Karine Joly No Comments

Higher ed web professionals (like you!) have often to deliver and maintain websites with limited time and resources.

In higher education, you love your tools like any other web pro, but you have to select them wisely, because you don’t have big budgets on your hands.

That’s why I asked the 12 higher ed web professionals speaking at the 2019 Higher Ed WEBSITES Conference to tell us about the favorite web tool(s) they can’t live without.

12 Higher Ed Website Tools (2019 edition)

Jira for Kimberly Charles (University of Illinois at Chicago)

Kimberly CharlesJira is an issue and project tracking tool for managing development of our custom WordPress multisite. Having been more on the content & branding side of website development, I was new to agile development and project tracking for websites/software. What has made it valuable is that it allows us to think about our project in incremental steps, with accountability and metrics to show our progress in meeting the requirements of our content managers. It provides me the opportunity to define the user requirements and needs to the developers to help them quickly understand the purpose and use of new features and functions for the platform. We can break large requests into sub-tasks, think about the amount of work/time it will take to complete them, and force us to prioritize so that we aren’t distracted by each new request.

Usabilla for Cade Whitbourn (Charles Sturt University)

Cade WhitbournAs part of our project management framework, we routinely enable Usabilla (customer satisfaction and user feedback) at key points for all new websites delivered. For example, during a recent homepage redesign process we gathered over 150 pieces of feedback from our users to inform the redesign and go-live process. Using Usabilla helps to embed feedback as an integral part of the design process, and remove the friction between UX, Development and Design. The integration with Jira means that feedback is routed directly to the right team member ensuring that action is taken quickly and efficiently.

Wrike for Courtnie Ridgway (Tarleton State University)

Courtnie RidgwayWrike is a project management software that has allowed our cross-functional team to collaborate, keep track of project progress, timelines and more in one place. The implementation of this process has allowed us to break web projects up by responsible party and add in dependencies to help streamline our conversation and new site builds. For example, if we are waiting on content from Creative Services they have an assigned task, once that task is complete I get a notification that I can begin working on the page build. We are in a central marketing office serving the entire university and are constantly balancing multiple projects. This helps us to visualize what is active, pending and delayed all in one place.

Basecamp for Joshua Charles (Rutgers Business School)

Joshua CharlesWe use a variety of tools for web ops, but my favorite is Basecamp 3. From small updates in one area of a website to large-scale website redesigns, Basecamp helps us keep track of dozens and sometimes hundreds of different tasks spread across the team. It also doubles as a communications platform making it easy to share status updates and discuss simple topics or questions, significantly reducing our reliance on costly and time-consuming meetings.

Siteimprove for Elizabeth Gray (Purdue University)

Elizabeth GrayAlthough this isn’t a new tool, I love how versatile Siteimprove is. It offers a variety of different tools to help find and fix everything from broken links to the hardest of accessibility issues. It also allows you to customize your own set of requirements so you can find content that might not follow your institution’s personal web guidelines.

However, what I really love about Siteimprove is that it has resources for both the veteran web developer and those just starting out in their web journey. I use Siteimprove as a means to quickly diagnose simple accessibility issues and quality issues. By creating a quick dashboard and providing access, I can then ask a student or staff member to go through the highlighted areas for improvements they can make.

WebAIM Color Contrast Checker for Conny Liegl (California Poly)

ConnyI love the free color contrast checker from WebAIM. Upon entering a preferred foreground and background color in hexadecimal format, this web tool will check the WCAG 2 contrast ratio and give recommendations based on level AA and AAA. I use it for both web and graphic design to make sure my color choices are accessible for all users.
There is also a separate contrast checker specific to your website link colors.

Don’t forget to evaluate the overall accessibility of your pages afterward with WAVE

Contrast for Ryan Dee (University of Nebraska–Lincoln)

Ryan DeeContrast, a macOS app, does one thing but does it so well. Compare the color contrast of any two colors on your screen with a Photoshop-style eye dropper for WCAG compliance.

If you’re in higher ed and don’t care about accessibility, you should. (Honestly, how have you gotten this far if you don’t?) This tool makes color-contrast compliance easy.

WebPageTest for Erik Runyon (University of Notre Dame)

Erik RunyonWhile neither is particularly “new”, the tools that I find indispensable when testing and building websites are Google Lighthouse and WebPageTest.

Both are great when setting and testing performance budgets, and the visual nature of WPT filmstrips are a fantastic way to show how your site performs in contrast with peers.

My honorable mention would go to Firefox Developer Edition. Its dev tools are a must when working with CSS Grid.

TinyJPG for Aaron Coleman (University of Nebraska–Lincoln)

AaronI’m not always the most up-to-date on tools, but TinyJPG, a little online app, has saved us more than enough megabytes to recommend.

A pass through this compressor will usually save me between 30-50% on file size with no visual difference in quality, and sometimes even bump clear up to 80%.

Chatbots for Stephanie Geyer (Ruffalo Noel Levitz)

Stephanie GeyerI’m intrigued by the value of AI or chatbots to support self-service on the Web. We’re just starting to study this with E-expectations and I think it is a great tool for marketers and web dev folks to pilot. Done well, I think it provides quick answers that can draw the user in for deeper exploration while fostering a sense of the institution’s commitment to supporting prospective students.

Coveo & Funnelback for Jason Buzzell (University of Nebraska at Omaha)

Jason BuzzellI’m very interested in third party site search tools like Coveo and Funnelback. Coupling things like SiteImprove or DubBot for accessibility and quality assurance with your web analytics data from Google Analytics/Tag Manager is the ultimate trifecta. That way you can tailor content, metadata and feeds together with analytics and user experience top tasks all together for the complete blended experience – regardless.

Visual Studio Code for Mike Henderson (Adams State University)

Mike HendersonI’m a big fan of Visual Studio Code. It makes my daily developer experience that much better. I have several projects going at any given time and it allows me to switch between projects quickly with workspaces. The integrated terminal is very convenient and it has a large plugin library. I recently installed PHP Code Sniffer and it has helped me to write code more closely to the WordPress coding standard. The built in source control tools make if very easy to clean up git commits and compare changes.

A conference focusing on higher ed WEBSITES?

The 2019 Higher Ed WEBSITES Conference is a must for higher ed web professionals and teams looking for inspiration, ideas and best practices to kick off their web projects.

Read below what a few of your higher ed colleagues who attended the Higher Ed WEBSITES Conference say about the experience.

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