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Humans Are Not Your Only Visitors

by Chris Eargle

Sitefinity 6.1 offers semantic improvements to Content Blocks and the Navigation Widget, making design and development tasks easier. This is great for us, but how do you explain the importance of this to a business user when the site looks the same? Easy. Humans aren’t the only ones looking at the site.

You may need to take care in explaining this lest you earn the nickname: MIB. Instead, show them why they should care.

Here’s a Real Problem I Encountered

People like to share useful or entertaining content with their friends and family. When I saw the post about the update to Sitefinity, I decided to share it with my friends on Facebook. This is what happened.

If I posted that as is, why would any of my Facebook friends want to read the article? However, when I post my previous article, there isn’t a problem.

These are both blog posts on Sitefinity.com, so it may seem odd that Facebook reads them differently. However, I was aware of the problem, and I pulled a dirty trick to avoid it. I surrounded my post’s contents with the article tag.

We've already corrected this issue.

Internet users are accustom to all sorts of extraneous information surrounding important content. We adapt to this recurring pattern and filter it out. I’m willing to bet your eyes immediately went to this blog article and paid little attention to the navigation elements on the top and left sides of the screen.

When you paste a URL into Facebook or another site, a person isn’t reading the page to find the content; a machine is. Unless artificial intelligence algorithms are used and trained, it doesn’t have the heuristics we developed to find what’s important. In fact, it doesn’t even have eyes to use the same heuristics we do!

The software has rules for finding important content, and it will differ from site to site, from company to company, and even from programmer to programmer. However, you can make it easier for bots to do their work, improving traffic to your site, by expressing meaning in the HTML.

In case you’re experiencing the blog post problem, change the template to use the article tag instead of a div tag. The latter is for layout, the former for indicating self-contained content.

Content Blocks

Previous versions of Sitefinity always wrapped a content block with a div tag. This is problematic for the same reason a div wrapped blog post is problematic. If you begin the content block with a header, h1, or h2 tag, many bots won’t have a problem identifying the information in that div as significant. However, an article prevents any confusion, and if you’re having trouble with bots picking up corresponding information rather than the main content of the page, you can describe the block with aside tag.

In Sitefinity 6.1, you can use the tag best describing the content. Just edit the content block, choose Advanced, and then modify the WrapperTag field.

Navigation Widget

Differentiating content from everything else is important, but it’s also important to differentiate navigation from content. Forget about Facebook’s bot for a moment and consider what it’s like for someone with impaired vision visiting your site with a screen reader. Don’t force people listen to a recitation of the main menu every time they visit a page on your site! Change the div to the nav tag in the Navigation Widget’s template!

Even someone using a screen reader may need to use the navigation, and this is something we improved, out-of-the-box in Sitefinity 6.1. Navigation consists of a list of locations on a site, and it can be described as a hierarchy (or a tree) by nesting lists. When represented this way, screen readers and other programs can easily parse and navigate the navigation list. It’s also easy to style and script for neat effects on supported devices.

Unfortunately, previous versions of Sitefinity had a div problem when it came to the navigation widget. It wrapped every submenu in a div, and the behavior was difficult to change.

Sitefinity 6.1 improves the widget to generate navigation with proper, hierarchal lists. Besides providing navigation information in a manner screen readers and other devices can read, it allowed us to create an even better experience for mobile and touch-friendly devices.

Time to Upgrade

Even if you’re not on Sitefinity 6.1, you can use some of this information to remove roadblocks from users sharing your content and visitors using alternate devices. Upgrading to Sitefinity 6.1 simplifies this process by providing the tools you need to add meaning to your markup so meaning in your content is not overlooked.

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