Dave Hoernig

Director of Software Engineering

What is a Canonical URL and Why Should I Care?

A canonical URL or “canonical link” is an HTML element that helps search engines avoid the appearance of duplicate content. It does this by identifying a preferred version of a web page. Using canonical URLs improves your site’s SEO and makes searching the site easier for your visitors. The canonical link appears in the head section of a web page and looks like this:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.yoursite.com/page-path/page-title/” />

How it works

Imagine you’re throwing a party at your home and you provide directions to your guests. (I recognize that nowadays people will just plug your address into their navigator, but my father refuses to use such technology and still prefers written directions and paper maps.) Knowing that your guests will be coming from different starting points, you provide a different set of directions whether they are coming from the north, east, south, or west. Each set of directions presents a differt route, but each ends up at your house.

Now consider that you publish a news story to your website, and your website allows your visitors different paths to get to news stories. One path may be to navigate to a menu choice “News” and click the link to your story. Another might be to click a link from a section titled “Latest News” on your home page. A third might be that your visitor navigated to some other page and saw the link to your news story in a side bar of related content. This could result in three different URLs:

No matter how visitors navigate to your news story, they will end up reading the same content, even if the URL and the appearance of the web page around the storyare different based on how they got there. Likewise, the different directions you offer your party guests will result in them all arriving at your home regardless of which route they took. The directions you provided your guests are like your web pages and your home address is like the canonical URL! There are different ways to get there, but only one home. Following through with the news story example, each of the pages above should have the same canonical URL. It might look like this:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.yoursite.com/news/archives/story-title/” />

Search engines crawl through links on your site just like humans only [very much] faster. That means that Google will find all three paths to your news story just as visitors will. Should it show all three results? No, instead when it sees the canonical URL – common to all three pages – Google presents that one. In doing so, Google avoids the appearance of duplicate content and your website visitors are not confused by multiple links to the same story. That’s why canonical URLs are important.

Historical footnote

The canonical link element was introduced in 2009 by consensus among the major search engines Google, Yahoo! and Bing. It was formally added as an HTML standard in 2012 and is now an expected feature of all modern content management systems.

 

Elaine Heinzman

Content Strategist and Information Architect

Creating Savvy Surveys for Better Member Feedback

Conference Attendee Feedback Here in the D.C. metro area, midsummer means high tourist season — and the middle of convention-planning season. Several of our association clients are ramping up for their annual conventions in August, September, or October, and that planning includes the convention post-mortem: Association staffs return home and look to their members, sponsors, and vendors to see what went right–and wrong–at this year’s meeting.  

Associations Now recently shared ideas for questions that are often missing from post-convention surveys. As someone who’s attended conferences on user experience, content strategy, and journalism, I’d love it if the folks behind the conventions would prompt us attendees with more specific questions about why we even went in the first place. Associations Now says the reason we go is primarily “to make connections and get practical ideas that [we] can implement once [we’re] back in the office,” but is that always the case?

Here are some other suggested questions that can help to give your organization better insight:

  • What were your top goals heading into the conference? Encourage attendees to get specific about why they registered in the first place or what they wanted to achieve, like sitting in on a certain workshop, learning about a new tool, or getting warm introductions to potential clients.
  • How well were you able to meet those goals? Do attendees express frustration about missing multiple sessions because they were programmed within the same time slot? Did they have a hard time getting into a really crowded happy hour event? The answers here can give you insight into how you might adjust the schedule for next time.
  • What sessions/events did you find the most useful for your goals? For making connections with people? These questions drill down into what worked and what didn’t. If a once-popular event drew little traffic this year, it’s time to rethink repeating it next year.
  • What were the most meaningful conversations that you had? What were the most meaningful connections that you made? These questions can be a way to get the pulse on what people were most interested in or concerned about. Maybe it’s an industry-wide issue, or maybe it was a subject specific to the convention.

To make it easier for people to answer these questions, make sure to create boxes that allow a greater number of characters (for the more long-winded respondents) and that use a larger, sans serif font.

And it’s always nice to offer an incentive for folks to complete the survey, like a discount code for a webinar or a chance to a win free or discounted conference registration for next time.

What other questions do you think should always be asked post-conference?

Alan Gunn

Programmer

Tracking To Do Items In CF Comment Code using CFEclipse TODO

CFEclipse TODO tasks and custom tasks

While developing applications I’m always dumping code to the screen in order to troubleshoot, and CFEclipse TODO makes this more convenient for me.

The TODO feature allows you to track items on your “to-do list” in the comments of your code.

Example of CF comment code

In the task-list view, you can track and view any comment that contains the string TODO:. From the task view you can double-click on the task, and the relevant file will open up in the editor.

CF Task list

Another powerful feature with CFEclipse tasks is the ability to create custom tasks. I’ve created a custom task, CFDUMP:, with a high priority (Note the red exclamation point in above task list).

As in the case of TODO:, you can track and view in the task-list view any comment that contains the string CFDUMP:.

CF Comment string

Now I can keep track of all the code dumps I have in my code, which lets me remove them before an application is passed off to the client for review.

I hope this quick review makes it easier for you to start creating and tracking your tasks.

Dave Hoernig

Director of Software Engineering

Farewell Google Site Search, Hello Google Custom Search Engine

Google wouldn’t be Google if it wasn’t shaking things up with its products and offerings. The latest shake up? Sunsetting the Google Site Search.

As you may have heard, over the course of the next year, Google Site Search will be discontinued, leaving in place Google’s Custom Search Engine (CSE), which will continue to be ad-supported. As of April 1, 2017 Google has stopped selling licenses and renewals for the Google Site Search, and will completely phase it out by April 1, 2018.

What are the differences between the old Site Search and the Custom Search Engine? The biggest, notable differences are that:

  • Ads are required. Google will, however, make exceptions for 501(c)(3) organizations.
  • Google branding is required with the new search version, and cannot be disabled, even for 501(c)(3) organizations.
  • There are monthly search query limits, so if you are running a high-traffic website there is a chance that the search will stop working once you hit your limit.

Wondering what this means for your organization and your website’s site search if you are a Google Site Search user?

Nothing, until your current Google Site Search license expires. You will continue to have access to the Google Site Search and your implementation and settings will stay the same until your license expires. At that time, Google will automatically convert your site search to the ads-supported CSE version and the changes mentioned above will take effect.

If you are a 501(c)(3), are okay with the Google branding on your site search, and have a relatively low site search usage on your website, the transition to CSE should continue to meet your needs. Once you are converted, you will simply need to disable the ads and should also be prepared to provide Google’s legal team with proof of your 501(c)(3) status, if requested. Pretty simple.

If you’re concerned that Google CSE won’t meet your needs, always keep in mind that there are other options on the market. For example, we’ve implemented the Searchblox and Solr site searches for our clients with excellent results. In fact, I recently spoke with CEO Joanna Pineda about why we love the SearchBlox site search so much. If you’re interested in what other options are available to you, please reach out! We’d love to work with you to find the perfect solution for you organization.

Have you been switched to the Custom Search Engine yet? What are your thoughts?

Elaine Heinzman

Content Strategist and Information Architect

Designing for Users with Autism

Website design and usage is getting more challenging for a lot of us. In addition to more older Americans accessing the internet via smartphones only, more young people than before are living with diagnosed cognitive disabilities like autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says affects 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls.

Researcher Cheryl Cohen recently shared those numbers in a UXDC Conference session about web accessibility for teens and adults with autism that I was able to attend back in April. Cohen gave an overview of the cognitive traits that can affect users with autism and some recommendations for improving websites and apps to better meet their needs. This was very eye-opening to me!

What should we know about autistic users, and how can we design websites and apps to give them the best user experience? Here are the considerations and solutions that Cohen shared:

  • Contextual misunderstanding: Whether presented in words or in imagery, idioms and metaphors can be confusing to some people with autism.
    • Use more intuitive, less symbolic icons. Include descriptive text, which helps improve SEO, too.
    • When you’re writing for your website, keep the language simple. This might include shorter sentences or a conversational tone.
  • Visual processing: When looking at a lot of information all on one screen, some with autism become confused or distracted. So they simply focus on one specific item and ignore the rest of the page.
    • More white space, more visuals. Too much stuff crammed onto a screen distracts users and can add unnecessary steps to an otherwise simple task.
    • Fewer words, more bulleted lists. Large blocks of text make it difficult to find and focus on what is most important on a page.
    • Does your website feature rapid animation only viewable by Flash player? Get rid of it. It’s hard to look at and process fast-moving visuals.
  • Auditory processing: From voices to machines to their environment, some people with autism focus equally on multiple sound sources.
    • Sound quality matters. If your audio content or videos feature muddy or distorted sound, someone with autism will have a harder time discerning voices.
    • Captions improve comprehension. Mentally matching the sound they’re hearing with the images they’re seeing can be more difficult for a person with autism. Add captions to your videos and images as often as possible.
  • Different way of mentally organizing items: Inconsistencies can make it challenging for a person with autism to use web interfaces, especially if that person has trouble getting past mistakes or exceptions within a website.  
    • Watch how you design forms. In Cohen’s research, she found that teens with autism had a hard time filling out web-based forms. The biggest culprit? Inconsistent spacing between labels and input boxes.

The teens she interviewed and observed will, perhaps, grow up to become members of our clients’ organizations — but at the very least, they will be, or already are, consumers and users of other online content and resources. Improving accessibility for these users improves the digital experience for all users, so why not always design with these user needs in mind?

To learn more about designing for those with cognitive challenges, check out these resources from the good folks at Web Accessibility in Mind

Are you considering these factors when designing web or apps? What other specific user accessibility considerations have you come across that improve the UX for all users?