Nuggets from HighEdWeb 2018: Web Content Strategy, Accessibility and SEO

November 13, 2018

Whatever you’re searching for in a conference, you can find it at HighEdWeb. Opportunities to connect with old friends, lively after-hours events (#karaokeplane), and innumerable sessions that cover every aspect of higher education digital marketing. But throughout the conference, HEWeb organizers remind attendees to keep their eye out for the golden nugget — a highly coveted, inspiring piece of information that you can take home.

In Gold Rush California, there were more than one.

Content First...and Second, and Third

If content is king, content strategy must be the Grand Poobah. Plenty of people were talking about web content strategy, including Best in Conference winner Erin Supinka. In her talk, “A Tale of Strategy Discovery and Triumph,” Erin showed how she created a social strategy for Dartmouth College. Her approach included:

  • Gathering mission statements from numerous Dartmouth sites over the course of a year
  • Figuring out which words or statements were used most often
  • Evaluating the stories being told and repeated on Dartmouth sites as well as social media
  • Seeing what was being sent to different audiences including prospective students and alumni

After completing her audit and analysis she was able to craft a strategic communications framework which included developing a tone or voice for each social channel. She also was able to share her strategy around campus. She attended faculty and staff meetings and put examples of compelling content directly in front of key stakeholders — as well as analytics data to help make her case.

What Happens When You Can’t Get Everyone to Play Nice, Though? Can Your Content Strategy Survive?

In their two-act presentation, “Sorry Not Sorry: Managing Content Strategy Challenges in Decentralized Environments,” Alaina Wiens and Amy Grace Wells tackled that dilemma with two very different approaches. Alaina outlined how to bring people together in order to best manage content strategy.

Then Amy Grace took over and it got real.

Amy Grace — in her words — “handles her business.” Amy pointed out that not everyone is going to agree on a content strategy, but that in order to make things work for your institution, you can validate people’s feelings but be firm about where you can’t compromise. Expectations — like how many blog and social posts each content creator is responsible for — should be clearly documented, as well as consequences for failing to meet those expectations.

Improving SEO and Content Strategy Through Accessibility

Another nugget that came home with me — schools are paying attention to accessibility. They’re starting to realize that people who cannot navigate your site do not feel welcome and won’t consider your institution in their search. Schools are starting to make accessibility a priority for the sake of improving user experience, instead of just avoiding a fine.

Chris D’Orso and Justin Romack presented a session titled, “Can You Do It In The Dark? Making Your Social Media Accessible.” They emphasized how critical accessibility is for prospective students, current students, and alumni. They argued that providing accessible content — whether on your site or your social channels — creates a stronger relationship with your users.

This dynamic duo had tweetable takeaways for how to make your social media presence more inclusive.

  • “Make awesome alt text.”
  • “Get your captions and transcripts correct.”
  • “Add audio descriptions for videos.”
  • “Avoid dense, overly verbose content.”

I would say these aren’t just good for social media, but for your main site, too.

Paying attention to accessibility can also help with SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Think of all the things you’re doing to make it easier for people — adding title tags, image alt text, link anchor text, etc. These changes can also improve your search rankings. 

Let’s take “Read More” buttons for example. From an accessibility standpoint, “read more” doesn’t provide any helpful context for the user. Nor is “read more “ a common search term you’d want to target with your content. But changing it to “Read More About Our Biology Program” provides context and could potentially drive more organic search traffic to that content.

When in Doubt, Put It Down

My final gold nugget was: take a step back and be bored sometimes, this is when you’ll become creative.

Keynote speaker Manoush Zomorodi wrote the book, Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self. Her talk was captivating. Taking a hard look at how much time we all spend online can be difficult. She doesn’t think any of us should get rid of our devices — even she said she wouldn’t be able to do that — but rather, put them down and read a book or take a walk or just do something else that doesn’t involve screens and you’ll become more creative. She tried this with the listeners of her radio show and they reported having better, more fulfilling lives when they stepped back. So if you’re in the middle of a redesign or just need some creative inspiration, don’t seek it out online or in some social media river, let your mind wander and come back to it.