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.

Whether you are writing an online article or a publication for the Extension Catalog, the title you craft goes a long way toward helping readers find your content.

Most readers go online to find specific information, and most use some kind of search engine to help them. Your title is what they use to decide whether to read your full article. The Internet is crammed with content, of course, but your headline is a way to separate yourself from the pack.

Your title should be an accurate and concise description of your publication. A good headline is essential for social sharing and understanding. Anyone who clicks on your publication or article did so because the title compelled them to or convinced them that your article has what the reader is looking for.

Title tips

  • Your headline should never use puns or clever wordplay.
  • Your headline should focus on the most important element in your publication or article. Vague, overarching titles like “All you need to know about tomatoes” will not be as effective as a precise headline like “Growing great tomatoes in western Oregon.”
  • It’s a good idea to run a Google search for your topic before you write your title. That way, you can make sure your title is distinct from others and reaches the readers who will be searching for it.
  • Keep titles to six to eight words.
  • Ask a critical question in your headline. “How can I defeat the slugs eating my broccoli?”
  • This free Headline Analyzer measures your title’s readability, sentiment and SEO and gives you a score for each and an overall score. Try revising your headline in the tool to increase its overall score. Another great option: the free online Headline Optimizer.
  • Put your keywords at the beginning of your title and integrate as naturally as possible so your title sounds like people talk.
  • Avoid technical terms or jargon, even if you feel your audience will understand. Instead, simplify your title by using clear, unambiguous language.

For example, if you wrote an article about the best organic fertilizers to use on tomatoes, your title should accurately convey the topic of your article and use words a reader might use to search for that topic. You could title the article, “Use lots of fertilizer and water to grow big, beautiful tomatoes,” but an even better title would put the keyword ‘tomato’ closer to the beginning: “Want beautiful tomatoes? Feed and water them on schedule.”

Google will display only the first 50 or 60 characters of your title. If you go over 60 characters, your headline may not display properly on the search results. This bad situation can be made worse if you put crucial keywords toward the end of a long title. When that happens, your prospective reader won’t know for sure that your article contains the information they want, and they’ll go to a different web page.

Headings

Headings — those short titles, or subheads, that appear between sections of your story — don’t have the same direct impact on search as your title. But they offer several indirect benefits. For example, they make your text easier to read, and better text attracts readers, which then improves search results. If you’re trying to get featured on Google for a how-to process, use subheads to specify each step.

Clear, relevant headings are also vital for quickly skimming content by people who listen to what is on a webpage using screen readers or voice assistants. Good accessibility can also improve your ranking when a search engine returns results.

Good headings also reduce your bounce rate. If people can’t quickly find what they are looking for because your headings are vague or unenticing, they’ll bounce to another website. However, helpful headings ensure they will stick around longer. Search engines value that.

In the end, the proof is in the analytics. If your web article isn’t drawing the kind of traffic you think it should, consider a new title and headings. This is called “optimizing” your headline, and there’s nothing wrong with running a few tests to find what clicks with readers.

You can do the same thing with your newsletter, sending different versions of the subject line to different groups of subscribers to learn what readers respond to. If you use an e-news tool like Mailchimp, it has a way to do this called A/B testing.

We spend a lot of energy trying to inform readers. But when it comes to titles, sometimes readers inform us. It pays to listen.

Topic pages provide a way to share related resources in one easy-to-find place.

Topic pages provide a great opportunity for you to:

  • Put your content where people are browsing on the OSU Extension website. In our website’s main menu, the topic-related links receive the most clicks.
  • Organize the content for your topic(s). And direct people here — the place with the most up-to-date information. Whoo-hoo!
  • Learn about other fabulous resources. By working on this, you’ll learn about resources others have created across the state related to your topic. And discover other brilliant things happening across OSU Extension in other topics or programs.

Topic pages help Oregonians:

  • Find our resources and events on topics they are interested in
  • Discover who is doing this work — you, our experts! Experts are listed at the bottom of the topic pages.
  • See where things are happening across the state. See the ‘in your community’ tab. This information is added by adding a county focus area.
  • Discover the breadth and depth of what OSU Extension does
  • Stumble into answers to questions they hadn’t yet asked

Topic pages are the foundation to make our resources easy to find. They support our organizational goal to share the breadth and depth of content from across OSU Extension in one framework (not a network of separate sites), organized around topics. To learn more, read about the Navigator: OSU Extension digital strategy initiative.

Level up your topic page

Each topic page has different needs and audiences. Below are some ideas for ways to organize your topic page.

Case study: Bees and pollinators

Kudos to the bees and pollinators content team for a well organized and engaging topic page!

Read some tips on organizing your topic pages:

Case study: Youth education resources

Kudos to the ‘youth education resources’ content team on the engaging and well organized youth education resources topic page!

It was important to make the content sortable by grade level (i.e., Elementary School, Middle School, High School). These keywords were added to the related content (articles, publications, etc.).

Now we can sort our resources by grade level. And see the list of resources under ‘Browse resources.’ To explore how this works, visit the browse resources youth education resources page.

Help improve topic pages

We need your help to make topic pages awesome.

Please:

  • Review the topics related to your expertise.
  • See if the pages looks complete or if the content is out of date.

If no one has curated a topic page, then it will automatically show any latest content tagged with that topic.

To help you quickly organize content on topic pages, connect with the Extension web team.

Training

Learn more about how to edit topic pages:

Extension works in so many different fields from public health to forestry to food systems. People either know us or discover us based on our knowledge in these specific areas. So it is not surprising, the topic menu receives the most clicks on the Extension website’s navigation.

Many of these topic pages could use some organizing by subject matter experts. Topic pages can fill the need to show your coordinated efforts. The educational resources you share every day with key audiences can be accessed in one place without needing to create a separate website on the topic. These topic pages will also easily connect visitors with Extension programs, events and experts across the state.

How topic pages are organized

If no one has curated the topic page, then it is automated to show any latest content tagged with the topic. Check out a topic that relates to your work and see if it looks complete or out of date.

If it’s not useful, then it may be time to connect with the point people from the different Extension program areas to help you quickly organize it. The Extension web team can help you get connected.

The point people will give you an excel sheet of the existing content on that topic page, then ask you to identify and mark related categories. This process also helps you catch content that was mistagged or should be archived.

Then using those categories, the point people can add content tags and set the topic page up online for your review. You can also make further changes on your own. Learn more in the web guide on Instructions for Topic Pages, including a how-to video.

Here’s some great examples of curated topic pages:

Next week’s blog post will highlight the best practices that the Youth education resources and Bees and Pollinators topic pages put in place.

New features: Topic categories

Until now, we had to use custom keywords to organize a topic page. Now it is easier with topic categories. The categories help to identify the top tasks that people often come looking for, and show up as main headings down the topic page.

The topic categories also show up as a way to filter “Browse Resources”.

You can add a topic category from your group page if you are a topic page facilitator. Then whenever anyone adds a topic tag to content, the topic category field shows up to fill in. This helps to remember to add these category tags, so any new content shows up in the right place on the topic page.

New features: Opt-in Form for visitors

In the past quarter, visitors to the Extension website has grown 63% in comparison to the same time last year. That’s a lot of people who may be interested to engage with us. A new tool that we are piloting allows people to sign up to get more information.

On the gardening techniques topic page, web visitors can sign up to get a gardening e-newsletter each month. This message “Join our email list for free gardening tips!” pops up from the bottom of the page.

If they decide they want our help for a healthy, beautiful and productive garden and click “Sign me up for the newsletter”, then they can submit their name and email. We assure them we are committed to their privacy and not sharing their information.

If they enter their information, they will get future newsletters.

On the garden vegetable and herb topic page, web visitors see a pop up from the bottom of the screen “Get your free essential guide to gardening!”.

If they click “Download the free guide”, then it gives them an opt-in form to email them the free guide.

If you are interested to learn more, then reach out to us and we can tell you how to try it out on a topic page that you organize.

Earlier this month the Web and Content Strategy Team (WCST) finished re-setting our team priorities for 2020. 

This week I want to share a high level overview of our priorities for the rest of the calendar year. 

Improve the content authoring experience

Why is this a priority? 
A more intuitive and consistent authoring environment will make it easier and faster to add and edit content.

Benefits: 

  • Easier to add and edit content
  • Reduce user confusion and anxiety
  • Encourage more Extension employees to use the system
  • Decrease training and support time 

One-on-one design help for county landing pages 

Why is this a priority? 
A strong web presence at the county level is a leadership priority, and helps promote your local programming and activities.

Benefits: 

  • One-on-one with a web designer will improve page design and accessibility
  • Provides an open forum to get your website questions answered
  • Creates a consistent look and feel between counties making it easier for audience to find local programming and activities
  • Helps the WCST understand what your goals and needs are

Analytics, user research, metrics related to content strategy

Why is this a priority? 

Helps content teams make data-informed decisions by focusing on content that meets the needs of audiences.

Benefits: 

  • Helps content authors to identify gaps in content
  • Provides content teams insight into what site users are looking for
  • Highlights what content is successful and what needs improvement

Integration of CMS and CRM for Digital Engagement

Why is this a priority? 

This is the start of component 3 of Extension’s Digital Strategy. Initial focus will be on delivery of e-newsletters.

Benefits: 

  • More efficient management of subscriber lists
  • Ability to measure click-through rate, conversions, etc
  • Increase enrollments in workshops and courses
  • See Mark Kindred’s excellent blog post from June 23rd for more information

 


Have you heard of the WayBackMachine? It is one of the many resources from the Internet Archive. The Internet Archive is a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more. The WayBackMachine has a collection of 446 billion web pages. Want to know what the Lane County website looked like in 2003? Go to https://web.archive.org/ and enter a URL, and browse through the timeline select date. 

The Extension website has come a long way over the years. Here are some screenshots from the Extension website over the years.

OSU Extension homepage
(circa 2002)


This is an example of old school hand-coded HTML, uploaded via FTP designed for 800x600 px. screens.
90 years of the OSU Extension Service

OSU Extension homepage
(circa 2003)



Designed for 15" 1024x768 px. screens
OSU Extension homepage circa 2003

OSU Extension homepage
(circa 2006)



This design incorporated Macromedia Contribute which featured a visual (WYSIWYG) editor. Eliminated need to write HTML or use a FTP program.
OSU Extension homepage circa 2006

OSU Extension homepage
(circa 2013)



Built using Drupal 6. A move in the right direction, but mostly used as a content delivery platform.
Extension homepage circa 2013

OSU Extension homepage
(circa 2020)



We are now using Drupal 8 and fully utilizing the power of the CMS with structured content.

OSU Extension homepage 2020

 

 

 
As we acknowledge all that’s happening in our country and world right now, and react as best we can to our new circumstances across all of Oregon, it is easy to grasp how being able to provide helpful, insightful news to our constituents means more now than ever. Communication is key!

In my role at Extension, I am constantly striving to incorporate the guiding criteria of our Navigator digital engagement effort. In the case of newsletters, it’s easy to focus on these:

As progress is made on the Navigator initiative, it’s nice to get a little refresher on collections of resources that are available for us to access any time. Many times right here in the Navigator blog.

Email newsletters — aka enewsletters

The resources I bring to you today are those that help us with those wide-distribution digital communications we rely on from time to time. These “bulk” email sends can drive traffic to website pages, spur enrollments in workshops and courses, and transform our understanding of our target audiences.

I am talking about enewsletters.

We recognize the importance newsletters have played in our Extension work for decades. In our journey toward a digital future—which our response to the COVID-19 pandemic may have greatly accelerated—we begin to assess the benefits of newsletters delivered to our constituents in email form.

As the future emerges (swiftly, as it now seems), a new normal will begin to establish itself for enewsletters based around these principles:

  • Always consider your audience
  • What information does our audience truly need? Are we talking about one, large audience… or a collection of distinct audience segments?
  • Keep all writing inside the enewsletters short and to the point
  • Focus on providing a link—we refer to it as the “call to action” (CTA)—which leads to a web page or similar online destination
  • The CTAs are important—because people clicking on each one reveals what is of greatest value to them
  • Measure measure measure—rate at which people open the emails, click-through rate, conversions, etc.
  • After measuring, react and improve
  • Discontinued use of PDF format newsletters—in this format, we simply lose out on all the opportunities to measure the results!

Head off to learn even more

The goal of this post is to provide links to information you can use to transform your team’s use of enewsletters.

We start it off with Ann Marie Murphy’s contribution on email newsletter practices that can help educate, convey information to, and build trust and community with industry-specific, program-specific and general audiences.

Back in March, Michele Scheib shared with us about the “plain language” approach to anything you write. Plain language conveys meaning in short, spare sentences and simple words.

Then over to a recorded webinar presented by our own Rich Collins, from PACE, who led us on a journey through the steps of creating high quality enewsletters. I was able to join in as a co-presenter to share a vision of the possible future state of enewsletters as we look ahead to 2021 and beyond.

 


CTAs, CTRs, CMS, oh my! Let’s talk newsletters!
Thursday, May 21
Presenters: Rich Collins (PACE), Mark Kindred (ECTU)Do you write or send a newsletter? Would you like to take it to the next level or even just tweak what you’re already doing? Tune in for some compelling newsletter examples and best practices to help elevate your content and increase your audience engagement!

View the video recording of the presentation

 

There was the post about how having email delivery occur inside a sophisticated tool like the Salesforce CRM can provide substantial benefits for those needing to keep tabs on progress.

And I will wrap up with a couple posts that are related to each other, exploring ideas how to add new subscribers to enewsletter email lists over time.

 


About the Navigator digital engagement team. In the coming months, many of you will hear from me as I produce a long-term CRM strategy for OSU Extension. I look forward to talking with you and ensuring the CRM plans are in alignment with the business needs of your unit and the long-term vision of the university. The Navigator team is looking forward to talking with you about how digital engagement is aligned with your work and can provide new benefits.
During these times, we make the most with what we have. And sometimes we can do more with what is at our fingertips. In one-on-one web meetings or when auditing webpages now two years after launch, it’s clear that many of the helpful features of the website’s content management system are still new to you.

When things are new, they may be avoided or underused. So, explaining how these work more than once and in different ways helps. We have done a written web guide, blog posts and trainings. Some quick tips below will hopefully show you things you may have missed.

How do I make a page more designed or organized?

It can be hard to connect what you see on the back-end (where you edit pages) with what you see after you save it. Page sections are the way to layout your content and make information standout for a visitor on the webpage – whether it is a topic, county or program page.

Below is an excerpted video from a recent webinar. It switches back and forth to help you see: what each page section looks likes in edit mode and what it looks like once saved.

Click to play the video on page sections

As the video shows, page sections allow you to add pieces of content to a page in chunks, one section at a time.

There are different types of sections you can use to customize your page:

  • Standard: For typing in static text and for adding images or videos. These don’t fully use the content management system, since they aren’t shareable across the site.
  • Automated: For automatically displaying lists of events, program resources, or latest content. Once set up, you don’t need to do anything more. The content updates based on tagging or dates.
  • Selected: For finding content that others added on the website, and selecting it so it displays in a specific place. You need to remove it later if you no longer want it to show.
  • Designed: For setting up a page so content stands out (e.g. an orange stylized bar with icons to click). Also, it can make content formatted a specific way (e.g. content titles show and when you click the full text expands).

Not all page sections or advanced settings are covered in this video, so also read more in the web guide.

How do I stop an event or announcement from showing up?

You can now modify tags! This makes it easy to fix a piece of content that was mistagged. You can also add your county tag, topic tag or program tag to something to get it to show up. This can be useful for an online event that may be of interest to your audiences.

This short video shows you how to modify tags (click to play).

What’s happened to my content or page?

Sometimes you notice something has changed or isn’t how you remembered it. First, take a deep breath and realize two things: there’s an easy way to find out and it’s usually a simple explanation.

We are in this together. You each have a lot of access to do things you need to on the website, and that means many other people do too. It’s what makes this website platform function with the resources we have. Communication and a sense of calm can help most situations.

The easy way to find out what’s happened is to look at the “Revisions” tab at the top of any page.

The revisions page records who made the last changes, and you can compare to see what changes were made. It’s even better when everyone remembers to leave comments in the “revision log” field when editing a page. Those comments appear in the Revisions tab too.

If nothing looks out of the ordinary there, then send a quick email to https://beav.es/extension-support to ask us to look into it.

If it’s a technical issue, then we will get on it. If it’s a training issue, we can offer context to help understand the way the content management system or different team processes work.

What’s the benefits of the website’s content management system?

This efficient system has prepared us for the long term goals of integrating Extension content with other sites, social media, and client relationship management platforms. It will also be able to personalize content for visitors on the website. This is why the content is structured and tagged in the way it is.

Being in the same content management system helps to:

  • Show a more unified presence of Extension and the coordinated efforts within each of our programs, fields of expertise and regions
  • Track analytics and feedback for a more strategic approach
  • Avoid duplication of resources and use the tagging and page sections to share and show one piece of content in many places.

We are continually improving this behind-the-scenes editing experience.  We are working to simplify the way content authors add, find, select, translate and manage content. Stay tuned for more news and trainings later in the year. In the meantime, reach out to us now for a 1-on-1 working session to get up to speed on all that you can do.

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.

Extension is all about the practical applications of science, and scientists love acronyms. But in practice, acronyms and abbreviations can cloud meaning and turn off the people we’re trying to reach.

An acronym is formed from the first letter of each word in a series. Writers often use acronyms to save space and avoid repeating a technical term or a long agency name. But consider that readers have to stop and decode each acronym, each time it is used. Acronyms impede comprehension and alienate readers.

Many of us were taught to follow a term such as Extension and Experiment Station Communications with its acronym, set off by parentheses: Extension and Experiment State Communications (EESC).

Oregon State University follows Associated Press Style, which frowns on this convention. The AP Stylebook explicitly states:

AVOID AWKWARD CONSTRUCTIONS: Do not follow an organization’s full name with an abbreviation or acronym in parentheses or set off by dashes. If an abbreviation or acronym would not be clear on second reference without this arrangement, do not use it.”

Questions to ask yourself

This guidance poses a dilemma for those of us who write scientific and technical communications. Here are some questions to ask yourself when considering whether to use an acronym.

Can you say it out loud?

Acronyms ease communication when they are a shorter, easier way of referring to your subject. But acronyms no one can pronounce have the opposite effect. If you have to resort to a difficult letter combination, consider subbing in some shorthand language instead.

Acceptable:  WHB pest status is derived from the transmission of WHBTA.

Better: White horned beetles are deemed pests because they carry White Horned Beetle Transmitted Virescence Agent, which causes whopping disease in raspberries. The damage is caused by the agent, not the action of the pest on the plant.

In this example, the term “agent” serves as a substitution for the hard-to-read acronym.

Who is your audience?

If you are writing for a technical audience already familiar with your field’s terminology, acronyms may be acceptable. In these cases, stop and consider how you would explain such terms to new members of your audience who are just entering the field. You may want to add context to help clarify your meaning.

Acceptable: FSMA

Better: Food Safety Modernization Act or food safety act (on the second reference)

While many publications in the Extension Catalog qualify as technical documents, most are intended to appeal to a general audience. When writing for the Extension website or a newsletter, avoid excessive use of acronyms and overly technical language. Use plain language.

Is the acronym a familiar one?

Acronyms in common use such as AAA, CT scan, UFO, PTA and OSU are all OK. Avoid using unfamiliar acronyms.

How many times will the acronym be repeated?

If your entire story is based on subject XCT, it’s OK to use the acronym (after you have made clear its meaning). But be selective, and avoid sprinkling in additional acronyms. That can make the piece harder to read and understand.

If you use the term only once or twice, there is no need for an acronym.

What are the alternatives?

Changing old habits can be hard. Here are some techniques that can help readers grasp the meaning behind an acronym.

  • Repeat the term in full on each reference. (Admittedly, awkward.) United Aircraft Mechanics approved the deal early Thursday. Later in the day, a representative of United Aircraft Mechanics said the agreement had already been broken.
  • Use an element of the full term as shorthand on future references. “The mechanics” instead of “United Aircraft Mechanics.”
  • Use a synonym. “The group” or “the union” can sub in for UAM on subsequent references.

When is an acronym OK?

Yes, it’s still OK to use many common acronyms and abbreviations. Here are some frequent uses of acronyms in Extension publications:

  • Fertilizer: N, P, K.
  • Measurements: F, mpg, mph, GPA, etc.
  • Integrated Pest Management: IPM.
  • Names of pests, such as spotted-wing drosophila, or SWD.
  • COAREC and other experiment stations. (Spell out the full name on first reference.)
  • EPA, IRS, ODA.

What’s the right way to use an acronym?

Spell out the full term on first reference, and introduce the acronym within the same paragraph.

  • These producers employ a practice known as Integrated Pest Management. IPM uses a combination of strategies to control pests.
  • These producers employ a practice known as Integrated Pest Management, or IPM. Producers who use IPM report better outcomes.

Punctuation: Avoid periods between individual letters unless the acronym would spell an unrelated word. Academic degrees (M.S., Ph.D., etc.) and some two-letter acronyms are an exception.

Plurals: Add s, no apostrophe. REIs, PHIs. Exception: Letters, such as A’s and B’s.

Can I use an acronym in my title?

Avoid the use of acronyms in headlines, titles and subheads, especially if the acronym is not in familiar use.

The upshot: Be conscious of any reading impediments embedded in all caps in your text. Make reading easier by keeping acronyms to a minimum.

What other questions do you have about acronyms? Leave them in the comments and we’ll get back to you!

In late February, I posted Aiming to increase newsletter subscribers? We have a plan for that!

In response, Vicki Campbell, from Washington County Extension commented:

Isn’t this the same information collected when someone fills out “Add me to your mailing list”, like on our web page and newsletters? I have never called it RFI but it does add the customer to our newsletter database. If not the same, how is this different?
Vicki Campbell
Washington County Extension

This is a great question and I want to expand on how we can expect an RFI (request for info) form to assist us in our Extension work where a newsletter opt-in (or subscription) may not.


(You’ll recall how in my last post I wrote about what an RFI form is for, but you can click here for a quick review)


It is important to begin by highlighting all the positive qualities of our Extension newsletters. The wide array of newsletters through which we currently serve our respective audiences are an important facet of a program’s or office’s outreach to constituents.

As a means by which to thoughtfully consider all the varied pieces of information and insight—there’s a lot, right?—you and your team can put out into the virtual world, the newsletter format allows you to curate them into a meaningful package. Nothing beats the convenience, low cost (do you recall the costs of printing and then distributing a paper version? What an ordeal!), and reliability of putting out precisely the info that your team considers the most important to provide.

A standard newsletter can (and will) continue to serve our Extension work in this way.

Yet we are also able to envision a future using other means—RFI forms being one—to begin collecting personal contact information of our constituent, then allowing us to follow up with big outreach efforts.

RFI—request for info—forms and our bright future

The main thing to consider is just as soon as we, using our shiny, new Navigator digital tools (more arriving each month!), begin to enable the collection and use of more-and-more specific personal information, then it follows how much more responsive we are able to be.

The goal is to offer constituents precisely what they really want to learn about.

The part of this discussion having to do with overall collection of information is multifaceted and nuanced, so in fact we won’t be able to cover all of it here. For the sake of beginning to talk about the future of our digital outreach, though, we will focus on RFI forms as one of the tools in our toolkit to collect increasingly detailed bits of a person’s information.

For the Navigator initiative, the shift expected of us is to consistently consider the deliverables of our respective programs from the point of view of each of our constituents, considering their needs and interests, above and beyond our perspective of what programmatic content we consider important at that time.

The important work of Extension… and getting even better!

This means our thoughtful consideration of what is/isn’t important information will remain a priority and also we will gain new ways—new tools, new techniques—to match up the breadth of what we can offer with the specific ways an individual can be served at any one point in time.

This is the personalized digital experience for which we have been planning.

Comparison: RFI forms and newsletter opt-ins

At long last… the answer to Vicki’s question about how these two techniques do differ allows us to review the unique strengths of each approach.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that each of these are valid techniques and they are useful for us to meet distinct goals we have in mind as we select between them.

As we explore this, some considerations revolve around the benefits we at Extension stand to receive (which does remain a priority), while others have considerably more to do with the user experience that constituents have as they interact with us virtually. We will evaluate our efforts as “successful” soon as we begin to hear from people how much fun they had navigating through their experience with us!

 

RFI (request for info) form Opt-in (subscribe) to newsletters
  • using an open text input field, RFIs are an opportunity for the person to speak up about what helpful info they need
  • which can (optionally) lead to a direct engagement with Extension faculty and/or staff
  • provides the means by which to rapidly deliver value to our constituents
  • the submitted info (data) is collected into one system
  • it’s designed to be aware which web page the person is on at the time
    • for example, a person who is actively reading the “2020 Bee School” page when they decide to click the RFI form tells us a bit about their interests… without them having to ever actually type that in
    • this personalized info—person “a” was viewing info from the Bee School—is saved into our system
  • in appropriate cases (events, e.g.) it’s also aware which county’s content the person is viewing at the time
    • upon providing their personal info, we know the county in which they themselves reside
    • then we compare—perhaps that person resides in the same county, perhaps not (maybe the next one over)
    • we gain the ability to intelligently match our promotion efforts for upcoming events to people who have shown interest in events for that county—regardless which county they live in
  • a slowly-evolving concept we can consider is responding to a portion of these inquiries with automated responses (where that’s both applicable and helpful)
  • performing a review of the analytics data is simple and easy as it lives all in one system
  • people can opt out at any time
  • collects just a person’s minimal contact info
  • the next touch point for the person depends on when the next issue goes out
  • Extension faculty and programs are able to curate the info going out to constituents—but is it the info they need most?
  • subscribes a person to one, specific, targeted facet of a program’s outreach efforts, but constrains us to communicate with that person in only that one manner (channel)
  • currently pushes the actual data to varied, disconnected resources from which one Extension office/program can’t acquire value from that of another office/program
  • currently pushes responsibility of performance analytics out to each individual office/program
  • people can opt out at any time

 


About the Navigator digital engagement team. For months now, many of you have heard from me as I produce a long-term CRM strategy for OSU Extension and non-credit learning. I look forward to talking with you and ensuring the CRM plans are in alignment with the business needs of your unit and the long-term vision of the university. The Navigator team is looking forward to talking with you about how digital engagement is aligned with your work and can provide new benefits.

 

Posted in CRM.