Friday, August 7, 2015

Case Study: Southern Cross University Website Refresh

In 2011 I was recruited to Southern Cross University (SCU) as their Web Content Editor with responsibility for the public facing websites. The first task assigned to me with great urgency was to refresh the SCU website and enhance the user experience. My strategy was to conduct expert analysis on the website, conduct stakeholder engagement activities, conduct a user survey to guide design direction, review Information Architecture (IA) and navigation, develop initial design wireframes, develop the web design with graphic designer, conduct user and accessibility testing of designs, prototypes and development websites. Then to launch, review and repeat.
Before: this is the SCU home page as I found it in 2011

I started by conducting an initial round of analysis and  engagement with stakeholders including:
      University Executive
      Schools
      Students Services
      Library Services
      Marketing and Recruitment
      Media and Publications
      Community Engagement
      Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)
      Student Union
      Students

I soon discovered in meeting with ICT that the major impediment to the redesign project would be the limitations of the dated in-house web Content Management System (CMS) Websys. Websys would turn out to be an extra challenging dimension to this project and the rest of my time at SCU.

Early on I engaged Peak Usability to assist with conducting a website user intercept survey which would be used to guide the development of the proposed new home page and school site designs and information architecture. I also brought in Cool Planet Design, a graphic designer with extensive experience designing university websites, to assist turning my concept wireframes and mock-ups into something closer to the final designs. These were then made into prototype websites which I demonstrated at stakeholder engagement and testing sessions, feedback from which was further incorporated into the designs. Peak Usability was again engaged to provide expert review of the resulting designs and IA at this stage.

Early on we began running into the limitations of Websys CMS and began the numerous fixes, work-arounds and compromises we’d have to make in order to progress our designs. For example, to conduct a simple site-wide update of the corporate logo would normally require a simple global image replacement process. With Websys it turned out this would require many hours of developer time manually updating each of the many non-standard templates assets that were used to build each of the child sites. While many of the child website templates appeared to be nearly identical, each was a unique version of the main template. To complicate issues further templates included varying levels of embedded inline code that was incompatible with the global code and code libraries. It also turned out that parts of Websys itself included embedded inline code that would need to be removed.
I decided on a strategy to have Websys to be fixed to a reasonable standard, create a new master template and progressively review existing content and migrate across into new sites based on these new templates in the improved Websys CMS. The child templates would inherited properties from the parent master template and therefore make global changes much more efficient. We would also use a system of code snippets to further customise specific design elements such as local navigation and local colour schemes. This strategy required buy-in from project sponsors so my task was to convince them that this was the correct course of action for the immediate redesign project and the longer term management and stability of the SCU website assets. At this point the possibility of upgrading to a different CMS was floated and rejected. Either way, it would be a much more complex and time consuming process to redesign and relaunch the SCU website than initially expected.

In September 2011 I was given authorisation to conduct a research project in collaboration with the ICT web development team to find a suitable replacement CMS. Our preferred candidate we recommended ended up being Squiz CMS which at that point closing in on 50% of the Australian University market. News from management was that we would migrate to Squiz at some future date yet to be announced. As a result the official policy towards our CMS changed which resulted in halting any further development of the Websys CMS beyond “mission critical” support. The unintended consequence was to cripple our ability to make further improvements to the design and function of the SCU website via the Websys CMS platform. To my knowledge a replacement for Websys CMS has not been implemented to this date.

In October 2011 to ensure our compliance with the Australian and New South Wales government’s mandate for all government websites, including universities, to comply with the WW3.org recommended WCAG 2.0 Accessibility standards I engaged Vision Australia to conduct an Accessibility Assessment on our development websites. As a result we were able to incorporate most of the required changes before launch and continue to improve our processes to ensure compliance before and after the compliance deadline.

Prior to rollout I conducted a round of engagement with stakeholders to review the designs, gather feedback and provide rational for various design decisions.
The initial redesign rollout including the SCU home page and top level pages and sites began in December 2011. As part of the launch strategy I arranged for the inclusion of Google Analytics tracking code into the new website templates. Up to this point, surprisingly considering I had setup Analytics at NC TAFE in 2006, I had only been successful in having Analytics installed on the SCU home page. This would prove to be a major advancement from using server log files to report on web traffic to tracking user behaviour at SCU.  As part of this strategy I had Analytics setup to generate custom monthly reports for Marketing and Recruitment and other stakeholders.
After: this is the resulting "refreshed" website design launched in December 2011
The progressive rollout of new design for all associated sites continued for most of 2012. The maintenance strategy has been to conduct development sprints to incorporate feedback and results of further testing into regular minor monthly or major quarterly iterations for navigation and design improvements.

My preferred user experience methods include:
      Developing scenarios, tasks, personas, surveys and reports
      Conducting research, reviews, interviews, card sorting, presentations and observations
      Facilitating stakeholder engagement meetings, workshops and usability testing studies
      Monitoring website tracking and search behaviour

Other functions of my role at SCU included procuring content and managing the SCU on iTunesU, UniSCU YouTube channels, monitor and provide advice on the operation and administration of official Twitter and Facebook accounts and reviewing and developing policies and procedures relating to social media at SCU.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thinking of creating a selfie video competition or promotional campaign strategy? Try YouTube.

Self shot video campaign - YouTube account setup, uploading and sharing.

I was asked recently for advice on how we could setup a system for International students studying at Southern Cross University (SCU) to be able to submit their own video message "I am not Australian … but I have an Australia story" as part of our Fusion Festival. Several issues crossed my mind immediately including copyright, privacy and content hosting an processing resources. Receiving, processing, hosting, vetting for copyright, legal issues and inappropriate content for this kind of thing is not something I am resourced for. So, having had similar requests in the past and knowing there would be more to come I devised a plan to have YouTube do all the heavy lifting for us and allowing SCU International to do all the viewing and choosing of content to be embedded on our website at the end of the process. I'm sharing this for anyone else who is thinking of doing something similar on their website. There are so many Selfie competitions currently, selfie video competitions are getting pretty popular too. This is one approach to achieving a good system.

I chose YouTube above other video hosting options for several reasons including cost - free for all parties, service - no servers or storage to manage, reliability - serious up time no hassles, legal responsibilities - its between the uploader and YouTube. All that is required is the submitter, once their video is uploaded to YouTube - YouTube does all the format processing for us, they then need to email SCU International the link to their video provided by YouTube . International then views the video and obtains the embed code for our website directly from YouTube page for that video. We then seamlessly embed the video into our webpages as required. So much simpler than what would be required to process and host ourselves.

Basically I've gone through the YouTube signup, uploading and sharing instruction pages to provide a summary of the appropriate information for participants for this purpose that you can use below.

Note I’ve included highlighted in red and bold where you need to insert the email address that you want people to send their videos to and campaign message you are trying to promote. Furthermore, you might suggest they append the their name and your campaign/competition phrase to the title of their video. When people start submitting videos to this email address it may not be obvious who, what , where or why these are coming to you. Its may even appear to be spam or directed to junk mail. What ever email address is chosen and whoever is monitoring it, it would be wise to add service@youtube.com to their address book and filter exception list to ensure all submissions are received.

YouTube account setup, uploading and sharing

This is a brief summary of the actions required to upload and share your video with Acme Corporation and our customers and fans.

In order to share your video with Acme Corporation you will need a YouTube account. If you don’t already have a YouTube account go to the first section Sign up for a YouTube account  otherwise, if you already have an account proceed to section Uploading your video and Sharing your video with Acme Corporation

Sign up for a YouTube account

Starting on the YouTube home page https://www.youtube.com/ take the following steps to create an account. Note, this will setup a Google Account.
  1. Click Sign in in the upper right corner of YouTube on your computer.
  2. Click Create Account and enter some basic information to create your new Google Account. You'll be asked to create a Google username when signing up. This is your new Gmail email address only - it will not be your public name on YouTube.
  3. Once you're done setting up your Google Account, click Back to YouTube.
Official page: Sign up for an account on YouTube https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/161805?hl=en&ref_topic=3024170

Uploading your video

To get started uploading videos on YouTube, follow the steps below:
  1. Sign into YouTube.
  2. Click the Upload button at the top of the page.
  3. Select the video you'd like to upload from your computer. You can also record a video from your webcam. As the video is uploading, you can add information (e.g. title, description, tags), change your privacy settings. Please include in the video title your name followed by the phrase Acme Corporation campaign message.
  4. Make any changes you want to the video settings and information, then click Publish to finish uploading it on YouTube. You can always publish your video at a later time in your Video Manager. If you set the video privacy setting to Private or Unlisted, just click Done to finish the upload or click Share to privately share your video.
  5. If you haven’t clicked Publish, your video won’t be viewable by other people.
Once the upload is completed YouTube will send you an email to notify you that your video is done uploading and processing. You can then forward that email to Acme Corporation email for easy sharing. If you prefer not to receive notification, you can opt out by visiting your email settings.

Official page: How to upload videos https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/57924?hl=en

Sharing your video with Acme Corporation

Once you video has been uploaded and published click on the link supplied by YouTube to view your video. To share your video with Acme Corporation click the Share link under the video, then select one of the following options:

Share this video: This gives you a link that you can copy and paste into an email message to Acme Corporation email.

Email: Enter Acme Corporation email into the “Email addresses” field and a note if you wish then click the “Send email” button. YouTube will send an email to the email address(es) you enter. 

For entries to be valid please include the your name and the Acme Corporation Campaign message in the title of the video.



I'll let you know how successful this strategy is. I hope your campaign goes viral!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Latest Dogscapades - a Jack Russell, a Cattle Dog and an American Pit Bull Terrier

So I was walking Ms8Months in the pram along the shared public walking/cycle path near Light-House beach, Ballina yesterday afternoon when I saw an American Pit Bull Terrier coming towards us off the leash. On its trajectory along the path it was already making for between us and the road on our right with the bush to our left leaving very little option to avoid a very close and uncomfortable proximity and no means of escape should I choose to make such a futile an effort. I immediately stopped pulling as far to the left as the railing would allow attempting to bring as little attention as possible to our existence.

This was after earlier pointing out to a 40 something man who was walking around the beach carpark with his cattle dog off leash next to the "no dogs" sign that his dog should at least be leashed. His response was "Why, are there council rangers around?" assuming I was concerned he would get in trouble. I corrected him explaining my concern for the safety of children, particularly my baby daughter to which he responded "oh, no, this is such a beautiful, gentle dog". My response to this was the usual "thats what they all say" as he proceeded to wander off towards the beach, dog still unleashed. 

The day before, Saturday, while Kirsty was surfing I was about to take Ms8Months down to the small paddle pool on the reef at Shelly Beach when I noticed a Jack Russell dog swimming in it. I don't know whether the other parents standing around with their children were concerned but none of the children were in the pool while the dog was in there. Call me a snob but there was no way Ms8Months was going in that pool until after high tide had flushed it out. It got me wondering how many dogs paddle in that pool on a daily basis? A man proceeded up the beach, a "no dogs" area, with this dog, wait for it... unleashed. We later came across this same man and dog outside the Shelly beach surf clubso I thought I'd take the opportunity to raise the issue with him. He flat out ignored me and carried on with his business.

It is really horrifying what a dog, even a small one, can do to a grown man never mind a child. I recently became aware of a young girl, 3 year old dog attack victim Victoria Wilcher, who you may have seen in the news as the girl who was asked to leave a KFC "restaurant" in the US because her facial injuries a the result of a dog attack was upsetting customers. 

Victoria Wilcher - one of the less confronting photographs of this brave and lucky survivor.
"Victoria lost her right eye in an April attack at her grandfather's home in Simpson County. She also received a broken upper and lower jaw, a broken nose, and smashed cheekbones. She also lost the ability to move the right side of her face, according to the post."

This has prompted further discussion on dogs in the US: Time: The problem with Pit Bulls 




So, as this pit bull drew closer I became aware of its "owner". I was barely aware of this slight, pierced and tattooed man in his late 20s early 30s dressed in US style basketball singlet, track pants and baseball cap who, in my opinion would have about as much chance controlling this beast as running for Prime Minister had the dog been on the leash anyway. I was wrestling with being prepared for a flight or fight response to protect my 8 month old daughter from a well know baby killer when he said "Ow's it garn blud" as he swaggered past. My fear switched to anger as I watched these two animals saunter past unfettered in provocative disregard to society and safety. 

All I could come up with in my heightened parental state of defence was a calm, controlled

"Yeah... f*%k you"?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

When animals attack - Comparing dog and shark attacks in NSW

About 4:30-45pm on 16th April 2014 my partner was out walking with our 6 month old baby daughter in a pram in our local neighbourhood in Goonellabah when she was attacked, unprovoked and by surprise, from behind by a small dog who bit her on the leg. This dog, breed currently unidentified, injured my partners lower leg with bruising and a puncture wound drawing blood. On receiving a call form my partner, who was upset and a bit shocked I immediately drove from work collected my girls in our car and took them to the excellent Lismore Clinic who agreed to see us after hours to have the wound treated and antibiotics prescribed.

Since that day my partner has had many more encounters with dogs while out walking and now carries a big stick. Not much use in surprise attacks like the one previously described. There is at least one dog, some times more, big and small out wondering around each time she takes the pram out in the space of a few blocks approx 2-3km. Its like my partner and daughter are prisoners in our own neighbourhood.

I'm sorry, while sharks sometimes attack humans when we venture into their habitat, the statistics show dogs regularly attack and injure humans in our own habitat see the information below from the NSW Government website.

In NSW 2012 there were 5 shark attacks on humans reported injuring 3. In the same year there were 3,323 dog attacks on humans, 767 of those required medical treatment and 146 people were hospitalised. 75% of dogs were not under control and 62% occurred in a public place. Neither caused fatalities in NSW that year, however both have been known to, especially the very young and old.

In total there have been less than half the number shark attacks reported in Australia since records began in 1791 than dog attacks reported in a single year 2011/2012 reporting period in NSW.

I acknowledge its not all dog owners, but come on people, look after your pets. Please be responsible and don't let your pets roam the streets unattended and unrestrained terrorising the community. Its only a matter of time before someone is hositalised or a small child is killed.

References

Mangement of bite injuries - http://www.australianprescriber.com/magazine/29/1/6/8

Shark attacks in Australia: a timeline - http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/science-environment/2014/01/shark-attacks-in-australia-a-timeline/

Australian Shark Attack File - Annual Australian Shark Attack Report Summary - 2012 -http://taronga.org.au/animals-conservation/conservation-science/australian-shark-attack-file/annual-australian-shark-attack-report-summary-2012

Dog attack reporting - http://www.dlg.nsw.gov.au/dlg/dlghome/dlg_generalindex.asp?sectionid=1&areaindex=DAIDATA&documenttype=8&mi=9&ml=10

NSW Dog Attacks 2011/2012 - http://www.dlg.nsw.gov.au/dlg/dlghome/documents/Information/Council%20Reports%20of%20Dog%20Attacks%20in%20NSW%202011-12.pdf

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Forgot to post this vid I shot and edited last year of The Voice Australia Musical Director Scott Aplin for SCU. Enjoy!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Keyword loading URLs and search ranking - an SEO case study

In the last couple of months we have rolled out some SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) changes across key sub-sites. Our goal being improving the ranking of these sites in Google search results based on keyword searches. Below is the benchmark and current search ranking performance on Google for the School of Environment, Science and Engineering site at Southern Cross University for comparison before and after URL change results.


Back in June 2013 I did some benchmark testing on Google by searching with the following keyword term "environmental science engineering" which served up the following top 3 results:
  1. Griffith University http://www.griffith.edu.au/science-environment-engineering-technology
  2. Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_engineering
  3. SCU http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/esm/.
So in this case our SCU website was coming up in 3rd place in the search results. In my analysis, I noticed that Griffith aren't utilising the Description or Keywords metadata fields which we are. All other SEO aspects are reasonably even. This lead me to assume that their advantage is the use keywords in the URL and probably more overall visitor traffic. I concluded that making a similar change to our URL should make us more competitive and improve our ranking. 

In July 2013 we proceeded to make the following changes to our site loading keywords in the the URL.


Of course this transition had to be carefully managed to make sure that all current shortlinks and redirects we diverted to the new URL, that all pages had new redirects placed to catch traffic and send it to the new page locations and that sitemap.xml files were updated and re submitted. We also carried this same process out with our other School sites.

Fast forward to the end of August 2013. Now when searching on Google for the terms "environmental science engineering" we get the following top three results:
  1. Griffith University http://www.griffith.edu.au/science-environment-engineering-technology
  2. SCU http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/esm/.
  3. Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_engineering
So climbing one position in one month is encouraging and demonstrating that the experiment was successful. Of course it will be interesting to compare other likely keyword combinations that prospective students are likely to use and measure their success.

Looking at visits to this School home page in Google Analytics we can see that for June the site was received 222 visits, fairly typical in the months leading up to the changes, while in August it has already received 380 visits, an increase of 158 visits or 67%.

Other before and after data:

June
Pages/Visit 5.63
Average Visit Duration 13:38
% New Visits 33%
Bounce Rate 27.48%

August
Pages/Visit 5.74
Average Visit Duration 10:26
% New Visits 32.37%
Bounce Rate 22.63%

At this point our strategy has helped the site climb one place in the ranking to second for that particular site and increase overall visits by 67%. Other improvements are a reduced bounce rate meaning that visitors are of a higher quality.

In comparing our page to Griffith Uni's there are some more SEO improvements we can make Eg. making in content keywords links to course or discipline pages, though I believe our main obstacle in gaining number 1 ranking is going to be traffic. Traffic is a very powerful metric in SEO ranking and I have the feeling that Griffith Uni is probably getting a lot more traffic to their page at this point. However, the increase that we are already seeing could build up over time and, with a few additional SEO tweaks, eventually give us the edge. 

Other factors that my benefit our site could include targeted digital campaigns to drive more traffic from other website sources that Google.

Conclusion, while not gaining that coveted number 1 ranking at this stage, this exercise resulted in significant improvements.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Raising the Fun Tax


Have you heard of the term the "Fun Tax"? Why is it the people who drink, smoke and gamble the most, pub people, also complain the loudest about paying tax when in all likelihood they are probably paying more because of their personal lifestyle choices. Why would anyone choose to pay more tax?

What is this "Fun Tax"? Its a general term that refers to the taxes on tobacco, alcohol and gambling (currently not affecting the average Australian). These taxes introduced by previous governments have been increased by current Australian government in order to raise more revenue and fund campaigns to reduce smoking and alcohol participation for health reasons are being described as "draconian", "unfair" and impacting on "our freedom of choice". Are they?

Its no secret that this mix of tax are major sources of revenue for governments in this country, but how does this revenue generated compare to the actual cost in addressing the associated long term health and social problems caused by these "fun" lifestyle choices.

Looking at alcohol it’s estimated that in 2010 the Commonwealth raised $7.075 billion in from alcohol taxes, excise and GST revenue. In comparison researchers  at Griffith University discovered that the total cost to society from alcohol related problems was estimated at $14,352 billion. It doesn't take a degree in economics to realise the cost is more than double that raised in tax. Are you shocked? There's more.

Tobacco in Australia is the number one cause of preventable death and disease causing 12% of the national disease burden, up to 20% in Indigenous communities, while costing society $31 billion a year in health and social costs. This is 4 times the tax raised from tobacco products. Are you more shocked? There's still more.

The other point to make about tobacco and alcohol is that these are seriously harmful substances not unlike class A drugs. While these two are technically “legal” in a regulated way, less harmful products are restricted and will attract a fine and even a jail sentence for even small quantities. Tobacco and alcohol are also the number 1 and 2 respectively major causes of cancer in Australia. The only reasonable justification for their continued place in the market place is their revenue raising potential. It would appear however after doing the sums that the revenue raised goes nowhere near covering the harm that they cause to individuals, families and society as a whole.

In 2012 cancer was estimated to account for 19% of the total disease burden in Australia. Both Alcohol and tobacco make up a significant portion of this statistic. Smoking alone is estimated to cause one in nine cancers, and one in five cancer deaths.

As yet the cost of supporting problem gamblers through counseling and other harm minimisation programs has not been identified due to the nature of reporting in the health industry. Unlike alcohol and tobacco, gambling is not directly taxed at the consumer end. Therefore whatever health cost there are incurring, currently there is no way of comparing to revenue raised. Based on the anecdotal evidence of the number of people seeking help to deal with gambling and associated problems, we can easily see that there must be substantial costs involved. Even more shocked?

So even though the consumers of tobacco, alcohol and gambling are likely paying more tax than the rest of us as a direct result of participating in these activities, the rest of us are significantly compensating them in order for them to receive health treatment and support as a direct result of their lifestyle choices. Who really should be complaining about the "Fun Tax"? And why isn't it higher?

Surely there are better causes that require are hard earned taxes in the community than on the self obsessed narcissists that are bleeding the system of $50-60 billion, in the vicinity of the total cost of the Governments NBN policy, EVERY SINGLE YEAR?

To top it off, some political leaders actually gauge the potential success of their policies by running them by these same people in what they call the "Pub Test". Not satisfied in being heavily subsidised, pub people get a greater share of say in how this country is run. Like there is some kind of social collective wisdom that comes from a schooner that is in some way superior.

So next time you see someone you know who has just cast a bet, ordered a schooner and is heading to the beer garden for a smoke, asks them "Are we having "fun" yet?"

References

Cost of Alcohol Misuse Double Govt Revenue

Tobacco is Australia's Number One cause of preventable death and disease


Cancer in Australia statistics

What causes cancer