• Trouble Shooting Tech Issues: Don't Be in the Dark in the Digital Age

    by Miles Grundy | Sep 20, 2019

    The Digital Age



     I'll be the one to state the obvious: Times are moving toward technology. 

    Whether you are in the tech industry or not, it's essential in what some are calling the 'Age of Technology' or 'Digital Age' to have a basic understanding of the electronic tools you use on a daily basis. How often are you working in front of a screen? Chances are, you will spend the majority of your time utilizing technology in some way, shape or form. 

    Let's face it, we are all staring at screens. All. The. Time. A lot of the time it is a web page or application that relies on the internet to provide you value. Whether you use the Internet for your job or for leisure, it is important to understand how the technology you use works so you can effectively troubleshoot various problems and know how to effectively communicate technological issues when reaching out to tech support. 

    When you encounter issues such as slow loading times, images not showing up, error codes, or not being able to log in, etc., it can get quite frustrating. Especially when you don't know why. If you have a basic understanding of how the Internet works, you may be able to troubleshoot certain issues yourself, saving time and money. If you can't resolve it without reaching out to technical support, you will at least have the basic knowledge to communicate the issues better to your support team’s staff. 

    Why You Should Know the Basics

    Imagine yourself vacationing to a foreign country for two weeks, let's just say Spain, for example. You land at the airport and need to navigate your way to your hotel. You walk around, and *you guessed it* every sign you encounter is in Spanish and everyone around you is also speaking Spanish (depending on the area you are visiting). If you don't know at least a few commonly used key words and phrases such as "please," "thank you," "public transportation," or even "where is the nearest restroom?," you may struggle a bit while you are trying to reach your destination. 

    While some Spaniards do speak English, many don't. With a language barrier, it is difficult to ask for help or, for that matter, communicate at all. You don't need to be fluent in Spanish like a native speaker, especially if you are only there for two weeks, but you do need to know basic words in order to make your trip run smoothly. 

    Just like Spanish, German, and French are languages, each software product and website are comprised of various programming languages. If you are managing a website, you will want to understand a little bit of those languages, specifically HTML, or the “bones” of a website. Especially, when you are trying to communicate your problem to a support team. We suggest Codacademy.com if you want to learn the basics of HTML or become familiar with technical terms and phrases such as “Link,” “Heading 1,” “URL,” and more.

    How the Internet Works

    Ahh, the Internet. What a time to be alive! We have an unlimited source of information right at our fingertips, and it is incredible! Anyone alive before the 90's knows the huge impact the Internet had in the world we live in and has been lucky enough to watch it grow and transform into what it is today. 

    This may not be a surprise to you, but 81% of American adults claim to use the Internet on a daily basis. But how many actually know how it works? If you do, you are one of only 10% of people who understand the basics of the Internet. Former Google CEOEric Schmidt once said, "the Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't understand." 

    So if everyone uses it, why doesn't everyone understand it? Simply put: you don't technically need to. Developers and Engineers dedicate their lives to create user-friendly programs, websites and software, so you don't have to. When you look at the pretty user interface, it is easy to forget that behind that website is thousands of lines of code that tell the browser to make it look and act a certain way. But, like any great man-made tool, sometimes it malfunctions. A brief understanding of how the Internet works is essential when troubleshooting any issues you come across. 

    In broad terms according to Merriam-Webster, the Internet can be defined as an "electronic communications network that connects computer networks and organizational computer facilities around the world." This means that this massive global network allows anyone to access the Web or share files and data from any computer or device. 

    There is a complex routing service that the Internet uses in order to ensure that the data reaches the appropriate destination. Web addresses you visit such as www.google.com, www.Amazon.com and www.vtcus.com appear user-friendly thanks to a DNS system (Domain Name System), which maps your devices unique IP addresses (a combination of numbers that the Internet uses to identify your device) to a less complex domain name (Google, Amazon, vtcus). Your browser, such as Google Chrome, Firefox or Safari, is a program that allows you to access the Internet and handles this communication for you. When you navigate to a web page, your web browser makes a request to the appropriate server for the website’s information and displays it in a way that you can understand. A server is simply another computer on the Internet that stores the files for the website and provides them when prompted.

    When A User Makes a Request Over the Internet



     Click 'here' for a 5-minute video explaining how the Internet works in further detail. 

    The communication between servers and your devices can only take place with the use of protocols, which are rules that dictate how these computers communicate with one another. The most common protocol is HTTP. HTTP, or hypertext transfer protocol, sets rules so that your computer understands the request you are trying to make and allows us to view websites through a web browser. To access, view and navigate web pages, your browser sends individual requests to the web servers, which receive and acknowledge each request. If the page exists, your browser will receive the HTML and other code from the server to display that webpage to you. For the browser to display the user-facing page, it reads the code, and interprets it to be something that we understand.


    You may be familiar with a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) that you find at the top of the screen when in a web browser. There are a couple components to a URL: the scheme, the host, the path, and the query string. For example, here is a URL: https://www.google.com/search?q=how+to+code. The scheme identifies the protocol (http), the host is where you will find the domain (google.com), the path is where you will find the path to the desired resource within the website from the home page (/search), and the query string is used to provide additional information and parameters to the web application for further instruction. Query strings will follow a question mark in the URL (?q=how+to+code). Briefly knowing how this works can sometimes lead you to the root of your problem. 

    Parts of a URL



    HTML is the language, which tells your browser what the structure of page should look like. Styling of the page is read from the CSS, or cascading style sheets, which tells the browser what the elements on the webpage should look like cosmetically. CSS files are linked in the html and essentially is what gives the web page a user-friendly look and feel. Then, a scripting language, JavaScript, tells the browser what the page should do, making the page interactive. Scripting languages are a bit more complex, but there are many free resources online to learn more. 

    HTML of ASTS Organization



    What Happens When You Remove CSS


    CSS example: Here is the ASTS (American Society or Transplant Surgeons Foundation) website with and without CSS applied.  


    Troubleshooting Issues  

    The website you are managing is not working as it should or does not load at all. Before you get frustrated, smash your computer, and immediately reach for your phone to contact technical support, you need to first try some basic troubleshooting on your own. First, you need to identify where the issue is coming from. Could it be an issue on your computer or device, the software, or could it be an issue with the website or systems that work with the website? This is when understanding the basics of the Internet comes in handy. 

    Often times there are multiple integrated systems working together within a website to achieve the desired website functionality. For example, a website for a given Association might have a CMS (Content Management System), AMS (Association Management System) and CRM (Customer Relationship Management). Each system is important for managing specific data, but none of them do everything. That is why they are integrated. The systems pull data from one another and seamlessly create an ideal platform for you to enjoy.

    However, with multiple systems in play, your basic understanding the Web and what goes into it will be crucial when discovering where the problem may lie. Use your best judgement to pinpoint where the issues are occurring by examining what website or page the problem is on. This will help determine which technical support team to reach out to.

    If it turns out that tech support does need to be contacted, the communication between you and your friendly tech support staff will need to be clear so that they can help troubleshoot the problem. 

    Before you contact your support team, be sure to check a couple things: 
    • If you are having trouble logging in somewhere, first, you need to ask yourself the sometimes overlooked, but most obvious question: Did you recently change anything (including your password) that would cause this issue? If so, there is usually a "Forgot my Password" button that allows you to change your password. This may fix your issue. There could also be an issue with the SSO (Single Sign-On), which means you would need a back-end developer to look into it.
    • You can determine if the issue is a hardware or software problem? Meaning is it your computer or device causing the issue or is it the site or program? For example, check your network connection.
    • Did I try refreshing the page? We would suggest “Hard Refreshing” if you do not see a change on the website that you recently made. This can be done on most browser with Ctrl+Shift+R.
    • Are you receiving an error code? Most servers use a standard set of error code which can help narrow down or identify the issue. Read more about error codes 'here'. 
    • Make sure you have the correct URL of the website you are trying to reach.
    • Make sure your computer is up to date. As bigger programs and data intensive websites advance, your devices will need to advance with them. It is a common misconception that old devices can run the same as a new device, but it definitely can't.
    • Make sure your firewall is not blocking the traffic of the intended website. Here is a link with instructions on how tell if a firewall is blocking a website.
    • Make sure you have permission to access the page you are trying to view.
    • Try restarting your computer.
    • Lastly, recreate the issue in different browsers to see if it could be caused by a certain browser.

    Contacting Tech Support 

    You went through all the preliminary and necessary steps to troubleshoot the issue on your own, but you are still stuck. Now is the time to bring in tech support. It is crucial to provide the tech support staff with any and all information you know about the issue. So, how do you properly describe an issue if you do need to take the issue to tech support? Here are a couple key questions to ask yourself as you communicate the issue:

    • What are the symptoms?
    • What do you suspect the issue is based on the symptoms and previous knowledge?
    • What did you do to try to resolve the issue?
    • Can you provide the support technician with a way to exactly replicate the issue? If you can, take detailed notes on how you were able to do so. If you can’t recreate the issue, your web vendor likely will not be able to either.
    • Can you provide the exact place or URL where the issue occurred?
    • Can you provide account information (username/password) if needed to recreate the issue?

    Most importantly, share screenshots or video of you encountering the issue (that include the URL). In addition to describing the issues, this gives your support staff a visual of what exactly you are seeing when the problem occurs and is very helpful when troubleshooting. 

    Happy Troubleshooting! 

    As we mentioned, the Internet is a powerful tool. All the information you ever need to know is at your fingertips. However, you need to know what questions to ask in order to find the solution to your problem. If you encounter an issue, many times you can simply ask Google (or your preferred search engine). If you understand technical terminology and how the Internet works, you are more likely to find the solution to the issue. Chances are, someone, somewhere has encountered the same problem and also looked to the Internet to resolve the issue. You just need to know what you're looking for. 

    If all else fails, your technical support team will be there to save the day! If you can let them know the exact steps you took initially to troubleshoot the issue, not only will they be impressed but they will be better able to resolve the issue. We promise! 
  • Client Showcase: AACOM Digital Resource Library

    by Amanda Albert | Mar 08, 2019

    Vanguard Technology and The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) recently launched the UME-GME digital resource library. The digital resource library was created to include resources for undergraduate medical education (UME) and graduate medical education (GME). The library includes a collection of various resources by format types, such as; on-demand webinars, online courses, upcoming events, instructional videos, textbooks, and much more.

     

    By utilizing existing Sitefinity CMS tools, such as news and event content types, Vanguard Technology developed a custom search mechanism to allow for the searching of such resources. The search mechanism's search index can accept a keyword with a combination of "all terms," or an "exact phrase," giving the end-user complete control of their search terms. Website visitors can also use the implemented custom date range selector to view resources that have been recently published by specific dates.

     

    The digital resource library is driven by Sitefinity taxonomy, which is categories and tags, and allow AACOM Sitefinity administrators with full control over which items the library should include. In order to rate the quality of resources that the library display's, Vanguard also implemented a rating system, similar to what you might find on e-commerce websites with the purpose of allowing website visitors the ability to rate a resource using a 5-star rating system.

     

    If your association is interested in developing a resource-based tool for its members or if you would like to learn more about our website search philosophy, please connect with your Vanguard project manager or client service manager.
  • Tips for Creating the Best User Experience

    by Amanda Albert | Feb 14, 2019

    Five points to chew on when making your website more effective at being user friendly.

    Before diving right in, I want to point out that a website's experience doesn't exist in a "binary scale." Although we often use the words "good" and "bad" as easy-to-understand buckets for problems that a website may have, oftentimes, the "good-ess" (or lack-thereof) of a website doesn't doesn't always neatly fall into one of these buckets.

    Over time, I have begun to see choices and elements of a website as "less effective" or "more effective" for the audiences in question. It may go without saying, but even if we were to create 101 personas to inform our decisions when creating a website, there would likely be a tiny handful of people that still have a bad experience. Remember that there will always be edge cases that no matter how hard you prepare for, you may miss.

    But that doesn't mean we don't try to cover all of our bases.

    The following five points are "food for thought" when it comes to crafting a *more effective* user experience.

     

    1. Can you explain yourselves to a five-year-old?

    No, really. Can you? While getting my master's degree (in a field only tangentially related to design) my favorite professor would continually grill us to explain complex concepts as simply as we could. "If you can't explain it to a five-year-old, do you really know what you're talking about?"

    When I began to study UX/UI design, this sentiment was echoed by my instructors: "Can your grandma come to your website and know how to navigate? Know what your product is? Interact with your designs?"

    The more streamlined, simple, and clear you can craft your experience and your product, the less confusion, frustration, and annoyed users there will be.

     

    2. Scrolling isn't the problem, it's the journey.

    Nowadays, with ipads, ipods, touch screens, and almost every mouse having a scroll wheel, the act of scrolling down a page is not tough to do. Consider how long we may scroll down our Twitter timelines or Instagram feeds. Infinite scrolling has become a design pattern that isn't unfamiliar to us anymore! Scrolling is not an issue. It's how content is laid out that can push users to sigh and close that window.

    Using the right typography, the right combination of headers, sizes, and colors, all play a part in how your content is presented to users. If they get bored scrolling down a page that is meant for them and actually has good content for them, it's now a fault of the presentation of said content.

    We open presents regardless of the wrapping paper because we're expecting something delightful. We don't eat food that looks unappetizing because we're not sure of how it tastes. Users won't likely read through a giant wall of text unless we can lead and/or show them that's worth their time to do so.

     

    3. Create effective contrast.

    Typography, size, placement, and color; these all play a part together in crafting and presenting your content. But we can't just throw these onto a page and hope that it comes together well. If the shades of your colors are too close, then nothing stands out. If the shades are too far apart, it may be straining on the eyes. Is your font too big or too small? Are the line lengths too long or too short? If so, you're already likely hindering your users.

    The key here isn't necessarily balance, but how you can help certain elements stand out on a page. Headers and call-out text should stand out. Use effective sizes, and font weights to do so. Use your accent color for call-to-actions, and don't have too many CTA's to a page; your user doesn't need more tough decisions to make.

    A good way to see if your page has effective contrast is to zoom out, squint, and then see what stands out. If there are too many elements competing with each other when you do this, you may need to reduce what's calling for a user's attention. If you don't see anything that stands out, he'll probably get lost and probably needs some direction.

    If you take this point and combine it with the first point, some UX/UI Designers will tell you to have only one major call to action per a page. This isn’t an end-all, be-all commandment, but something to keep in mind if your content is looking a bit cluttered.

    Help your users get to where they need to go - use effective contrast.

    4. Show who you are.

    Before we get to the last point, I want to use number four to encourage everyone reading this to simply be human, and to share some pictures of your staff or your events. Websites are too often filled with stock imagery that doesn’t even fit, or completely void of any human faces. We don’t need another photo of over-the-top smiling faces around a conference and we certainly don’t need another website that just wants us to sign up, and get involved with a faceless machine. I’m not going to say, “use testimonials” or, “hire a professional photographer” but, I will say: utilize your website, your user experience, to sincerely connect with your users. They’ll remember you more for it, I can almost guarantee it.

    5. If users like what they see, they’ll engage with it.

    The last point may seem simple enough, but too often organizations don’t let their products speak for themselves. Yes, it’s good to craft content so that a grandma or a five-year-old could understand what we’re selling, but even my two-year-old daughter knows when I’m trying to bribe her with gummy vitamins to get into the bathroom for bath time.

    If we’ve crafted easy to understand content, presented ourselves and our products clearly, effectively taken the users on a journey, then what we’re showing them should speak for itself. This isn’t to say that we don’t show the benefits of what we’re doing, or even point out ways in which users may save money or time, but if we’ve really done a good job presenting ourselves clearly, they’ll see the value in who we are, how we’ve presented ourselves, and what we’re offering: and they’ll get involved.

  • Client Showcase: The ESOP Association and AMS Integration Success

    by Amanda Albert | Feb 08, 2019

    Today’s modern associations require many different systems to work together to deliver value to their members. There are a variety of different systems out there, such as:

    • Learning Management Systems (LMS)
    • Community Management Systems
    • Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

    However, not all of these systems are necessary for every organization. Most associations only need to use two:

    • Association Management System (AMS) – Typically a database system that allows staff to manage the association’s membership information, products, and other records. Most AMSs also provided some web access to end users so that they can login/logout, update their information, and purchase products.
    • Content management System (CMS) – The control system behind the association’s website and used by the staff to make updates to marketing information and member resources (ex. Sitefinity).

     

    Each system provides its own benefits can bring value to an organization and members. Traditionally each system would remain as its own entity detached from the others. While this method is easy to understand and manage, it does not provide a good experience for the staff and members who have to interact between all of these systems. The largest issues that appear are:

    • Users needing to login to each system individually and needing to remembering many login credentials.
    • More work for staff as they have to duplicate content across systems so that information between them stays consistent.
    • Confusion on what system to go to for specific information.
    • Disjointed look between systems.

     

    To address these issues, Vanguard has developed many solutions where these systems can begin to talk and share information with one another.

     

    The New ESOP Association Website

     

    The ESOP Association, a longtime client of Vanguard Technology, embarked on rebuilding of their website. Their goal was not only to redesign the website but to find a better way to promote national and local events. It is through these events and the products that they sell that The ESOP Association generates revenue through the website. The old process of displaying events on the website was tedious. The staff would create an event or product in their AMS (iMIS) and then create the same event on the website. This caused not only double work for the staff but an additional click for the user to get to the registration page. Vanguard saw this as an opportunity to create custom functionality to have the AMS and website share certain information to eliminate these issues.

     

    Single Sign-On (SSO)

    Vanguard created an SSO with the iMIS RiSE platform. Whenever a user needs to login to either system, they will be redirected to the RiSE login page. Upon successfully logging in, the user is then returned to page they were previously viewing but logged into both systems. This way the user has access to both systems through only one login and set of credentials. The SSO also has an additional feature. Upon logging in, iMIS provides the website with a small amount of that user’s data, such as ID number, name, and their level of membership. This data allows The ESOP Association to lock pages, documents, and other content on the website to only be accessible certain users and provides a personalized welcome message to the user.

     

    Website Skin

    A website skin consists of the header and footer of a website without the content in the center. The content in the center is added by the AMS. Vanguard created a skin for The ESOP Association’s RiSE pages so that they have the same look and feel. With the website skin in place on the AMS pages a user has the same web experience even though they may be navigating between the two systems.

     

    Event & Product API

    Vanguard created and modified existing Sitefinity widgets to pull data from the AMS and display it on the website. Once a night, typically when traffic to these systems are at their lowest, a service runs to pull event and product data from the AMS. This service does not pull all of an event’s or product’s information but just some of the important information like title, price, and (most importantly) category. These records are then updated and saved on the website. Therefore, the information displayed on the website is always up to date and also prevents the staff from needing to enter this information into each system individually. This not only provides a cost and time savings but provides additional flexibility. The ESOP Association staff can configure the event or product widgets on a particular page to only show certain content due to receiving the category information for that item. For example, the Illinois chapter page only shows chapter events (versus other events like national events or sponsorship events) and only events that apply to the Illinois chapter.  The staff only needs to configure this widget once and it will always show the applicable information. Lastly, this feature benefited users who now simply click on the event on the website and are brought directly to the registration page instead on the AMS instead of an intermediate page on the website.

     

    As demonstrated by The new ESOP Association website, building features that integrate systems together provide benefits for all users. The more integration, the more the experience is enhanced. This is especially true for front-end users where additional integration can deliver a more personalized experience. The sky is the limit with these features and Vanguard is continuing to search for new and innovative ways to enhance the experience of every user.

  • 5 Huge Reasons Your Association Should Use Video Content in 2019

    by Chris Bonney | Feb 05, 2019
    iStock-639309858

    The case for incorporating video into your association's marketing plans is difficult to refute in 2019. The numbers are in and they are promising.

    Aberdeen Group says:
    • Video marketers get 66% more qualified leads per year
    • Video marketers achieve a 54% increase in brand awareness
    Animoto’s Social Video Forecast suggests that 76.5% of marketers and small business owners are getting results with video marketing.

    Other recent stats show:
    • 83% of those using video think it gives them a good ROI
    • 82% think it’s a key part of their strategy
    • Of those that aren’t using video, 73% have bought a product after watching a video
    • 97% of businesses using explainer videos say it helps users understand their business better
    • 94% of businesses see video as an effective tool
    • Among those surveyed, 81% saw an increase in sales and 53% said support calls were reduced
    Our clients are regularly asking us about the best ways to engage members and to increase return visits to their website. Video is always part of our answer. 

    Here are 5 huge reasons why video can be the answer for your member engagement challenges. 

    1. Creates engagement

    As the numbers above imply, video creates a reason to view and a reason to stay...and also a reason to return to see what's next. 

    2. Explains what words can't

    If a picture is worth a thousand words, then video must be worth a million words. "Explainer" videos are one of the most impactful methods of illustrating something to a user. Whether it's member benefits, event attendee testimonials, online training or the reasons behind recent organization decisions, video has been proven to be the best method to get your point across.

    3. Evokes emotion

    You want your members to have a connection with your association. Creating a relevant, meaningful video that tugs at the heart strings is a great way to do that. And if you strike just the right chord, the video could be shared again and again, creating a nice gateway into potential future members. 

    4. Becomes an event

    Live video broadcasts are more and more commonplace. If you have some ideas for education or information-sharing but aren't sure a national or even local event are the right venues, consider doing a live broadcast and sharing it with the world. You can record it for future views. It's a great way to bulk up your Facebook page's content quality in the process.

    5. Enhances the mobile experience

    According to eMarketer, 75% of all online video viewing happens over mobile. Give your members a reason to pull up your website when they're in line at Starbucks. Be known as a great place for industry information. Video is a perfect fit. 

    We can't mention video without also mentioning accessibility. Make sure videos you post to your website have captioning for the hearing impaired included. Lawsuits can find your doorstep if you don't. There are many cases currently - even Harvard is not exempt from ADA rules. 

    One of the primary obstacles many clients mention is the cost of video production. However, with the advent of freelance sites like Fiverr.com as well as the availability of simple and cost effective video editing software, the expense of video creation has proven not to deter those associations who find the value in it.

    Others use standalone video production facilities, like Zacuto in Chicago, to get a very professional, cost-effective and high-quality video including a full set, live editing and post-production services. 

    So, to wrap up, video is not the future. It is the now. And while many associations have waded into the shallow video waters, this is an endeavor worth diving into the deep end for - especially if you're looking for that next great member engagement tool. 

    If you have questions or want some recommendations on how best to proceed, reach out to us

     

  • When You Know It's Time To Upgrade

    by Amanda Albert | Jan 18, 2019
    Keeping your software up to date is one of the most important actions any organization can take. It's like having a car's oil changed every 3000 miles, or getting regular tune-ups for preventative maintenance on your vehicle.

    Your website CMS needs the same care to provide you with its best performance.

    Vanguard recommends upgrading your platform roughly every 18 months to ensure you are using the latest and greatest version of the software.

    Upgrade Process
    The upgrade process is not complicated for your organization. It happens in the background on a separate environment so that you and your users do not experience any interruptions.

    Upgrades take 3-4 weeks to complete, and in most cases, can be completed at a faster pace.

    We ask clients to participate in testing of the upgrade (usually takes just a couple of hours), and we also place you on a content freeze for a period of 5 days prior to the launch of the upgrade.

    Are you ready for an upgrade?
    Sitefinity released version 11 in May of 2018, so if you are running Sitefinity 8.0 or lower you are 3 or more version behind - which means you should consider upgrading in 2019.

    To find your version of Sitefinity, log in to the back-end of the system and go to Administration > Version and Licensing. Look at the line called Product Version, and this will tell you what you are currently running.

    To learn more about the most recent version of Sitefinity, or to inquire about the upgrade process, just email support@vtcus.com.

  • Even Beyonce Needs to Be Compliant

    by Amanda Albert | Jan 16, 2019

    Many website owners understand that their online presence needs to meet the compliant regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but many are unsure exactly what that means.

    Recently, Beyonce's Official website was hit with a lawsuit for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act due to the website denying visually impaired users equal access to on-site features.

    The problems one New York woman encountered, which prompted the class action lawsuit, included:
    • The website contained an exclusively visual interface
    • No Alt-Text was coded into images
    • Lack of Prompting Information on Forms
    • Denial of Keyboard Access
    • Lack of Accessible Dropdown Menu

    Every website should comply with ADA to accommodate those with disabilities, but being ADA compliant goes beyond just adhering to the law - it's ensuring you create the best on-site experience you can for EVERY user that visits. Even Beyonce needs some help in this department. 

    If you'd like to learn more about the tools that can help provide the best user experience for all your visitors AND ensure you remain ADA compliant, email us here and request more information.

  • Make A New Year's Resolution For Your Association Website

    by Chris Bonney | Jan 04, 2019

    Every year provides a fresh start and gives us an opportunity to regroup, refresh and recommit. Many create personal resolutions such as being healthy or making time for family. But what about professional resolutions?

    For web managers, the new year is also a chance to take a fresh look at their website and make resolutions to better their organization’s most visible asset. So with an eye on the future, here are our top resolutions for every staffer managing or working with their association’s website.

    Commit to Steady, Incremental Content Improvements

    Association websites are big. Huge. Colossal. Ginormous. Small association websites start at 300 pages and we’ve worked on some with 15,000+ pages and documents.

    So if you want to improve your website how do you possibly start? Well, it’s like the old adage “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time…” Or in the case of a website – one page at a time.

    Make a commitment of incremental improvements every time you edit a page or document in the site. Clean up the layout, add SEO meta data, edit the content for better web writing, or just add some relevant links. The goal is to spend 5 minutes improving each page, and over time the entire site will be improved.

    Make a resolution to improve every page or document every time you touch it and over the course of the year, you will make your entire website better.

    Get More Staff to Create Web Content

    All of your association's staff create content of some sort whether it is a press release, announcement or industry report. Whether they like it or not, they are content marketers (hence the first rule of Monica Bussolati’s Content Marketing Manifesto  – “If you are creating content, even editorial content, you are engaged in marketing.”)

    But how many of these other staff members consider themselves “web writers?” Make this the year you get more staff creating content for your website and online channels.

    Start by getting them to create web-friendly content that is written for scanning and quick reading. Then encourage them to build out their skills as a modern web manager and focus on content and quality over technology.

    Make a resolution to get help managing your association’s web content and turn it into your most powerful tool.

    Make Members the Central Mission of Your Association Website

    Every association executive says their mission is “to serve members.” Unfortunately, too many websites lack this same commitment and are built to serve the structure of the organization rather than members’ needs.

    Start by understanding that members (and potential members) visit your association website to answer questions or solve a problem. Deliver a member-focused experience that meets their needs first and engages them throughout the site.  Get started by revisiting the personas for your audiences and then publish content addressing these personas.

    Make a resolution to put your members needs first and engage them through your content.

    Create a Governance Plan

    There are 3 types of association websites:

    • The “let’s put everything on it” website with lots of buttons, links and every PDF ever published
    • The “forgotten” or “we don’t have time” website which hasn’t seen an update in months
    • The smooth running, regularly updated, easy to navigate website with fresh, relevant content and an easy to follow navigation

    What’s the difference? The third version has a Web Governance plan defining the website’s strategy, when content will be published and how those decisions are made.

    Make a resolution to put structures and policies in place so your association can have a smooth running, regularly updated website.

    What are your resolutions? What will you do differently in the new year? Now is the time to take a fresh look and commit to making a difference in your association’s website’s content, experience and management.

  • Managing Tags with Google

    by Amanda Albert | Jan 02, 2019

    Google Tag Manager is a tag management system that allows you to quickly and easily update tracking codes and related code fragments collectively known as "tags" on your website.

    Tags can be any third-party tracking scripts that you may want to run on your site. For example, if you are serving ads in your site, rather than placing the ad code directly onto your website pages, you would instead, place those tags within the Google Tag Manager interface and chose their display locations from there.

    Tag Manager is a great tool because it allows you to add javascript and various tracking code to your site without having to touch any levels of code, for the most part. You don't need to be a developer to add and manage tags with Google Tag Manager

    Google Tag Manager vs. Google Analytics
    We all know (and hopefully use!) Google Analytics - it's a powerful tracking and analytics tool offered by Google that provide invaluable insight into your sites traffic, content and overall performance.

    A common misconception is that Tag Manager is the same thing as (or the latest version of) Google Analytics. This is not the case! In actuality, Google Tag Manager is a completely separate tool.

    You can run both Google Tag Manager and Google Analytics separately and independent of each other, however, the best way to use both of these tools is together.

    The simplest breakdown of how to use these two tools is this:
    Google Tag Manger is where you set up tracking and tags, and Google Analytics is where you VIEW the results of these tags.

    Some ways in which Tag Manager and Analytics are used together:
    • Track document downloads
    • Track specific link clicks
    • Style your website with CSS
    • Track Form Submissions
    • Javascript Error Tracking
    • Adwords campaign conversions
    • Style your website with Javascript
    • Fire Remarking tags

    To learn more about Google Tag Manager, check out these external resources listed below:

    Google's Tag Manager Overview
    Bounteous Breakdown
    Introduction to Google Tag Manager

    There are also some great video tutorials out there, if you prefer a visual explanation of Google Tag Manager:

    Google Tag Manager - Step by Step
    A Comprehensive 7-Part Series on Google Tag Manager

    If you'd like help setting up Google Tag Manager, or want to gain a deeper understanding of how you can utilize this tool, simply email support@vtcus.com and we can set up a time to answer questions or conduct training with you and your team.

  • Thanks and Happy New Year!

    by Amanda Albert | Jan 01, 2019
    As we here at Vanguard begin the journey into 2019, we want to take a moment to thank all of our clients and let you know just how much we appreciate the opportunity to work with you.

    Vanguard isn't just a web development company - we're a group of passionate individuals who feel at our best when we're putting good back into the world, and we feel that by working with the association industry, we get to do just that. Helping our clients to achieve the best for their members, their cause and their association is a way for us to indirectly give back.

    We've had some very successful (and fun!) projects to tackle in 2018, and we are so looking forward to what we can do together - with all of our clients in 2019.

    Thank you all, and here's to a productive and successful 2019!

  • How To Prep Your Site For The New Year

    by Chris Bonney | Dec 12, 2018

    With the end of the year coming, we asked the Vanguard team what they thought we be good things for you to do to your website to freshen things up a bit before the new year.

    Here's what they came up with. 

    Swap out stock photography for your own images

    Get rid the tired, old stock imagery on your association’s website that can be seen on websites everywhere else on the internet. Commission new photos or take them yourself: even a smartphone camera used with care can take perfectly good images. Look for images from your most recent events or meetings. Update staff photos with new images. Be inspired by recent industry news and create new photography.  It won’t be a complete overhaul, but your website will look better immediately with the great new images.

     - Mark Havelka, Web Designer/Front End Developer

    Unpublish or delete old content in Sitefinity

    The front-end of your website is what your members will always see, but what about your content editors? What is their experience? The longer your website is live to the world, the more likely it is that it has accumulated pages that might no longer be relevant or needed.

    Spend some time cleaning up the backend of your website in Sitefinity. If you have pages that are no longer relevant, unpublish or delete them. You could even create a "Recycled Pages" section and simply drop your old pages there for further review if deleting is not an option. This will make the backend experience easier to navigate, and your content editors will be able to locate content more efficiently. 

     - Marco Roman, Content Specialist 

    Declutter and create focus on your homepage

    Your website's homepage is the front porch of your website and your chance to make a great impression with your most important message. But too many homepages are cluttered with “important” content including conferences, news, publications, things to buy and special pet-project-programs.

    Take a fresh look at your home page, figure out what isn’t necessary for that first impression and remove it. What’s the most important thing for your members to know? What is just taking up space and can be removed? Your website will sparkle with a fresh first impression.

    - Sean Norton, Client Strategist

    Old news is no news

    Go through your site and remove or unpublish events that have already passed. Also look at your association announcements and unpublish or remove announcements about those events (e.g. early bird registration, last chance to register, etc.). Nothing lets your members and website users know content is not regularly updated like a promo announcement for an event that took place last week. Keep all events and news current and topical.

     - Miles Grundy, Project Manager

    Tidy up behind the scenes

    The face of your website is what most users see. But you can do some simple work on the “engine under the hood” to keep your Sitefinity backend manageable. Review your list of backend users and disable logins belonging to former employees and adjust permissions for staff whose roles have changed. 

    Look around for backend Roles that may no longer be used to secure pages, and consider whether any Members Only content should be made open to the public to show off the value of your association's content. Finally, check for unpublished pages, content, or documents. Cleaning them up is cathartic and saves your team a few steps as they publish this year's new content.

     - Amanda Albert, Client Service Manager

    Update and refresh your content taxonomy

    Many websites are using taxonomies.  Take some time to revisit your taxonomy and make sure your categories are both still relevant, up-to-date and being properly used.

    Are there new terms or subject areas that your association covers? Are there new keywords or buzzwords you can tag your content to increase its visibility and make your site more authoritative? Look to add or remove categories.

    Also take a look at your content and document libraries to make sure everything has the appropriate and relevant categories and tags applied (people get lazy and stop adding categories). What content can you re-purpose from your “vault” that’s still relevant to your audiences?

    Lastly, don’t forget to document your changes and distribute your updated taxonomy to your content creators. Get them on the same page and using your updated website taxonomy.

     - Chris Bonney, VP of Client Experience

    So What Do You Think?

    These are our suggestions for your website heading into the new year. And maybe they spark some other ideas for your team as well.

    Reach out any time at support@vtcus.com if you need anything at all. 

     
  • Why Web Accessibility Matters

    by Chris Bonney | Nov 30, 2018

    The Case for Web Accessibility

    Over 56 million people in the U.S. have some sort of disability. That's almost 20% of the population that may have difficulty accessing your association's website. 

    A Pew Research Center study found that those with disabilities are three times more likely to not go online at all compared to those without disabilities. 

    Have a job board on your site? Another study showed that only 28% of blind users can complete job applications online due to no accessibility on the site they are trying to use.

    The stats could go on and on presenting a pretty solid case as to how we are all failing those with disabilities with our non-accessible websites.

    So What Can You Do?

    There are three common standards for web accessibility:

    1. ADA
    2. 508
    3. WCAG 2.1

    The most universally accepted standard is WCAG 2.1 AA

    The challenge with meeting - then maintaining - this standard is that it first takes a herculean (expensive) effort to audit your existing site and retrofit code to make your site compliant. THEN you have to maintain that compliance by strictly maintaining and testing against standards each time you update your site. 

    We have an easier solution and a few of our clients have already taken the plunge and implemented it.

    It's called AudioEye.

    In a nutshell, AudioEye serves as a layer between your website and the end user. This layer corrects any and all accessibility issues on the fly before they reach the user. Simply put, you don't have to update or maintain code on your site to make it compliant, AudioEye does all the heavy lifting for you.



    Our client www.aacom.org is using AudioEye if you want to take a look.

    Even the FCC uses AudioEye!

    Contact Us

    If you'd like to discuss this option more for your organization, you can reach out to your client manager or simply send a notice to support@vtcus.com and we'll get back to you asap.

    - by Chris Bonney, VP of Client Experience

  • Your Association Website Is Definitely Dated, If....

    by Chris Bonney | Oct 08, 2018

    iStock-116421846

    Technology moves quickly. From best practices to legal compliance, make sure your association’s website is not coming across as old and dusty and in turn making your association seem the same. You need a site that has a modern look, great usability and awesome functionality – something your members (and staff) can be proud of.

    Here five ways to tell if your website is, in fact, dated and in need of a refresh:

    1. Poor use of imagery


    Whether it is the use of stock imagery or have a small “hero” image on your home page, a poor use of images on your site can turn back the clock quickly. Many of our clients choose to take their own pictures (or hire a photographer) over using stale, commercial photography that could be found on a multitude of sites across the Internet. Check out www.phikappaphi.org for an example of a great use of the hero area, in-house photography and, also, how they make sure the filter and treatment of each image blends well with the overall vibe color-wise of the home page.

    2. Not ADA compliant

    From PCI to GDPR, it seems like there is always one more compliance issue heading your way. But don’t underestimate the importance of complying with web accessibility standards. Those that do ignore it, may be found legally liable. Check the graph below. We provide a service called AudioEye to our clients. It solves the issue of compliance in short order and permanently. No ongoing maintenance of your site’s code required. This is what all modern websites are moving to. Don’t be the old stodgy org, left behind.

    3. Using old techniques

    Nothing is more telling that your side is old than if you’re using old, dated practices on your home page. Do you still have a navigation bar running vertically down the left side of your site? Do you have a tabbed box of options (see below) for users to ignore…er, I mean, click on? Do you have wild, animations on your home page distracting users? Are you relying on your members to pinch and zoom on their mobile phones because your site is not mobile-ready? Nothing says old like these techniques.

    4. Bad site search

    We live in a Google world. Some users will bypass your nav bar and head straight to your search box. Can your site handle it? The #1 thing our clients tell us that their members complain about is that they can’t find the content they want on the association's website. A good site search can help alleviate this a bit.

    Do you know the most searched terms on your site? Are pages optimized on your site to ensure they show up when people are looking for them? Have you re-indexed your site recently to make sure that your new content shows up? Have you archived older content to ensure it doesn’t show up any more? What about faceted (filtered) or even federated search (when you display results from other third-party products on your site) options? If you’re not serious about site search, you’re not serious about your members’ online experience. Below is an example of complex search results page we recently developed for a client.