Sandstorm Blog

Andrea Wood
Designing History: The OI Centennial Website

How do you tell the story of saving a 2,000-year-old language over 9 decades, using fragments of tablets and inscriptions on ancient winged bulls to reveal a 6,000-year-old culture? Or tell the story of 100 years of research exploring 10,000 years of history?

This was our charge when we took on the responsibility for creating the Oriental Institute’s centennial site. To tell the stories that are the beginning of us, our lives as humans, together.

Founded in 1919, The Oriental Institute (OI) at the University of Chicago is a leading research center and world-renowned museum devoted to studying the civilizations of the ancient Middle East. The OI Museum exhibits one of the largest collections resulting from archaeological fieldwork in the Middle East, including more than 350,000 artifacts with roughly 5,000 on display on the University of Chicago campus.

Originally funded by a handful of visionaries including James Henry Breasted and John D. Rockefeller Jr., the OI has been a groundbreaking institution for over a century.

The Challenge

With a centennial approaching and over 10,000 years of stories to tell, the OI had a new challenge: find an interactive storytelling way to share the wealth of information uncovered over the years as well as present new expeditions and discoveries going on today. The OI needed a partner to create a digital experience celebrating its Centennial year and showcasing its 100 years of connecting ancient places, people and issues. The OI selected Sandstorm to lead this effort.

The Solution

Sandstorm and the OI team underwent a thorough UX and creative UI process while leveraging the new branding that was being designed specifically for the Centennial and the rebranded identity for the OI itself. The primary goal was to deliver an interactive, high-touch, narrative experience while showcasing the incredible depth of research projects and overall work of the OI. 

In addition, a key goal was to drive users to engage with the OI: registering for the Centennial Gala, donating, becoming a member, visiting the museum, or even adopting a dig. Making sure these CTAs and conversions link back to the main OI site was key, while also elevating the Centennial as a major milestone for the organization. 

Sandstorm implemented a new Drupal 8 instance for the OI centennial site and configured the CMS for design flexibility in the future. Over the course of a few months, Sandstorm transformed key content related to the OI’s history, research projects, fieldwork, and museum collection into a well-curated, digital microsite experience.

“The OI needed a website that would display a wide range of media types with pictures and videos but we really wanted to focus on interactive elements as well and find the most engaging way to display their research to users,” said Jeff Umbricht, lead developer of the Centennial site. “With work all over the world, we decided to create an interactive map that presents a visual navigational tool to explore key discoveries.”

To encourage museum visits and membership, Sandstorm also included an easy to access events page for visitors to experience OI events throughout the year.

Key elements of the experience:

  • Emphasis on displaying a wide range of information in a concise, scannable way.
  • Extending Drupal modules and features for strong content editor control and flexibility.
  • Interactive map to display research efforts in key locations in the Middle East. The solution provides an ideal balance of performance and interactivity.
  • Mobile-first approach that ensures the user has the same level of interactivity and scannability from any device.
  • Built targeting WCAG 2.0AA accessibility standards

Results

With the website complete, the University of Chicago has begun promoting the Oriental Institute’s Centennial, which kicks off in September with a Centennial Gala followed by a public event and includes activities throughout the 2019–2020 academic year. 

Visit oi100.uchicago.edu to learn more and be sure to visit the museum in person on the University’s campus in Hyde Park Chicago.

“Sandstorm’s work creating a digital experience for our Centennial celebration is a key element of our year-long effort focused on sharing not just the legacy and historical impact of the OI in understanding, revealing, and protecting the earliest human civilizations, but also recognizing that through our ongoing research and public outreach we can offer new ways of thinking about what connects us and why.”

- Dr. Kiersten Neumann, Curator of the Oriental Institute Museum, and Research Associate and Communications Associate of the Oriental Institute

This blog was posted by Andrea Wood on September 26, 2019.
Andrea Wood

About the Author

Andrea Wood

Andrea is Sandstorm's Managing Director and leader of our marketing strategy team. Like Goldilocks, she found her "just right" spot at Sandstorm after working in various large international and smaller startup agencies. Andrea loves tackling all kinds of problems and sees them as opportunities to do more, better or differently.

Emily Kodner
5 Key Themes Everyone on Drupal Needs to Know From DrupalCon 2019

Since 2005, the Drupal community has gathered at DrupalCon to learn, explore and share. Embracing our “Be Curious” core value, Sandstormers headed for Seattle, WA to the 2019 DrupalCon conference, in order to glean new insights, stay on the pulse of the Drupal roadmap, and uncover better ways to leverage Drupal, all while experiencing the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

Here’s what you need to know from this year’s conference.

1. Don’t wait for Drupal 9. If you’re on Drupal 7, start planning your migration to Drupal 8 now.

Drupal 7 will no longer be community supported as of November 2021. Powerful new features are being released for Drupal 8 every six months, and the path from Drupal 8 to 9 is being engineered to be easy. Moving to Drupal 8 now is the smarter business decision and better investment for most websites.

Why upgrade now instead of later?
Migrating sooner will significantly reduce the delta of the platform, module and architectural changes that need to be addressed. The migration from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8/9 is a significant shift, there’s no getting around that. By upgrading now, you’ll be able to address these changes now, which should put you on a much simpler, less costly upgrade path, once Drupal 9 is released.

In addition, by moving to Drupal 8 now, your ongoing investment in the platform will sustain as you upgrade to Drupal 9. Short-term investments in Drupal 7 (custom development, modules, features, etc.) may need to be re-written once you’re ready to upgrade.

2. Your website speed directly impacts your revenue.

Speed matters- that’s not new. But the disparity between fast sites and slow sites continues to grow. It’s simple: the slower the site, the less revenue you’ll generate. If your site loads in less than 5 seconds, you’re generating about 2x more revenue than if your site was slower.*

…And if that isn’t convincing, consider Amazon, who loses 1% of sales for every 100 milliseconds of increased response time.

3. Seriously consider adding GraphQL to your Drupal environment.

GraphQL (www.graphql.org) is a querying language for APIs and acts as a common language between services and applications. GraphQL was created originally by Facebook as a data-fetching API, so it needed to be powerful, yet easy for product developers to use. Today it powers hundreds of billions of API calls per day.

Why does it make sense?
GraphQL is a powerful choice for businesses who have many disparate services and offerings that need to communicate as it serves as a common language between them. Think of it as the glue that binds the business’ functions together. For example, with GraphQL, the sales app can ask the inventory app if an item is in stock and if either app gets rewritten or modified the communication between the two will not break.

In addition to the simplification of service-service communication, apps using GraphQL can be quick even on slow mobile network connections. While typical REST APIs require loading from multiple URLs, GraphQL APIs get all the data your app needs in a single request.

"I think GraphQL wins my heart because it changes human behavior" - Garrett Heinlen, Netflix

In addition to Netflix and Facebook, companies like Shopify, Walmart, Yelp and the New York Times have embraced GraphQL.

4. Advanced Automated Visual Testing will be a massive step for QA.

Humans can’t detect the most subtle changes in a site but Advanced Automated Visual Testing can. With an automated system for finding discrepancies, we can expect shorter soft release cycles and a larger device operating matrix – making the job easier for QA. This also equates to reduced costs and time savings in identifying those sticky, small bugs.

There are many tools available to enable automated testing in the development cycle, such as WebdriverIO (https://webdriver.io/).

By leveraging the power of automated testing, QA can focus on meaningful work instead of “spot the difference” games.

5. Improving accessibility can produce a clear ROI.

Many companies think about accessibility as it relates to legal compliance. That's a valid concern, but improving your accessibility also presents a huge business opportunity. Improving accessibility can mean increasing the reach of your site by up to 20%.**

Beyond making your content more available to more users, your efforts will likely also drive more traffic through the natural SEO benefits of having well-structured content.

Improving the accessibility of your site is a lifestyle, not a one-time event. Contact us to schedule your Drupal Accessibility Audit.


Concerns with Drupal 7’s end of life for your existing Drupal site? Need a place to start?
Contact us to schedule your Drupal 8 Readiness Assessment to see if moving from Drupal 7 to 8 is right for you!


For more DrupalCon details, check out the State of Drupal presentation: https://dri.es/state-of-drupal-presentation-april-2019

 

*Joe Shindelar. “Gatsby & Drupal”, DrupalCon Seattle 2019
**Aimee Degnan, Caroline Boyden. “Accessibility Deep Dive”, DrupalCon Seattle 2019

This blog was posted by Emily Kodner on May 15, 2019.
Emily Kodner

About the Author

Emily Kodner

Emily is our Senior Director of Client Delivery. She consults with clients, leads projects and works alongside our team of creatives and developers to provide solutions to complex business challenges.

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Sandy
3 Digital Trends Associations Should Start, Stop and Continue Doing

As part of our annual review process we use the start, stop, continue retrospective technique. We've found it's a great way to recognize successes and opportunities for growth for individuals, teams and organizations. Thinking about the digital transformations we've seen with associations lately, below are some retrospectives on what we see trending with membership organizations. 

START
Creating a culture of data. Using data to inform your decisions and weaving that into everything you do is critical to success. We are working with an association today where we're collecting and analyzing data to identify educational gaps and drive new products (and revenue). We're also utilizing data to drive content and functional requirements on new website builds to improve the member experience. By taking a fresh look at member data for a global membership organization, we were able to re-interpret the data and create new marketing campaign messaging to increase membership and product sales. The combination of qualitative and quantitative data helps associations turn subjective decisions into objective ones. Even when we're talking creative and UX – data science for us plays a huge role.

STOP
Stop building websites in proprietary technologies on a web dev shop's server as you are trapping yourself and it’s completely unnecessary now. Many leading associations are utilizing off-the-shelf content managements systems like Drupal, Kentico, etc. to integrate with their AMS and LMS systems, provide personalized member experiences, and track analytics and KPIs. Then you have options when it comes to supporting your chosen system. You can choose to have the original digital agency maintain and support your site, you can select a new partner for support, or bring it in house. We also recommend you own the hosting relationship with a 3rd party provider such as Rackspace, Azure, or AWS so you are never "stuck". We have taken over the maintenance and support for so many association websites that didn't get the service, attention to detail, nor strategic thinking to drive their association forward, and it was all possible because of the CMS they selected (and it's always a smoother transition when a 3rd party hosting provider is involved but not necessary). 

CONTINUE
Continue focusing on member engagement, member value and the overall member experience. This is what we love most about associations. It doesn't matter if you're a trade association or medical, large or niche, everyone shares a common mission to help your members become more than they can on their own. One of the most common challenges and motivations we've seen for launching into a new website overhaul was to improve their members' online experience and increase online member engagement. And we get it – we, too, are all about the user. When you look into the member journey, continue at all touchpoints to remember we're all just people trying to be the best version of ourselves. Keep the humanity alive in your organization that you have already mastered.

This blog was posted by Sandy on February 19, 2019.
Sandy Marsico, Founder & CEO

About the Author

Sandy Marsico

Sandy Marsico is the founder & CEO of Sandstorm®, a digital brand experience agency that turns consumer insights into engaging user experiences through our unique blend of data science, brand strategy, UX and enterprise-level technology.

Amanda Heberg
OTA Drupal 8 website

The Orthopaedic Trauma Association (OTA) is the authoritative source for the treatment and prevention of musculoskeletal injury. So when they came to us with an underperforming website, we made sure they got the best treatment possible.

The Challenge
OTA’s website exhibited a lot of the traditional symptoms of an aging online presence: disorganized content, a lack of information architecture (IA), overall poor member experience, and outdated design and functionality. They were struggling to come up organically in search and it was critical that OTA engage a partner who could quickly get them where they should be in site rankings, and keep them there. OTA planned to rely upon their selected partner not only to redesign their site, but also to help them maintain their site moving forward in a manner that would promote SEO. 

The Solution
Based on OTA’s website goals, technical requirements, API integrations, SEO concerns and content authoring needs, we determined that Drupal 8 would be the recommended content management system (CMS) for the OTA team. With Drupal, we were easily able to implement single sign-on (SSO) through OTA’s association member platform—ACGI. And by utilizing Apache Solr Search, we were able to make the search more robust throughout the site – improving the overall user experience for members. 

To improve the overall usability of the site, and increase organic search rankings, we conducted keyword research and analysis to identify heavily searched terms applicable to their industry, and built the sitemap, navigation and information architecture around the research findings. We designed with user experience (UX) best practices while creating consistent branding throughout the site—expanding the color palette, identifying fonts the OTA brand could differentiate with, and utilized custom imagery. Altogether, this made content easier to find for users and easier to update for the association. 

The Results
Within the first month after launch, OTA’s new website experienced unprecedented results:

  • 986% increase in traffic from Google
  • 497% increase in organic search traffic
  • 54% increase in new users
  • 65% increase in pageviews
  • 22% decrease in bounce rate​
“Planning and implementing a website redesign can be a momentous undertaking, especially for a small staff association. Sandstorm could not have made the process easier for our team.

Their exceptional technical and creative talent, along with the high level of customer service provided throughout the project, made the process as seamless as a website redesign can be. And our new (and very much improved) website has been well received by the Orthopaedic Trauma Association (OTA) membership!”

– Kathleen Caswell, CAE, Executive Director

Visit the new site: https://ota.org/

This blog was posted by Amanda Heberg on January 2, 2019.
Amanda Heberg

About the Author

Amanda Heberg

As the VP, Business Development, Amanda leads new business development, sales, partnerships and marketing strategy across Sandstorm. Amanda collaborates closely with new clients to build strong, long-lasting partnerships while aligning Sandstorm's capabilities to solve client business problems.

Jeff
Sandstorm developers Joe Ruel and Jeff Umbricht at DrupalCon 2018

Every year since 2005, the Drupal community has flocked to DrupalCon to learn, explore and share. This year, the Sandstorm® team headed to Nashville, Tennessee–site of DrupalCon 2018–to get the latest updates on one of our favorite CMSs, find inspiration, and get our hot-chicken fix. Here are a few of the things we took away from this year’s conference.

1. “Clients buy solutions not code.”

Software wizard Vladimir Roudakov reminded us that no matter how impeccable and innovative our code looks, what’s most important to our clients is that our code solves the problems they’re facing. It was a great message to ground us throughout our time in Nashville.

2. By 2020, there will be more than 50 billion connected devices
                      and
3. Most traffic on the internet is non-human

Developer advocate Emily Rose made a pretty compelling case for why we’ll be developing for humanoids in the not-so-far future. With 61% of the internet made up of bot traffic and connected devices estimated to outnumber people 6:1 in two years, that’s a concept that’s hard to argue with.

4. Increasing page speed by one second can increase conversion by 27%

Google announced that by July 2018, pagespeed will be a ranking factor for mobile searches. For businesses to reach that coveted first position in the search engine, they’ll need to make sure their site loads lightning fast. And the reward—a big bump in conversion rate—will be worth it.

5. Drupal makes big dreams a reality

To celebrate the total solar eclipse, Miles McLean and Ken Fang used Drupal to create a once-in-a-lifetime viewing experience, integrating more than 20 video feeds and real-time tracker. Forty million people used the tool to see the solar eclipse.

If you’re looking to do big things with your website, drop us a line.

This blog was posted by Jeff on May 2, 2018.
Jeff Umbricht

About the Author

Jeff Umbricht

Jeff is an Illinois native with a passion for web development. Making code into great things drives him every day. He’s often busy building awesome experiences for Sandstorm clients, and there’s a high probability that he’s rocking out to metal while he codes.

Sean
Website vulnerability to hacks

Whether it drizzles or pours, it’s good to be carrying an umbrella.

Back in 2014, Drupalgeddon rained cats and dogs.

Drupal released a critical security update on October 15, 2014 with express directions to address the vulnerability within seven hours of the release. Unfortunately, a large number of system administrators didn’t grab their umbrellas, and—to stretch this metaphor to its limit—they got soaked. It was a wake-up call, to say the least.

So four years later, when Drupal released a similarly critical security update that many people called Drupalgeddon 2.0, the admin community was prepared. At Sandstorm®, we started planning right after the announcement, and when the update was released, we secured more than 30 sites in a single afternoon.

But we’ve always understood the importance of taking security updates seriously, whether it’s 2014 or 2018. Because staying on top of these updates is just one easy way to keep your systems safe. And as recent hacks and data breaches like those from Saks and Lord & Taylor continue to show, your safety is under constant attack.

So what else can you do to keep your site as safe as possible?

1. Move your site to HTTPS

More than half of internet traffic is now encrypted, which is great news. Having your site use HTTPS (SSL/TLS) helps protect against session hijack attacks, because all traffic between your server and the client is encrypted.

This is such a boon to security that Google has been talking about penalizing sites that don't use HTTPS. Most notably, the Google Chrome browser will start indicating sites without HTTPS as insecure, starting in July 2018. Just one more reason to get a move on.

2. Take charge of your passwords and access

A major line of defense for any infrastructure is good management of credentials. As individuals and institutions, we now have a number of tools at our disposal, such as password managers, policies, etc.

But what is often forgotten is to consistently and comprehensively review who has access to your systems. As a result, old employees still have access to sites and accounts, creating vulnerabilities that are just waiting to happen.

3. Keep your server and applications up to date

When security updates are released, they represent known vulnerabilities. It’s imperative to apply the updates immediately, or risk leaving a door open for malicious activity.

Ensure that your server is applying updates on a regular basis and that your web applications are updating any relevant frameworks or libraries. An ounce of prevention is much more cost efficient than trying to recover from a compromised server or application.

4. Ensure you have frequent backups

If something ever does happen, you want to be able to roll back to a safe state. That’s why it’s so critical to make sure your servers and your application have automated backups.

Most hosts offer backup services for a small additional fee, and you’ll want to ensure that these are configured and working.

5. Proactive threat management

Be proactive. Start a conversation with your host provider about threat management, and ask about automated systems that look for irregular traffic. Ask your web vendor about how code is managed on the server, and spend the time to find a solution that’s right for your organization.

Still not sure how you can stay protected? Sandstorm can help! Feel free to drop us a line, so we can help ensure your site is secure.

This blog was posted by Sean on April 12, 2018.
Sean Fuller

About the Author

Sean Fuller

As Technology Director, Sean is a hands-on developer and technical lead on projects. He works with design and strategist teams from kick off through launch to plan, design and execute technical solutions for client projects. 

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Emily Kodner
NICB Drupal 8 E-Commerce Site

At Sandstorm®, we take security seriously. For the not-for-profit National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), that means preventing insurance fraud and theft across the United States. NICB turned to Sandstorm to design and develop a brand-new website that could better help them advance their mission.

The launch of this site represents a significant shift for NICB. The previous website addressed two audiences: the general public and current members. By focusing on non-member audiences, NICB can more clearly convey their message and raise awareness with common consumers.

With an iterative, user-centered approach that utilized usability testing to refine navigation items and page layouts, we designed an intuitive user experience that we developed in Drupal 8. By building in the newest version of Drupal’s content management system, we were able to give NICB a robust e-commerce platform with an intuitive administrative interface.

We are honored to help NICB raise awareness of their mission and help combat insurance fraud and theft. Check out the new NICB website for yourself.

This blog was posted by Emily Kodner on November 21.
Emily Kodner

About the Author

Emily Kodner

Emily is our Senior Director of Client Delivery. She consults with clients, leads projects and works alongside our team of creatives and developers to provide solutions to complex business challenges.

Emily Kodner
Association for Corporate Growth launches new, responsive website.

At Sandstorm®, we thrive on designing and developing exciting new websites. But we also know how important a great event can be. That’s why we couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity in creating a site for ACG.

The Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) is the global community for business leaders focused on driving middle market growth through mergers and acquisitions. As a chapter-led organization, ACG is heavily focused on events, holding over 1,200 around the world each year for industry professionals and the association’s 14,500 members to network.

In order to drive their own growth, ACG turned to us to design and develop a website platform that provided individual sites for the global organization as well as its 58 chapters. Each site not only needed to be mobile friendly and visually appealing, it needed to be user friendly and easy to manage for each chapter, an objective we were able to achieve as a result of several efforts:

  • Attending ACG’s annual event and conducting stakeholder interviews to hear directly from leaders and members what they needed from the new website
  • By integrating the Drupal 8 content management system (CMS) with the netFORUM association management system (AMS)
  • Conducting a usability study on the new design to ensure it was intuitive and easy to use
  • Building a collaborative space for chapters and committees to digitally communicate and share essential documentation

We’re honored to help ACG continue driving middle market growth around the world. Check out the new ACG website for yourself.

This blog was posted by Emily Kodner on June 20, 2017.
Emily Kodner

About the Author

Emily Kodner

Emily is our Senior Director of Client Delivery. She consults with clients, leads projects and works alongside our team of creatives and developers to provide solutions to complex business challenges.

Nick
Drupal vs. Wordpress

Over the years, Sandstorm® has built websites on content management systems (CMS) using a variety of programming languages: Python, .NET, and PHP to name just a few. These programming languages support CMSs like Django, Kentico, and Joomla, respectively. Two of the most popular CMSs are Drupal and WordPress, built on PHP.

A common question we hear from clients is whether they should use Drupal or WordPress. While there’s no right answer, there is an answer that’s right for you. Each one has its place, so we've laid out where you can gain the most benefit from each CMS.

The Benefits of Drupal

Speed and Performance

When it comes to a scalable CMS that can support high-volume traffic and vast libraries of content, Drupal beats out WordPress. Not only does Drupal offer better performance out of the box—including default cache features that help pages load faster—it’s more robust for handling complex projects with lots of functionality.

Security

Drupal is favored by many top companies and government agencies, including whitehouse.gov, for its enterprise-level security. Drupal has a very active security team with a stringent review process for plugins and a robust permissions layer that provides nuanced limitations for user access.

WordPress, on the other hand, is a popular target for hackers whose malicious attacks often succeed due to fully coded plugins compromising security. Additionally, WordPress doesn’t provide the flexibility in tailored permissions that Drupal does.

Lead Conversion

When it comes to getting leads through web contact forms, WordPress requires third-party tools like Gravity Forms or JotForm, which will cost you extra.

With Drupal, web form functionalities are already built into the platform, so you don’t need external tools. Drupal can also enable rules and set up triggers so that when someone fills out a form on your website they receive an SMS message from your company, which helps with lead nurturing efforts and potential conversions.

The Benefits of WordPress

Ease of Use for Small Businesses

Since WordPress started primarily for less tech-savvy bloggers, small businesses with a junior development team benefit the most from the platform. Additionally, most writers and content managers have some experience with WordPress, so there's little need to train them on the platform.

Where It's a Toss Up

Supportive Community

Drupal and WordPress users have created diverse global communities that offer international conferences like DrupalCon and WordCamp; local training events and Meetups; and active forums where users can ask questions and learn more about the platform. While the WordPress community is larger than Drupal’s, it’s uncommon that you would run into an issue with either platform that someone hasn’t encountered, and solved, before.

Search Engine Optimization

It doesn’t matter to Google which platform you use, and both platforms offer excellent plugins and modules to help you with your SEO, including Yoast for WordPress and Content Optimizer for Drupal.

At Sandstorm®, our experts have extensive experience developing, designing, and writing in Drupal, WordPress, and many other content management systems. We’d love to find the one that’s right for you.

This blog was posted by Nick on May 1, 2017.
Nick Meshes

About the Author

Nick Meshes

Nick is Sandstorm’s Director of Analytics and Technology. He’s boosting our quantitative focus. He’s busy increasing our capabilities in web analytics, website optimization testing, SEO, SEM, display advertising, business intelligence, and personalization.

Joshua
Responsive web app

While it would have been easy to take a don’t-mess-with-success approach, our warrior spirit drove us to collaborate with a large insurance company's federal employee program to further optimize their existing responsive web application (which we built a year earlier) to continue to increase online enrollment.

We started with a thoughtful review of their Google Analytics and conducted a heuristic analysis of the app. This allowed us to dig into the data analytics and find new opportunities to improve the application. Combine that with our existing expertise in the FEP program, and we were able to make some adjustments and update the overall interface to provide their users with an even more intuitive tool to help them find a benefit plan that fits their needs.

Sandstorm® is ready to help you develop a web app to convert your users.

This blog was posted by Joshua on October 19, 2016.
joshua sovell

About the Author

Joshua Sovell

As the Marketing Manager Joshua is in charge of crafting the Sandstorm narrative via compelling blog content and community engagement.

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