about content, meaning that you will need to do some interpretation in order to find actionable takeaways. These dashboards can be useful to see if outreach or content strategies you are trying lead to an intended change. Here are some tips for doing this:

  • Identify gaps and opportunities
    • The “About the Visitors” section may show you audiences that you may not be effectively serving up to this point. Do you have content relevant to the places they are from? Do you have content in the language(s) they prefer?
    • On the flip side, this section may reveal that audiences you have heavily focused on in the past are not using your content as often as you would like. If this is the case, you may need to do some outreach to figure out why this is or reconsider where you are directing your efforts.
    • In the “How visitors find us” section, look at the sites that are linking to your content. Is your content appropriate for people coming from those sites? Are there any sites you know of that you would like to link to you?
    • The “What visitors look for” section may identify topics visitors are interested in that your group has expertise in.
  • Look for trends and outliers
    • In the “Top content” section, look for pages that are more popular than others, pages where people spend more time than average. Then, you can see what about that content  could help to bring the rest of your content up to that level.
      • One way to do this for pages is to look at the feedback on the page.
    • Also look at the pageviews over time graph at the top of the dashboard for times when pageviews spiked. Do you know why the spike happened? Can you make that happen again?
      • If you don’t know where a spike in pageviews came from, try narrowing the date range for the dashboard to only that day and look at the “Where visitors come from” section.

In the new year, we will work to do some online tutorials or webinars to offer more suggestions on analyzing your content data, answer your questions, and hear from you on other analytics that may be useful. 

Web updates

  • If you are filling out your Digital Measures, read this blog post from earlier in the year about how to count your web efforts this year.
  • Events now can add related content. Using the new field, select existing content by title and it will be featured on the bottom of the event page. This can be useful for people to learn more about the topic or presenter.
  • Topic resources pages and search results can now be filtered by audience.
  • When creating an event, there is now the option to hide the address and instead display “Location details will be provided to attendees.”
  • County landing pages can now display up to 5 local focus areas.

Many of us use the Extension website mostly or exclusively for adding and organizing content, so we don’t always know how our audiences use or experience the site. Google Analytics records some quantitative statistics such as the number of visits a page receives, but it’s hard to imagine the actual human beings behind the numbers. When you say that a page got 10,000 pageviews, all that you know is that the page was requested that many times. If you want to actually improve the content on the page, you need to ask more “qualitative” questions such as:

  • Did these visitors find the information they were looking for?
  • What did they do most often on the page? 
  • Were they able to understand the content?

This summer, EESC implemented a few new features on the Extension website that collect qualitative data and answer these kinds of questions.

Collecting audience feedback

The first feature is a “feedback widget” on the right-hand side of every page:

When a visitor clicks on the widget, a small window comes up asking them “Did you find what you were looking for?” They then score a page on a scale of 1-5 (represented by smiley faces). After they score the page, they have the opportunity to leave a comment and, optionally, their email address if they would like a response to the comment.

Another way we are collecting visitor feedback is a “poll” we have set up on all 4-H pages. We can set up similar polls on other pages, but we decided to focus on 4-H for the summer because we knew 4-H members would be using the site heavily for fair season.

This window, asking “Quick question: How can we improve this page? Is anything missing?”, pops up from the bottom of the page after a visitor has had a chance to look around for several seconds. When they comment, they also have the option to leave their email address if they would like a response.

Finally, at the bottom of most pages, visitors see a small form asking “Was this page helpful?” They can select “Yes” or “No” and have an option to leave a (non-public) comment.

So far, through all three tools, feedback has been left 10,126 times. Of these, 8,659 (~86%) were positive. Comments were left along with the rating 1,175 times.

Finding the feedback on your content

Content authors and group members can view feedback on their content directly through the Extension website.  

To view feedback (including comments) for an individual piece of content:

  • Go to the content
  • Click the “Feedback” tab under the content’s title. It is one of the blue links near the “Edit” tab.

To see an overview of feedback scores for all content in a group:

  • Go to that group’s group content page (the list of content in the group).
  • Click the “Feedback” tab under the group name. This will take you to a list of all content with feedback in the group.
  • To see the comments left for a particular piece of content, you can click on “Details” in it’s row on this page.

Seeing audience behavior

EESC also has access to a tool to create “heat maps” of individual pages. A heat map is an overlay over the page that shows where visitors to that page click (or just hover) their mouse. Where people click more often (or hover longer), the colored overlay is brighter. For example, here is part of a heat map of a previous version of the home page:

Heat maps are very useful for figuring out what controls on the page people use the most. When you know that, you can prioritize what controls or links should be in these more prominent spots. If you have made changes to a topic page, county page, or program subpage and want to see what people are clicking on or how far they scroll down the page, please contact us and we can work with you using this tool. 

Takeaways and lessons

EESC has been using data from visitor feedback to plan several improvements for the site, including:

  • Several users left comments to the effect that they couldn’t figure out phone/visiting situation with our Portland office, so we are planning to make some small design updates for that page that will make it clearer.
  • We noticed that several visitors who left a comment saying they were unable to submit an Ask an Expert question were all using a particular version of the Android operating system. This gave us a clue about where to start looking for glitches in the system.
  • We used heat maps to help with designs for several program landing pages and the website home page.

Feedback, particularly comments, can also be very useful to content authors. Many times a visitor will ask a follow-up question or request further information that maybe wasn’t originally included, and they can reveal places where the information isn’t clear or is outdated. It’s useful to look at the “feedback” tab when updating your content.

Here are some general tips for improving content based on common visitor feedback:

  • Use high-quality, illustrative images. Many users comment about the images (or lack thereof) that go with an article. Most are asking for images on articles that don’t have any, and others compliment the quality of our existing images.
  • Keep your writing as short and clear as possible. When giving positive feedback about our content, visitors often use words like “succinct”, “concise”, “brief”, “clear” and “quick”. These are qualities that leave a positive impression on readers and make the information easier to understand and use.
  • Put important links on the main page (i.e., not just the sidebar). From heat maps, we know that when visitors first come to a page, they often skip over the sidebar and focus on content on the “main” part of the page. This is especially true on mobile, where the sidebar gets pushed to the top of the page before visitors can get any context. Quick link bars are a great option for highlighting important links, such as links to newsletters, event lists, or active social media profiles.

Sample positive feedback

The Extension website has an overwhelmingly positive rating from visitors, and it is important that everyone who has contributed it hears it. In that spirit, here are just some of the supportive and positive comments left by visitors to the Extension website. You may also want to look at these as examples to get ideas for your own content:

  • 4-H forms and events
    • “I really appreciate the details you have put here for us to have access to on the weekends! Thank you for helping our kids!!” [State 4-H record books pagekudos to the state 4-H team!]
    • “Thank You So Much. We don’t have enough info about Record Books and this helps outs Tremendously!” [Benton County 4-H record books pagekudos to the Benton County 4-H team!]
    • “Great page and really like that you can share the link with others!” [Horse judging and hippology contestkudos to the Clackamas County 4-H team!]
  • Educational articles
    • “Wonderful article! I would love to learn more in a part 2. We just bought a home with highbush blueberries in poor condition and are wondering how to best reclaim these plants.” [How blueberry plants develop and growkudos to Bernadine Strik and the Ag/Berries content team!]
    • “Thanks. Your comments are greatly appreciated. They have given me a new perspective on how to deal with Powdery Mildew early in the season.” [How to deal with a vineyard powdery mildew outbreakkudos to Jay Pscheidt and the Ag/Wine grapes team!]
    • “Thank you very much for the information provided in this article. I am just thinking about pasture and have no experience. This is a great start for northern pasture growers and I hope it will be beneficial to my starting out.” [Pasture and grazing managementkudos to the Ag/Dairy team!]
    • “Lots of information and the pictures really helped thanks.” [What are those worms in my firewood?kudos to the Forestry and Natural Resources team!]
  • Educational collections
    • “Thank you so much for making this information available, and all the work that went into it! I appreciate it very much! And thank you also for making it affordable, this is a huge help to me. Have a great day!” [Native plant gardeningkudos to the Ag/Home Hort team!]
    • “Thank you for making so much of your information easily available! So grateful for it.” [Poultry resources for small farmskudos to the Small Farms team!]
  • Educational videos
    • “I like them. Easy to try out, and following the steps well.” [Basic steppingkudos to the Better Bones and Balance team!]
  • Events
    • “We love the OSU Extension Service. You have provided a wealth of information to us over the years and we are so thankful. You are always gracious and kind and willing to share your knowledge, expertise and tips! Way-to-go, Beavs!!” [Master Gardener Fall Festivalkudos to the Lane County team!]
    • “I am hoping I can go!!! I currently do my own chili meat but have not had any formal education in pressure canning meat. This looks great.” [Pressure canning convenience foods workshopkudos to the Deschutes County team!]
    • “All of the information that I needed was on this page. Great job!” [Thinning and Selective Management in Mature Forestskudos to the Clackamas County team!]
  • Focus areas
    • “Moving in the spring to Salem. Looking forward to starting a new garden. I’ll be back to this site… (and back, and back, and…)” [Community Horticulture, Marion Countykudos to the Marion County team!]
  • Program information
    • “Excellent lessons for seniors! I will use them in my Cooperative Extension Classes in NJ Thank you!” [FCE Lessons, health topicskudos to the Family and Community Educators team!]
    • “I’m new to Oregon and hungry for any information about my new home. I have always wanted to be a Master Gardener and am delighted to have the possibility to combine these two goals. Thank you very much!”’ [Linn/Benton MG, How to joinKudos to the Linn-Benton MG team!]
    • “Thank you! You took the frustration out of finding the info. This was one of the main reasons I wait until the last minute to fill out my forms – to avoid the hassle. Now, it seems it will be easy, so I can and will do it right away in the future!!” [Metro MG 2019 volunteer log sheetkudos to the Metro MG team!]

(Some comments have been edited for readability.)

1. Reuse events from last year

Events on the Extension website automatically disappear from lists and search results once the date has passed. However, the records still exist in the system, so if an event occurs annually, you can reuse the content from the previous year. This has several benefits:

  • You can save effort now by reusing work from last year. All you need to do is update the dates (and flyer if there is one).
  • Visitors who may have bookmarked last year’s event (or find it through Google) will see current information if they visit the page again.

Instructions:

  1. Go to the group content page for the group that you originally entered the event in.
  2. If you remember the title of the event, you can search for it. Otherwise, you can select “Event” in the “Type” filter above the list of content.
  3. Once you find the previous year’s event, click the “Edit” button next to it and update the dates. This will put it back in event lists and search results.

2. Store files in Box

Box is OSU’s file storage platform. Anyone with an ONID account can store unlimited files on Box and share them with other employees or the public. Box was created specifically for file management and has many useful features, including:

  • File versioning – if the document changes each year, you can easily replace the old file with the new one without changing the link.
  • Privacy settings – you can set files up so anyone (the public) can access them, only people who know a specific password, or only people with an ONID account

Instructions:

  • There is documentation about using Box on OSU’s Box page and our Website user guide.
  • Some tips for effectively setting up files in box:
    • To share a file or folder with the public, click “Share” next to it. Then, turn on the “Enable share link” toggle. It is very important that you set the dropdown below the share link to “Anyone with the link.” Otherwise people will need to log in with an ONID to see the file.
    • There is a link near the share link box for “Link options”. This is where you can set a password to protect the file or get the “direct download” link (which allows visitors to download the file directly without seeing it in Box first).
    • Be sure to set one of your coworkers as a co-owner or editor of the file, in case you leave or otherwise can no longer access it someday.
  • When you have the “share link” for the file, create a program resource and select “External website” as the resource type. This will give you a field to paste the link.

3. Break up long pages

If you have long pages that are difficult to scan, there are options to make it a little easier: page section settings and nested pages.

Page sections:

For most page sections, you can configure:

  • Background color (alternating background colors is a good way to break up the page)
  • List style (you can make lists more condensed by using a “Text list” style, which doesn’t display images with items in the list)
  • Section id (you can use section IDs to create a “table of contents” at the top of the page that links to sections further down)

Instructions:

  1. Edit the page
  2. At the top of where page sections are configured on the edit screen, there are two tabs: “Content” and “Settings”
  3. When you switch to the settings tab, you can configure options for each section

Nested pages:

One of the best ways to help a long page is to break it up into several shorter pages. Then, to prevent the sidebar from getting unwieldy, you can nest the new pages under the original, so they only appear in the sidebar when the parent is selected.

Instructions:

  1. Go to any program page that shows the sidebar and click the “Reorder Pages” button at the bottom.
  2. On the next screen, you can drag the pages into any order you want. To nest one page under another, drag it under and to the right. When you’re done, click “Save order”.

4. Look at peers for ideas

One of the best ways for you to get ideas for your own pages is to look at pages from programs similar to yours. Here are some programs that have been set up with some of the website’s new design features and serve as good examples:

5. Think about all your audiences

Programs produce content for many audiences, including:

  • Prospective members
  • Current members
  • Volunteers/leaders
  • Program faculty/staff

It is, in general, usually best to organize content according to audience, and depending on what audiences your program serves, we may recommend options outside of the Extension website for content (e.g. the Extension Employee Intranet or an OSU WordPress blog).

Another audience that all programs have but that often gets overlooked is the general public. There are many reasons why the public would be interested in content produced by a program, including:

  • They utilize the services provided by program volunteers (e.g. MG plant clinics)
  • They are affected by the program’s outcomes or impacts
  • They want to learn the information taught to program participants, but for whatever reason can’t participate themselves

However, visitors often perceive program pages as being only for active participants in a program. So, if you produce program-related content for the general public, make sure it can be found through topic and county pages, where the general public is more likely to look.

This spring, we launched a feature on the Extension website called “focus areas”. These allow counties to highlight the work they do around a particular topic or topics, and were intended to serve as a link for visitors between the statewide educational content on topic pages and locally relevant events and programming on county pages. Now that focus areas have been live for a few months, we took a look at analytics to see how effective they have been in meeting the goals we had for them.

Here are the basic stats for focus area pages, for the period of March 20, 2019 – August 7, 2019:

  • Pageviews: 3,655
  • Average time on page: 1 min. 17 sec.
  • % Entrances (views where it was the first page viewed on the site): 26.59%
  • % Exits (views where it was the last page viewed on the site): 28.78%
  • % New visitors: 61.53%

These stats (the low time on page, entrance, and exit rates) suggest that visitors are using focus area pages as a navigation tool on the way to the content they want to see. This is what we want to see. Additionally, the percentage of returning visitors to focus areas is significantly higher than for the site as a whole (38.47% vs. 13.12%). 

Here is a graph showing how visitors get to focus areas:

A majority (~57%) of visitors to focus areas click on focus areas from a county page. Of those, around 35% do so on the county’s landing page. The second most common way people get to focus areas is by searching on Google or another search engine, which makes up a majority of the “Entrances” in the graph above.

On focus area pages, counties can:

  • Select topics to direct visitors to and related experts to contact in their county. 
  • List programs and events offered in the county related to that topic. 
  • Highlight individual pieces of educational content that are especially relevant to their county, such as newsletters. 

Here is a graph describing where people go from focus areas:

We see that 37.86% of visitors find content of interest and click to it from the focus area – if this type of information has been featured. Watch or read how to do this in our Website User Guide.

Finally, here are the top 10 visited focus areas up to now:

  1. HAREC Plant Pathology Diagnostic Laboratory Services
  2. Douglas County Home Garden and Landscape
  3. Benton County Forestry and Natural Resources
  4. Douglas County Forestry and Natural Resources
  5. Deschutes County Home Garden and Landscape
  6. Lane County Home Garden and Landscape
  7. Washington County Home Garden and Landscape
  8. Lane County Forestry and Natural Resources
  9. NWREC Berry Crops
  10. Douglas County Livestock and Forages

Ideas for improving county focus areas

Here are some things you can do as a member of a county group to improve your county focus areas:

  • If you offer services at your office, make sure to add them to the website. Some of the more popular focus areas are those that give information about services for the public, such as laboratory services, pressure gage testing, and supplies for checkout.
  • Make sure to tag your county events with a topic. Events are displayed on focus areas based on the topic(s) they are tagged with. Analytics show that a lot of visitors to focus areas are interested in the events listed there.

EESC will also use this data to make design and functionality improvements for focus areas, which may potentially include making them more visible on topic landing pages or linking to them from content pages themselves.

Recent website updates

OSU recently updated the version of WordPress used for their blog platform. If you use an OSU WordPress site you will see some changes, including a new text editing interface called the Gutenberg Editor. Links to training instructions have been added to the OSU WordPress instructions. Please contact us if you need any help with the new editor, including turning it off.