In higher education, you often have to perform miracles on your websites with limited time and resources. When this happens, your tools can become your best buddies.
If tools should never come first, they can definitely help make you things happen.
Thatâ€™s why I asked the 12 higher ed web professionals speaking at the 2018 Higher Ed WEBSITES Conference to tell us about the favorite web tool(s) they canâ€™t live without.
Google Lighthouse for Dan Herrero, Web Development Specialist at Lehigh University
One of my favorite and frequently used tools is Google Lighthouse.
Itâ€™s a great tool for instantly auditing your web pages in terms of performance, accessibility, SEO and more. It’s available as part of Chrome’s DevTools (and also as a Chrome extension), and since I’m already using DevTools quite a bit when I’m working on a project, it’s very handy to be able to run all of these audits in the same place and get actionable advice on how to make improvements.
I like to use this as I’m working on a web project to identify potential issues along the way, rather than trying to scan for and fix them all at the end of a project.
Google Lighthouse for Jessie Groll, Web Developer at Indiana University of Pennsylvania
My favorite Google DevTool is Google Lighthouse, Chrome Browser. The quick but detailed report includes stats on performance, accessibility, best practices, and SEO, giving you a nice snapshot of your page.
It is Google, so there are specific recommendations and links to more information so you can quickly take action. There is a lot of detail provided, but the overall scores for each section make it easy to see if you are making progress. Since it is not just a list of errors, you see where youâ€™ve passed audits as well, which is encouraging!
Siteimprove Accessibility Checker for Dave Poortvliet, Web Manager at Grand Valley State University
Weâ€™ve been pretty aggressive about making sure all new web applications we develop are WCAG 2.0 compliant.
One of the best tools Iâ€™ve found to check web accessibility is SiteImproveâ€™s Accessibility Checker chrome extension.
What I love about it is how clearly and thoroughly it explains an issue and how to fix the issue.
Slack, Teamwork and Siteimprove for Emily Mayock, AVP at Case Western Reserve University
The first two allow us to communicate and stay on trackâ€”and reduce the number of meetings required, which is always important. The third helps us find and fix errors on websitesâ€”whether links, spelling or accessibilityâ€”and it helps with the triaging of web tasks.
Are we seeing that a link to our apply page is broken and has been clicked on 200 times in the past two days? That needs to be fixed ASAP!
Is there a spelling error on a page that gets a couple of visits per day? In an ideal world, weâ€™d fix that tooâ€”but we just canâ€™t.
Siteimprove helps us see whatâ€™s wrong, and then prioritize what we need to fix.
Google Optimize for Robert Blizzard, Coordinator of Web Design and Analysis at University of Saskatchewan
My favorite tool is Google optimize.
If you haven’t explored this recently, it is miles ahead of the former Google Experiments tool.
It makes it easier and faster than ever to setup an A/B or multivariate test in a matter of minutes.
Scrumdo for Cade Whitbourn, Web Manager at Charles Sturt University
Scrumdo is a tool we use to support our relatively agile project management methodology.
We use this tool to plan our project sprints, store project artifacts and deliverables, and monitor task allocation and deadlines. Itâ€™s very well suited to agile project management, but is also flexible enough that it can be customized on a project basis to support waterfall workflow, general task management or even a personal todo list.
Basecamp for Kris Hardy, Director of Web and Digital Marketing at Messiah College
Hands down, Basecamp is my favorite.
Itâ€™s an online project management and collaboration tool that organizes our to-do lists, discussions, calendars, chats and files within a project.
It also has a â€œclient sideâ€ that allows us to pull campus clients into the tool for larger, more complicated projects. Best part – itâ€™s extremely affordable and intuitive.
Airtable for Nicole Montgomery, Director of Digital Communications at York College of Pennsylvania
My favorite web work tool is my project management system. Recently we began using Airtable to track our social media content, website projects and video marketing.
It allows us to organize the countless website projects/updates, story ideas and content calendars.
This tool has allowed us to streamline the workloads within our team as well as following up with key project deadlines.
New Relic for Cody Benson, Sr. Director of Digital Strategy at Georgia State University
Itâ€™s great to have hosting and good people to help maintain our technical environment, but they donâ€™t manage our application. New Relic provides server insights to non-server admins. We get a clear picture of the server health, the most time consuming WordPress plugins and readable error logs, which allow us to take actions to correct issues.
While expensive ($500 per month or more) the first time we resolved a problem in minutes instead of hours after an update had been made, it was worth every penny.
BrightEdge for Stephanie Geyer, Vice President, Digital Marketing and Creative Services at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
BrightEdge, a proprietary monster of an SEO research and analysis tool. My current role doesnâ€™t allow me to get in the weeds on web dev projects, but I do a lot of pre-development research and planning to support them. Understanding what the current website is offering up to Google in the way of keywords is an essential step in crafting an overarching content strategy and helps get ahead of competitors who may already work intentionally on SEO.
Google Data Studio for Elaine Shannon, Web Developer and User Interface Specialist – St. Mary’s University
My favorite new web tool is Google Data Studio.
Google Analytics is a little overwhelming for most of our team, so Iâ€™m experimenting with creating printable reports that give them just the right information in just the right format to be useful. While dashboards have been available for a long time, weâ€™ve found Data Studio works better as many of our team members feel more comfortable with a printed report in their hands. It also makes it easy to archive past reports for quick comparison.
Juicer for Rebecca Larson, Director of Web Communications at Wheaton College
Juicer is the social media aggregator tool we use to pull social feeds into our website. Itâ€™s integrated into our homepage, and weâ€™re using it as a scroller on the bottom of landing pages for various departments and groups on campus.
I like Juicer because itâ€™s easy to connect to your social accounts, and it provides a great deal of flexibility in terms of the way the stories are displayed. You can customize the design, as well (post order, feed style, show only posts with images, etc.). It also provides a moderation function to allow you to choose exactly which stories go out into your online feeds. This is helpful to avoid redundant stories, or those that donâ€™t translate well for various reasons into your design.
A conference focusing on higher ed WEBSITES?
The 2018 Higher Ed WEBSITES Conference (now available on-demand!) is a must for higher ed web professionals and teams looking for inspiration, ideas and best practices to kick off their summer projects.
Read below what a few of your higher ed colleagues who attended the past editions of the Higher Ed WEBSITES Conference say about the experience.