Carefully chosen words: Web writing matters

Today’s blog post comes to us from another relatively new member of the WebLife team: Sherrie Voss Matthews. Sherrie didn’t have to travel far when she changed jobs in May to become the first-ever senior web content producer at the Health Science Center. Previously, she worked up I-10, in the International Programs Office at UTSA, where she was the media and marketing coordinator.

Sherrie is the writer behind many of the words you may have read on the new dental patient-care pages. She thinks like a reader and she’s passionate about getting style and grammar right.

She has this to say about why the writing you read on web pages may seem simplistic or dumbed down:

Short. To the point. Write the necessary information.

That’s the goal of web content writers. We are not out to write the Great American Novel (OK, well, some of us are, but we do that on our own time). We write content that readers can scan quickly, then determine if they should click to the next page for the more detailed information. Read more ›

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Engagement is the key word: View from Auburn University

Scott Waters is the newest member of the WebLife team. He’s a full-time employee and holds the title of web content producer, a new job title at the university, and it means he writes, edits and does whatever it takes to get quality content on the redesigned HSC web pages. (Writing for the upcoming new School of Dentistry Academics website has kept Scott and the rest of the writing team busy for the past couple of weeks.) Scott came to us from Auburn University, where he was a digital content producer for the College of Liberal Arts.

Scott Waters, web content producer at the Health Science Center and a member of the WebLife team.

Scott Waters, web content producer at the Health Science Center and a member of the WebLife team.

I asked Scott to share some of the lessons he learned at Auburn about audiences in the digital era and some of the advice he got there that he will bring to his job here. Despite the differences between Auburn and HSC in terms of the location and types of students, I wasn’t surprised to hear that the mantra for web communications at Auburn matches our mission at WebLife: Engage, engage, engage.

Here’s Scott:

“I was responsible for overseeing the college’s multimedia communication strategies including video, audio, and social media.  It was one of the largest colleges on campus (12 departments and one school).  My particular team worked for the Dean’s Office of External Affairs, so we not only communicated and strategized within our group, but we also worked closely with development and the dean (Dr. Joe Aistrup).

Working at Auburn University was my first instance of working in higher education.  I came from a post-production house in Atlanta, where we worked with ad agencies (Ford & Coke, to name a few).  I feel like I found my best fit in a college setting, though.” Read more ›

Share and share alike: Facebook’s boost to the new web pages

[with assistance from Cynthia Rodriguez, the HSC’s SEO specialist]

Hundreds of people are stumbling upon Our Stories features from the HSC website without even going to the website first.

Thank you, Facebook and Twitter.

Social sharing of all aspects of the new website, including the Our Stories features and the new dental pages, is something we’re watching closely because we know social sharing is an important part of online behavior. It’s one of the ways we’re measuring success for the new web redesign.

Digital marketing is a big focus of my job, but even I was surprised when I read a study recently that showed the average American between the ages of 18-64 spends two to three hours per day on social networks. Social sharing matters tremendously when you think about goals for web content.

We at the HSC are part of that conversation on social networks and we know it’s important to see our presence to grow. An excellent blog post by Bridget Randolf on described why businesses must be part of conversations in a way that is not selling or pushing a brand. Traditional marketing is still important, but social sharing allows universities like ours to show who we are and interact with the public in a way we never did 20+ years ago.

To encourage sharing on social networks, you must have something to share, of course. Take, for example, the Our Stories feature on Amy Yu, called “Recognized Potential”.  The story was posted on our website on April 14. Since then, 970 visitors have clicked on the link to read the story. Of those 970 clicks, 385 came from Facebook. Facebook has been the biggest driver to that story, compared to 201 people who found the story by visiting the Our Stories web page, 253 readers who found the story after clicking around the website first and 131 visitors who came to Amy Yu’s story via a Google search (which is also a gratifying statistic to see). Read more ›

Dental patient care website goes live on July 1

[Update, 7/1/2014: The new UT Dentistry site is now live -- we invite you to explore, and submit your feedback as comments on this post or using the "Questions? Comments?" button above.]

WebLife’s biggest rollout of new web pages, to date, happens July 1, when the new dental patient care site goes live.

Translation for those who want to know what 50+ new web pages means to real people: On July 1, anyone looking for dental care will be able to easily learn about and find appointment information for the many clinics and services at UT Dentistry in a way that is user-friendly, engaging and informative.

Another change that coincides with the website relaunch: the Dental School’s recent official name change to UT Dentistry, for clinical purposes, and School of Dentistry, for all other purposes. You’ll see the new names throughout the new web pages.

The new web pages for the academics and research sections of the School of Dentistry are up next and will be launched in the coming months. But patient care took priority in the three-pronged attack on revamping the web presence for our dental brethren. Because patient care, academics and research have been separated into distinct sections, it enabled us to focus on the kinds of content and design choices that matter to those distinct audiences. Dental patients of UT Dentistry will now find: Read more ›


Photo options: Here’s looking at you

A 10-minute  presentation on effective ways to engage readers through photos has had a profound effect on the WebLife production team.

David Anderson, director of strategic digital communications at University of Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, in an online seminar sponsored by Higher Ed Experts, told us to choose photos with people first and foremost (not beakers and faraway buildings). And get the subjects of the photos looking directly into the camera.

Boom. What a difference. Nancy Place, director of Creative Media Services at the Health Science Center, sent me this perfect example of what happens when an otherwise engaging subject in a photo turns to face the camera. This photo was taken by Lester Rosebrock, our university photographer. “This happened organically during the shoot, but speaks to the point being made in the blog about having subjects look at the camera,” Nancy told me after I wrote about Anderson’s presentation last month.

Two photos of a woman in a lab. Woman on right is making eye contact with camera

The photo on the left shows the subject focusing on her work, which is interesting, but watch how your connection to the subject changes when she’s looking straight at the camera.

Would this type of pose work in a newspaper article? No, of course. Photojournalism aims to capture a moment in time and the photographs in the news are intended to make us feel as if the subject of the photo is just going about his or her business, unaware of the camera. Read more ›

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How DrupalCon 2014 will help WebLife

Hello Drupal! It was pleasure to make your acquaintance at this years’ 2014 DrupalCon conference in Austin, Texas. DrupalCon is an exciting whirlwind of events, providing educational and networking opportunities for people who use Drupal’s content management system (CMS). This is important to us at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio and especially at WebLife because Drupal is the CMS behind our new redesigned webpages. At DrupalCon, I learned new ways to use Drupal and some best practices to assist us in providing awesome websites for the university overall.

In particular, I learned a lot about search engine optimization (SEO) and content strategy.  Probably the most useful information I learned came from talking to other companies or other universities about their experiences working in Drupal. Often, they learned lessons through trial and error or just because they had to evolve with the web.  One thing I learned is to get as many people as I can to look at Google Analytics, which reveal the statistics about visitors to a website and what those visitors are reading or doing once they get to the website. The more people engaged with our analytics, the more people will be attentive to the content that their visitors are seeing. One company showed us a blog post they created on stats and graphs related to website traffic. I plan to report on this kind of information for the Health Science Center. Read more ›

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Thinking about accessibility on our web pages

A few days ago I was casually speaking with a co-worker and noticed she was left handed.  I commented on it and she proceeded to tell me how some things are challenging for left-handed people.  For example, most tools, string instruments, computer keyboards and even scissors, to name a few, are designed for right-handed people.  As a right-handed person I realized I have taken many of things for granted.  This brought “websites” to mind.  Allow me to make the analogy of a right-handed person being equal to a sighted person and a non-right-handed person being equal to a blind or partially-sighted person.  Most sighted people can navigate a website.  They can experience the website simply by looking at it (i.e., images, colors, words, etc.).  It is quite a bit more difficult for a blind or partially-sighted person to navigate the site without the use of magnifiers or special/assistive technology.

If you’re a sighted person, close your eyes and try to attempt to mimic a blind person by reading this blog post.  Huh?  Exactly. I know it would be challenging for me.  I’ve never had to use special/assistive technology to navigate a web page. If I had to start now, I would probably give up in frustration. Read more ›


Analytics coming into focus

[Thanks to WebLife's Analytics & SEO Team Lead, Cynthia Rodriguez, for her collaboration on this blog post.]

Did you happen to read the “Shedding pounds, gaining life” feature story on a weight-loss surgery patient in the Our Stories section of the website recently? If so, you were one of 961 visitors to do so since April 1.

You probably don’t remember how long it took to read that story, but we know that readers have been spending an average of 3 minutes, 44 seconds on that page. That’s a useful statistic for us at WebLife, as it shows readers are sticking around to digest the information.

Statistics like those on the Our Stories features are providing some great information as to the behavior of our readers since the new pages have gone live. The “Our Stories” landing page, aka the home base for those feature stories, has had 2,020 visitors, with a bounce rate of only 39.70 percent and an exit rate of 22.87 percent.

Bounce rate means the percentage of people who came to a web page and then left before visiting a second page.

Exit rate measures the reader’s last stop on the site.

Low bounce and exit rates indicate how many readers actually did stay engaged and clicked on other pages.

Our statistics show that the vast majority of visitors on that Our Stories landing page get drawn into one or more of the stories, which is exactly the behavior we want.

Read more ›

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Plan to be awesome: Notes from the 2014 Higher Ed Content Conference

As several of us from WebLife and a few of our colleagues from the Office of Communications sat in a conference room at the Briscoe Library recently, watching a live feed of the 2014 Higher Ed Content Conference, presented by Higher Ed Experts, the secret to successful web design and online content became abundantly clear.

If we want to really reach people, we’re going to need more cat videos.

I’m kidding, of course, but cat videos did win the day among conference presenters as the shorthand way to say that online content needs to be targeted, quickly understood and cool. Put a cat on a Roomba and watch your page views skyrocket. Or, if you work for a university, find the equivalent of a cat on a Roomba and deliver the kind of website and social-media messages your audiences want. Read more ›

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Behind the scenes at WebLife: What are stakeholder interviews?

Rene Echavarri, WebLife’s user experience (UX)  lead, works behind the scenes on the planning of new sections of the university’s website. Stakeholder interviews, which involves listening to faculty, staff, patients and others familiar with HSC and the current website, is a big part of Rene’s job at the moment. He works with user experience experts at NewCity, the agency hired by HSC to help with the website redesign, and together Rene and NewCity have been asking a lot of questions and learning more about what online readers want from our website. The data obtained from stakeholder interviews helps the web team make informed decisions about design, text and even the links and navigation tools on the site itself.

Recently, Rene took a break from listening to others answering questions and answered some questions about how stakeholder interviews make WebLife a stronger project:

Q: What is a stakeholder interview?

A: A stakeholder is someone identified as having an interest in the success of the overall project, such as a professor, student, researcher or other staff person who may have some insight into helping us craft a successful website. We conduct a 30-45 minute interview with the person, asking questions, for example about his or her job at the Health Science Center, such as obstacles to their successful job performance, what runs very smoothly, what the employee sees as problems with the current website, and what the employee would consider to be the perfect website. If the interview subject is not an employee — perhaps a consumer or patient — we would tailor the questions to that person’s experience. Read more ›

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