Web developer within the University of St Andrews digital communications team, mainly working on web support. Joined the team in 2015 and has previously worked as a data analyst/web developer at Edinburgh Napier University as well as various other IT related jobs. When not answering web support calls he enjoys cycling, photography, ultimate frisbee, watching TV/films.

Why we moved from Siteimprove to Sitemorse

Last year I wrote a blog post about how we were using Siteimprove to help find and fix broken links and spelling mistakes on our website. But a few months ago we decided to move to another company to provide this service, a company called Sitemorse.

How they work

Siteimprove and Sitemorse both provide a range of online tools that help to manage and maintain your website by looking at; accessibility, branding, code quality, links, SEO, performance, and spelling. These services regularly scan your webpages searching for errors in these areas. They then produce a report detailing any errors that have been found.

While both of these companies offer a similar service we decided that Sitemorse had a slight edge on the tools that they were able to provide us with.

What Sitemorse does better

While evaluating Sitemorse we ran a side-by-side comparison with Siteimprove. One of the main tests was to see how accurate each service was when searching for broken links. We found that Sitemorse was more consistent when finding broken links, whereas Siteimprove had a greater tendency to report false positives and miss genuinely broken links.

We also found that Sitemorse provided more in-depth analysis of the results. The reports produced go into a huge amount of detail, providing more information about why we are getting low scores in certain areas. This allows us to have a better understanding of where and why problems are occurring. It is particularly useful for web developers. For example, Sitemorse will report issues with incorrect HTML tags or missing images referred to in the CSS.

One of the nice features provided by Sitemorse is a tool called ‘Snapshot’. This allows you to create unlimited on-demand reports for any webpage, this isn’t limited to pages on your domain. This allows you to do one-off scans of pages that aren’t included within the standard page scan limit.

What Siteimprove does better

One of the areas that Siteimprove does really well is the user interface. Information is represented more visually compared to Sitemorse, which makes it easier to monitor progress and quickly identify problem areas. In contrast, Sitemorse provides reports that are more text intensive, which take a little more time to fully understand and use.

All of the tools provided by Siteimprove are really intuitive and easy to use, allowing anyone to quickly understand how to use all of the features. This contrasts with Sitemorse, which has more complex tools that take longer to learn.

One feature that Siteimprove has that is missing from Sitemorse is the ability to rescan a page. Once you’ve made the necessary changes to a page you can quickly rescan the page and make sure all of the issues have been resolved. This feature isn’t available on Sitemorse – you will need to wait for the next scheduled scan for the report to be updated.

Why we choose Sitemorse

There is an overlap in the services that both companies provide, but we felt that while it does take a little more time to get familiar with how Sitemorse works, it is worth the extra initial effort for the greater level of confidence and more in-depth analysis that it provides.

Support call audit 2016

Earlier this year my colleague Peter and I audited the support calls our team received in the first six months of 2015. We wanted to see if there were any particular areas where issues were reoccurring, using the results to help us work proactively to reduce those issues. Over those six months we received around 600 calls and discovered that a large percentage were calls requesting content edits to our web site.

Now that the first six months of 2016 have passed we thought it would a good idea to audit the support calls that we received during this period and compare the results with the previous audit. Continue reading “Support call audit 2016”

Standardising the use of Google Maps

Look through the University’s website and you’ll find that there’s a wide variety of map styles being used. With things like map size, marker colour, how marker information is displayed (information window) and many other features varying throughout the site.

Standardisation

Most of the maps on our site are already using Google Maps but they all seem to be different in some way or another. There are also a handful of maps that use other providers such as Bing and Streetmap, there are even a couple of pages where an image of a map is being used or where users have to download a PDF version of a map.

This variation led us to the decision to create a new standardised map style so that all of our maps will have a consistent look and feel, and work in the same way across the whole site. To achieve this we developed a new map pattern for our digital pattern library. With our new pattern we have created a map with a standard height and width, marker colour and information window.

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An example of how our Google map design would be used on a school site.

Easy to use

One of the main challenges we faced when creating the new map pattern was to make sure that its implementation would be as easy as possible for both developers, creating applications or web pages, and content editors.

To achieve this we decided to make the pattern have the ability to use either internal or external data for the map marker locations. Using external data allows us to can keep all of the map function and style code separate from the location data. This way, non-technical minded users can update location information without having to search through complicated code, this is especially useful when using maps within our content management system. On the other hand, internal location data can be use when developing standalone applications or where location data doesn’t need to changed.

Mobile friendly

Another one of the main challenges was to make sure that our design was responsive. With more and more people using mobile and tablet devices to access the internet we had to make sure that our maps would work on a wide range of devices and still maintain a consistent look and functionality. We also had to make sure that the map didn’t take up the whole screen on a mobile device. If it did take up the whole screen the user could end up being trapped on the map unable to scroll through the rest of the page.

google-maps-feature

These issues were resolved by using the Bootstrap framework. The design for our new website uses this framework so we were able to use Bootstrap classes to ensure our map design resizes itself based on the screen size of the device that’s being used to view it.

The new BBC micro:bit computer

One million school children in the UK will soon be receiving their own computer without having to pay a single penny. The BBC, in collaboration with 29 partner organisations, has recently begun the delivery of its new microcomputer, the BBC micro:bit, a pocket-sized computer which will be given to every school child in year 7 (S1 in Scotland) across the UK for free. They’re also planning on making the device commercially available in the near future so older kids like me can have a go too.

bbc micro bit

Continue reading “The new BBC micro:bit computer”

Fixing broken links using Siteimprove

We’ve all encountered the frustration of clicking on a link and instead of the expected content, ‘404 not found’ appears. Broken links are an unavoidable part of today’s internet as websites change their infrastructure and old pages get replaced. This is where Siteimprove comes in.

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Siteimprove provides a number of online tools that help you to better manage and maintain your website through content quality assurance, web accessibility, analytics, SEO and response monitoring. Continue reading “Fixing broken links using Siteimprove”

Benchmarking university websites

We wanted to benchmark our website against other university websites, both within the UK and worldwide to see how we compare with things like responsive design, intranet usage and standardised school sites.

To do this I visited the websites for each Scottish, top 100 UK (The Completed University Guide) and top 50 world (Time Higher Education) universities. A similar study was done in 2013, by my colleague Stephen Evans, allowing us to compare the results to see how university websites have changed in the last few years. Continue reading “Benchmarking university websites”

Learning web development using Codecademy

When I decided that web development was the type of job I wanted to do, I searched online to find a resource that could help improve my development skills. This was when I first discovered Codecademy.

Codecademy offers an online learning experience that’s free, interactive and different to most other tutorial web sites. The site currently has 16 courses teaching users a range of web development and programming skills with more courses being added regularly.

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Each course runs through a series of detailed interactive tutorials allowing you to learn by doing. This allows you to pick up skills quickly compared to other tutorials where you need to read or watch the lesson before attempting it yourself. Every lesson has a task to complete before you can progress to the next one, these tasks can be completed while reading through the lesson and feedback is provided instantly as you type, there’s also a useful help section within each lesson if you get stuck. Each section within the course usually  starts by showing you the end product for that section, this can look a little daunting at first but it soon becomes clear as you work through each of the lessons.

Codecademy won’t turn you into a programming ninja but it does teach you the basics, giving you a good base to delve deeper into the world of web development.