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  1. #1
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    Review Request - Site for Teachers and Students

    Hi, Iím looking for some feedback about my site, which is about a year and a half old. It ranks reasonably well for very specific search terms, but Iím looking for ways to make my site really take off. www.conversationpieceslearning.org

    I am not a graphic designer (that will be immediately obvious), and there are a lot of inconsistent elements on pages. I thought it made more sense to ask for feedback first than to spend time making everything look uniform and then have to go back and change it up. Although the site is fairly large, I still have a lot of content to add.

    I am really open to any kind of feedback, but I am mainly curious about ways to make calls to action more engaging. Primarily, I want users to take quizzes, participate in book polls, and submit book reviews and answers to math problems. Teachers are the main audience, but students need to be able to use the site, too.

    Comments about whether users can find what theyíre looking for and if the layout is appropriate (too confusing? too cluttered? graphics that work well? graphics that should fall into an abyss and never return?) are also welcome.

    Thanks in advance!

  2. #2
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    your site is down

  3. #3
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    Thanks for making the effort to check--I have been looking forward to feedback. Can't explain why it didn't load for you--it's been up every time I check--but sorry for the inconvenience.

  4. #4
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    The site is up for me, I just got it to load and am taking a look at it here while reviewing it for you. There is plenty of content on it and I can understand how you have it ranking well for the specific search terms. It doesn't have that wow factor when you look at the home page though. I am not an expert at html or consulting so I am not exactly sure on how to get it there for you as I am not sure how to get my sites there for myself.

    I would add some more content on the home page, or words, or something to fill up the entire page. Maybe a logo or two or three or some more images to make it more eye-catching when people look at it. Your content is still going to draw searches so any change there will just add to the sticking power.

    I think the layout is straightforward, no need to go crazy organizing it a certain way. It tells you what you are going to and the content is there, good job. Overall I like it and think taking a site to the next level somewhat is going to depend on luck and/or financial resources.

  5. #5
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    Thanks very much for your ideas and input. I've gone through several different versions on the home page, but I agree, it doesn't really say "ta da!" It's more like, "okay, then." I appreciate your feedback--I'll keep thinking about it.

  6. #6
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    Hi,

    Cool ideas here! I read the first reply "site is down", then clicked the link, and saw, ah yeah, the site is down... after looking closer, the site isn't down ( ), but for me, it kind of gives that feeling it is...like those sites that are parked by someone hoping someone else will buy it.. I would add pictures. What makes a visitor STAY on your site? What makes your site DIFFERENT? What motivates someone to take a quiz? Think of that stuff on paper, then think HOW you can implement it.

    Remember how the brain works - reasoning should be listed first, not the what. Look at youtube, and search for Simon Sinke first why then trust... very interesting, and this will help you build or rebuild your site. Think like your potential customers, and build from there

  7. #7
    SitePoint Enthusiast Mediaplay1's Avatar
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    Nice website! What would be nice is 2 rows of categories one on the left and one on the right to fill in the page as there is way to much empty space on the site map page.
    When I go to Book Recommendations for students there is a big empty space in the right bottom corner and other pages have a good amount of empty space, a great place to add more text for SEO, your own little ad would even work, I love the drop down menus! you sure have a lot of content. the site certainly does not need much at all. Really great job !!

  8. #8
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    Thank you both for your thoughtful responses.

    I used to have a whole smorgasboard of pictures on the home page, and I took them out, thinking it would be better to go with the "simplicity" idea. Part of it was that I was making my graphics in PowerPoint, and the effect was disappointing, at best. I ordered a graphics/photo editing program and am looking forward to playing with that--maybe I can even make some photos work. It's helpful to hear different people have that same impression, so I can focus on solving the graphics issue there.

    Thanks for the ideas about using the space on those specific pages, too.

  9. #9
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    I replaced six text links on the home page with a "salad bar" of icon links. They're not the best graphics in the world, but they're the best I can do for now. Not sure if it's better or worse this way.

    Just wanted to post that I had made this change so that anyone reading the thread would know the suggestions above refer to a version with more text and fewer graphics.

  10. #10
    SitePoint Member frank32uk's Avatar
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    I am by no means an expert in web design but I have some suggestions for your site.

    Firstly - I noticed a gap between your Favicon and text in the browser tab. Was this intentional hence the gap in your HTML markup? Only it may look better closer together.

    Secondly - I think your domain name `http://www.conversationpieceslearning.org/' would be easier to read with hyphens separating the words ie.`http://www.conversation-pieces-learning.org/'

    Thirdly - The drop down menu is great! but I did notice the longer menus are pushing the content over to the left slightly due to the right hand scroll bar kicking in. Maybe you could find a way to narrow down the longer sub menu to prevent that.

    Other than that I liked the color scheme. The home page is pretty welcoming but lacks in some content. There is plenty of content overall though with good use of keywords.

    Keep up the good work, I enjoyed viewing your site.

  11. #11
    SitePoint Guru navyfalcon's Avatar
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    <title>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Conversation Pieces: Building
    Bright Ideas - Conversation Pieces: Building Bright Ideas Home Page</title>
    -
    Why the spaces in the title (&nbsp - they only hurt you - remove them

    - Conversation Pieces: Building Bright Ideas Home Page
    Why this - the title will take you to the home page
    -
    -
    <meta name='description' content='A resource for gifted students and their
    parents and teachers that includes book recommendations and quizzes,
    vocabulary quizzes, independent study projects, enrichment links, and more.' />
    -
    you should use a keyword suggestion tool
    http://www.keyworddiscovery.com/search.html (this one is free)
    -
    hope this helps
    falcon
    Many good Free Tutorials at:
    http://freetutorials.name

  12. #12
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    Thanks very much for the feedback. I am using a wysiwyg template, and my html knowledge is really limited, so I can't make everything behave exactly the way I want it to. One of the main things I'd like to be able to do is highlight the tab of the page you're on (this addresses your comment, navyfalcon, about the home page link). Another problem is that the site doesn't validate--the template makes a particular error where it doesn't end a certain type of line correctly, resulting in extensive errors. I have the ability to edit the html, at least.

    I have not tried the keyword suggestion tool, but I'll definitely have a look--thanks.

    I had not noticed the spaces by the Favicon or the meta title description, or considered the hyphens, so thanks very much for bringing those to my attention.

    It makes sense that my key questions are for a specific kind of audience, and that members of this site are likely to be more advanced than many of my typical site users. If anyone has recommendations about navigation, I'd love some suggestions to make that as clear as possible. I'm not really planning to change the drop down menus at the top (I know they are crazy long in some categories frank32uk--the other option in this template is to create new sub-categories within the genre menus). However, I do have a hard time knowing how much to do on the bottom of each page. I've got picture links for books of the "you might also be interested in this" variety, and I've got some text links for other categories. I also put breadcrumbs at the very bottom because they pushed the content too far down when I tried them at the top. I put the search box near the bottom, too, so that next steps navigation decisions could happen there. I'm not sure if there are too many navigational choices, or if I have chosen the best possible links to add there.

    My traffic tends to arrive at specific internal pages and move to specifically related pages, and then leave. Occasionally I get visitors who browse whole genres of book recommendations. I have a lot of visitor movement within the independent study project ideas section, but I have no way of tracking how many people download my documents. I do seem to have a fair amount of bookmarked traffic. It makes sense that visitors would come for very specific resources, because there are other gigantic sources (um, Amazon, for example) if they want to browse reading suggestions. I just want to make sure that I'm doing everything I can from a usability standpoint to encourage users to get the most out of the site. Again, I understand that my target audience is pretty specific, but I'd be very grateful for any feedback along those lines.

    Thanks very much to all of you who have taken time to review my site and offer your feedback!

  13. #13
    SitePoint Guru navyfalcon's Avatar
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    Try alleycode HTML editor
    http://alleycode.com/
    be sure to scroll down past the advertisements
    Alleycode has a good help file to get you started
    P.M. me if you have any problems - I built my site with alleycode so I may be able to guide you through the changes
    It will load the site and display the source code - so you can make the changes you want and it will display the results in a default browser. The template may be wysiwyg but the HTML editor is both wysiwyg and source code.
    -
    I like the drop down menus, only minor changes needed like adjusting the width etc
    -
    hope this helps
    falcon
    Many good Free Tutorials at:
    http://freetutorials.name

  14. #14
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    Thanks very much! That Alleycode tutorial looks pretty extensive--great resource.

    My priority really is about developing content for the site, which is why I went with the pre-made template instead of studying css, but obviously, the more tools you have up your sleeve, the more options you have for the pages.

    The wysiwyg is a mixed bag; it comes with polls, forums, contact forms, etc., but it doesn't support php, so I haven't found a way to display recently viewed items. I'm wretched with my own graphics, so I'm always happy to find those pre-built! Sorry . . . ramble, ramble.

    Thanks again--I really appreciate the time you've taken to share those resources.

  15. #15
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    I was able to get the main nav links at the top highlighted while visitors are on those pages! Already I can see that change is helpful to visitors through my stats.

    Still wondering--does anyone think it is helpful to have the breadcrumb links at the bottom of the pages? I re-ordered my Site Map, but there's so much content that I think the breadcrumbs can provide a sense of "You are Here" to visitors, even if they don't use them to navigate.

    Also, I consistently put my search box at the bottom right of my pages, even though I know that isn't standard. Anyone think that's a criminal design tactic? Or as long as it is consistent throughout the site, do you think it's okay? Just curious if there are strong views about that.

  16. #16
    SitePoint Enthusiast rainbowgod's Avatar
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    Great site dude!

    Great icons / graphics too...

    Just one thing to say and that is the Menu would get really annoying for me - but that is just my preference..

    Good luck, Rainbow

    Quote Originally Posted by J in Calgary View Post
    Hi, I’m looking for some feedback about my site, which is about a year and a half old. It ranks reasonably well for very specific search terms, but I’m looking for ways to make my site really take off. www.conversationpieceslearning.org

    I am not a graphic designer (that will be immediately obvious), and there are a lot of inconsistent elements on pages. I thought it made more sense to ask for feedback first than to spend time making everything look uniform and then have to go back and change it up. Although the site is fairly large, I still have a lot of content to add.

    I am really open to any kind of feedback, but I am mainly curious about ways to make calls to action more engaging. Primarily, I want users to take quizzes, participate in book polls, and submit book reviews and answers to math problems. Teachers are the main audience, but students need to be able to use the site, too.

    Comments about whether users can find what they’re looking for and if the layout is appropriate (too confusing? too cluttered? graphics that work well? graphics that should fall into an abyss and never return?) are also welcome.

    Thanks in advance!
    Conveyancing North London
    Cheap Conveyancing North London and how to get a Budget Conveyancer

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    Thanks, Rainbow! btw, I'm a she-dude :-)

    I kwym about the menus being in the way . . . they are part of the template I chose and I'm not ready to give it up, but sometimes I wish I could use an on/off button for them.

    Other thoughts from anyone on the search box location and breadcrumbs questions I posted earlier are still welcome--thanks!

  18. #18
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    The good part is that it is clean. The bad (for me) is that everything is centered, mirrored by an imaginary vertical line. While it is easy for eyes, it is not creative.

    I also see an inconsistence with the font: 3-4 sizes at least on the homepage.

    Also, get rid of the empty space at the bottom. You may use a large footer with links so inside sections too.

  19. #19
    SitePoint Wizard bronze trophy Black Max's Avatar
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    As a schoolteacher, let me come at it from a slightly different viewpoint. First off, you have the makings of a great site, content-wise. You already have a lot of good, very useful and appealing content, judging from your menu offerings. Once this gets some attention, you will begin to see quite a bit of traffic. Don't bother with the usual SEO crap aside from the normal "best practices" for coding and design, but definitely do start finding places to publicize your site -- educational blogs and the like. Educators are always scrambling for new (and FREE) sites to find decent content. (Sidebar: nice job in including Common Core references.)

    Secondly, based on what educational providers usually offer in the way of Web sites, yours is quite decent from a visual standpoint. I disagree that you need to stuff it with tons of pictures and images or tart it up with a bunch of flashy mess. Instead, consider how you can improve its visual appeal by tweaking what you already have. Maybe turn that khaki background box into a deep red gradient background or something else livelier than what you have -- think in that direction as opposed to turning it into a hot mess of clip art and flashy inclusions.

    You're lacking a footer, which usually throws people -- it's a convention worth following. And there's a bunch of inexplicable sludge in your code that no doubt came with the template. The search box isn't in the traditional place, so that will throw some people. And I don't see a breadcrumb nav element.

    As time goes on, you're going to have too much content to manage in a static site. As much fun as you're having tweaking and improving this site (don't stop!), you might consider transferring this into a Wordpress site or something similar in the near future. This site already has a boatload of content (hence the jungle of infolinks on the sitemap page), and you're just going to get more as time goes on. You'll inevitably end up needing a CMS.

    Overall, congratulations. I've bookmarked your site for use in next year's planning.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by jorj1 View Post
    The good part is that it is clean. The bad (for me) is that everything is centered, mirrored by an imaginary vertical line. While it is easy for eyes, it is not creative.
    Thanks for taking time to reply. Although I'm familiar with research showing that creative people tend to prefer asymmetry, I'm not really sure what you're recommending. Do you think it's better to do something easy to read but boring because it's symmetrical? Or do you think it would be more interesting and get more "sticky" appeal by having an off-centered home page? I was able to decrease the bottom space and it is better that way.

  21. #21
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    Black Max,

    Thanks so much for your detailed response. I enjoyed reading your article about school websites, too. It's reassuring to get your opinion on the graphics--that's not really where I want to throw my energy--I just want it to be appealing enough, if that makes sense.

    I researched what CMS is and how to create a footer with links after reading your post, so you've given me lots to consider . . . very helpful feedback.

    A couple of questions--do you think having the search box in the lower right hand area is problematic enough for this audience that it's worth it to change my page layout? I'm reluctant to move it to upper left or upper right (which is conventional), because most of my pages are book recommendations. The upper left hand corner features a picture of the book cover and the upper right hand corner features a link to the book quiz, if available. I don't especially want to push either of those things farther down for the search box, but I appreciate other opinions about how important that could be.

    The breadcrumbs are on the bottom of almost all of my book recommendation pages. For example, on The Giver book page it will say Book Recommendations by Genre > Science Fiction > The Giver and the first two have links. Most visitors don't arrive at that page from either the genre or science fiction pages--they land directly there through a Google search, or arrive from the Alphabetical or Grade Level lists of book recs on my site. I was trying to give visitors a sense of where they are, especially if they arrived through search and not from the home page, but I don't know if they are especially helpful or not. My stats don't show a lot of people clicking on those links, but I don't have any way to measure if people see them and have a better sense of where they are in the site and what's available. If I create a footer that's a mini site map, I may do away with the breadcrumbs there. It's taking me a ridiculously long time to form a question here, but if you've got any thoughts about whether I should keep these or kick them out, especially with regard to this specific audience, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

    Thanks again for your response, and for the bookmark! :-)

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by J in Calgary View Post
    Thanks for taking time to reply. Although I'm familiar with research showing that creative people tend to prefer asymmetry, I'm not really sure what you're recommending. Do you think it's better to do something easy to read but boring because it's symmetrical? Or do you think it would be more interesting and get more "sticky" appeal by having an off-centered home page? I was able to decrease the bottom space and it is better that way.
    The "best practices" theory say you have to keep the page symmetrical weighted. But, a nice symmetry comes from several other tricks than by mirroring the blocks around an imaginary line. Creativity is given by having , for example, a 3 columns area, with two containing texts and the third with an image. Or, by using colors such as strong colors on a smaller side, weak colors on the opposite , bigger side. It is still symmetry for the eyes and it is creative.

    PS. I know the theory in order to ask the designer to do what I want

  23. #23
    SitePoint Wizard bronze trophy Black Max's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by J in Calgary View Post
    A couple of questions--do you think having the search box in the lower right hand area is problematic enough for this audience that it's worth it to change my page layout? I'm reluctant to move it to upper left or upper right (which is conventional), because most of my pages are book recommendations. The upper left hand corner features a picture of the book cover and the upper right hand corner features a link to the book quiz, if available. I don't especially want to push either of those things farther down for the search box, but I appreciate other opinions about how important that could be.

    The breadcrumbs are on the bottom of almost all of my book recommendation pages. For example, on The Giver book page it will say Book Recommendations by Genre > Science Fiction > The Giver and the first two have links. Most visitors don't arrive at that page from either the genre or science fiction pages--they land directly there through a Google search, or arrive from the Alphabetical or Grade Level lists of book recs on my site. I was trying to give visitors a sense of where they are, especially if they arrived through search and not from the home page, but I don't know if they are especially helpful or not. My stats don't show a lot of people clicking on those links, but I don't have any way to measure if people see them and have a better sense of where they are in the site and what's available. If I create a footer that's a mini site map, I may do away with the breadcrumbs there. It's taking me a ridiculously long time to form a question here, but if you've got any thoughts about whether I should keep these or kick them out, especially with regard to this specific audience, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.
    J, if the search function is specifically for book listings and not for the site, I could see keeping it where it is. Just label it appropriately, so people don't confuse it with a site search. I did (eventually) see the breadcrumbs. Breadcrumb navigation is a proven plus, so don't lose it unless you intend to replace it with something more useful, like, say, your sitemap footer...!

    As for a standalone sitemap option, I am all over Matt Everson's Slickmap. It might not fit your site's theme, but it's extraordinarily easy to configure and works beautifully.

  24. #24
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    Thanks! You've given me a lot to consider and ideas to try. I really appreciate the feedback.

  25. #25
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    Quick glance, it's a nice start but could be better. Some things I noticed:

    • The whole site looks a bit monochromatic for lack of a better term. Too many shades/variations of blue. Perhaps look into some other complementary colors. Your links are a prime example (your 52 reasons especially)
    • The I in Ideas drives me nuts - it looks like someone took the small i and just elongated it.
    • Did you think of perhaps removing that whole beige bar from the background? I think it fights with the content area for eye traffic. Removing it and just having the two blue bars would make the site easier to read.
    • Watch how much content you're centering - use it sparingly. Your hall of fame page is a good example - the list would be more readable left aligned.
    • If you're going to have breadcrumbs at the bottom, you have to have it at the top as well or it looks like a mistake.
    • Some of the content you've got in the main section would be better off in the footer (copyright, search box, sitemap, etc). This would give you more room for your content.
    • Link colors are inconsistent - sometimes they're blue, sometimes, their purple. They need to be consistent across the site or it starts to confuse the users.
    • Overall, it looks cramped in the content area. Moving the menu out of the content area and increasing the white space, especially in the two columns content would help.
    • Main page: I've got a horizontal scrollbar with a resolution of 1280x1024, even maximized, and I see no logical reason for it.
    • Main page: If my screen isn't maximized, the whole footer is cut off for some reason.
    • Main Page - Menu bar
      • Personally, I would move the main menu up into the header - that would give you more content space.
      • I would like to see it a little more obvious that it's a menu bar. As a technical user, I recognize it's a menu, but it's not clear.
      • I would worry about some of your sections going so deep, especially since when it's three levels deep, it scrolls out to the left, then on four it goes right again, covering up level three. Very confusing. You might want to see how you can reduce the layers - perhaps not drilling down that far. Contrary to popular belief, users don't mind going from page to page to fins what they want.
      • Your math POW menu items wrap, which makes that item VERY long. If you can get it not to wrap, or split them up into groups so it doesn't get so long might be beneficial.
      • If you rename conversation Pieces Home to just Home (which is common enough to be standard), you could expand the width of some of your menus/submenus (i.e. POW)
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