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Sharepoint tips and resources for your COVID-19 communication site

It’s amazing how the tech community has come together to create resources for people now working from home and staying connected during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Microsoft has published a helpful how-to guide to build a crisis management communication site and created a way for SharePoint admins to easily provision the site design in your own tenant from the lookbook.

I’ve created multiple COVID-19 sites for clients in the past two weeks using this template as a starting point. In the course of making these sites and working with some amazing people, I have also gathered some helpful and reliable resources for the pages in these sites. Here’s what I’ve learned and some content you can re-use.

Create a COVID-19-specific site

One of my clients already had a “general” Crisis Management site. We learned pretty quickly that adding the COVID-19 specific content to that site makes it difficult to both manage and maintain – especially across a global organization. We have come to realize that it is better to create a topic-specific site for this crisis.

We know there will be other crises and in the spirit of keeping our site architecture flat and allowing users to follow sites for topics that are most relevant to them – and having a reusable template to deploy the next time a occurs – we have learned (a little painfully in one case), that we need a unique site.

One cool thing we are doing is rolling in COVID-19 specific news from local sites in major locations. We can’t use the News web part to do this, but we can use Highlighted Content web part with a query that looks for Pages on a specific site with (COVID* or corona*) AND Promoted State =2. This query will retrieve news pages where the page content includes COVID or any variation as well as corona. If your page source is a specific site, you can narrow the query to just a specific location or you can search across your entire intranet for any related news content.

Make the site an Organization News site

If you have a crisis-specific site, making it an organization news site allows you to easily “brand” the news about the specific crisis as authoritative. Learn how to create an organization news site.

Reliable external resources for the home page

Pointing people to reliable sources of information is important all the time, but is especially so during a crisis. Here are the links that my clients have added to their sites in a Quick Links web part with a list view and including descriptions:

Twitter feeds for your Twitter web parts:

Starter news posts

Here are some suggested News links for some initial site content. You may need to add a local image for some of these links:

Content for pages

Each organization I work with has a different culture and “personality,” but all of their COVID-19 content is a combination of both facts, policies, and “human” content. Here are some pages and suggested resources for the pages that have been very helpful in these organizations. Before you use them, it’s a good idea to check to see that the links are still valid – and that the content has not been updated.

  • How to Protect Yourself: This page has general information about what COVID-19 (coronavirus) is and symptoms. Some useful links on the page, in addition to text:
    • Call to Action web part: Understand fact from fiction! COVID-19 Myth-busters:
    • Quick Links, button, Self Assessment Resources:
    • Prevention Strategies Videos
    • How to Take Care of Your Mental Health
      • Text web part with content from and a link to:
      • Quick Links web part with links to resources:
      • What to Do if You Feel Sick
        • Text web parts in a two-column section – one column has information for you, “Stay home except to get medical care,” and the other, “If someone in your home is sick.”
        • Resources:
        • Tips for Working from Home
          • You can search online for a lot of articles with great tips. Here’s one that has a lot of content you can adapt.
          • Your IT team hopefully already has a page with resources and “how to” information about working remotely. If not, post support resources on your IT site and link to it from the COVID or crisis site. You will need these resources again – and not just during a crisis. I hope that one thing we all learn from this pandemic is that it is possible to work very effectively from a variety of locations – maybe not while we are also home-schooling our children and maybe not all the time – but it is a great way to support your employees who may want or need alternative work arrangements.
        • Travel Policies and Guidance
          • This has been a key page for every organization I work with – even those where employees do not regularly travel. Some organizations have added a new corporate policy in their Policy Center and others have created a temporary page on their crisis or COVID site to keep employees up-to-date on their current guidance.

I hope these resources can save you some time and help you and your colleagues stay safe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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3 Strategies to Follow When Your Site is Failing

It’s frustrating when your website isn’t succeeding in fulfilling its objective. At times, it can be unclear what the bottleneck is. I’ve concluded that having a fresh pair of eyes to go through your design and using web metrics are the best ways to pinpoint weak spots that hold back a website’s potential.

Here are 3 strategies you should consider if your website is struggling. We’ll cover:

  • Web analytics and split testing
  • In-person testing
  • Simplifying your sales process

If possible, implement these strategies ahead of time before you run into any issues. I’m going to cover why these strategies are effective and what they are good at resolving.


1. Analytics and Split Testing

If you don’t know when or where your users are leaving, then you’re missing ou; this is extremely unhelpful if you are selling something.

Analytics will let you see the average amount of time spent per page, and which page your customers are exiting your website from.

If a user views your website and leaves after visiting your homepage without going any further, then you know exactly what to change. If they are spending an excessive amount of time navigating through simple parts of your sales process, then you know something may be wrong, and you should address it.

AB split testing…is particularly good at resolving weak points on your website where visitors are…changing their minds

Depending on which page of your website they are on, you may want them spending more or less time on it. An abnormally high amount of users abandoning their shopping cart might mean your checkout isn’t providing the user with a positive experience.

AB split testing refers to displaying different versions of the same page to different visitors. It is particularly good at resolving weak points on your website where visitors are leaving or changing their minds about going ahead with what you want them to (e.g. buying a product).

Let’s say we have 2000 page visitors, and 70% are leaving immediately from the landing page, and 600 are proceeding forward (30% click-through rate). Instead of presenting one landing page to all visitors, we display two landing pages and show one landing page to half the visitors, and the second landing page to the other half.

We make some changes to the original landing page and send some of the users to the new version and some to the original version. We do this to see if the new landing page will have a better click-through than the original, 30%.

A quick example for a skydiving company: Group A visitors see ‘Book’ in a smaller sized button, whereas Group B visitors see ‘Skydive NOW!’ in a larger sized button. If the ‘Skydive NOW!’ button improves the number of bookings the site receives, we could consider using Group B as the new control and further work on optimising the booking page, perhaps by creating a modification in which ‘Skydive NOW!’ has a different color scheme or is placed in a different position on the page.

This could be a minor re-design, such as changing the color of a button, to something more enticing, or a major re-design.

You can also display more than two versions of a page simultaneously, making multiple modifications, displaying three or more versions to different users. In this case, we would have the original version, A, and two or more modified pages B, C … so on. This can make split testing quicker by immediately testing multiple possibilities but it adds complexity to the process.


2. In-Person Testing

In-person, or remote testing, is a strategy in which you recruit a user to test your website by undertaking various tasks e.g., Buy a specific product and ship it to your home, or find some specific information on your website.

This should be done regularly during the web building process as by doing so when you launch your website, you might uncover major or recurring problems that could have been prevented. If you do it in early development stages, you can use the information from the test to plan before you start building things that don’t work!

If your website is already live and you overlooked testing beforehand, it’s not too late

If your website is already live and you overlooked testing beforehand, it’s not too late. You can still employ a handful of individuals to test it now.

In-person testing is typically done where you supervise an individual and instruct them to carry out certain tasks and take note of how they are navigating your website by seeing the way they browse the page and/or move their mouse. Ask them to think out loud. You should also ask them why they selected that option over another, what they liked about a particular feature, etc. 

If you already know which areas of your website need to be worked on, but you’re unsure of how to improve on it, you could ask your tester for specific insight.

I typically choose three users for testing, as it’s quick, easy, cheap, and manages to uncover lots of flaws I may have overlooked. Having more users testing the website can be beneficial, but typically most users end up pointing out the same weaknesses.

This is an effective strategy because having a handful of people test your website is like having someone read over your writing. You may not pick up on your own mistakes, but someone else will. It’s also important to note that the way (you), a web-designer browses the web is different from how the average person browses the web. You may have a perfect understanding of what is happening on your website because you created it. Still, someone who is using it for the first time won’t have the same knowledge and experience as you and will try to undertake tasks in the simplest, most intuitive way.

Remote testing is the same principle as in-person testing but executed remotely. This may save you the hassle of meeting up, but might mean that you need to use software (such as a camcorder) to monitor their browsing, along with voice or video calling, to discuss the process with them.


3. Simplifying Your Sales Process

Are you taking care of your customers and guiding them through their purchases?

What happens after your user lands on your website? Is there a good value proposition (product, service, or information that is appealing) compelling them to purchase?

Excellent, now you need to make sure the process is transparent and straightforward.

Be upfront about any extra fees or shipping costs. Let them know how long shipping may take. Customers want to feel like they can trust you.

Customers want to feel like they can trust you

Write out an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) addressing common concerns a potential customer may have. E.g., Let’s say I’m buying a dual SIM mobile (two sim cards, one mobile), I want to know which country the product is from, I want to know about the warranty, I may especially want to know details about the phone will store numbers from different cards.

Have an FAQ section addressing general sales questions and a product-specific FAQ. Along with that, address the product specifications and show high-quality photos or videos.

When the customer is satisfied with what they’ve selected, make the checkout process easy. Allow guest checkout if it’s a suitable option for your website. 

Show your customers you care about them and create reasons for them to want to share your website and products. Once you’ve made your sale, send them a follow-up email or little thank you. This will lead to more engagement and a repeat customer. Remember, selling a product isn’t the end goal. Making someone become a lifelong customer is, and you need to facilitate that.


Featured image via Unsplash.

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Chrome to follow Firefox, stifle site notification appeals in version 80

Google yesterday said that in four weeks Chrome would follow Firefox’s lead and tamp down on intrusive requests by websites to dun users with notifications.

“To protect notifications as a useful service … Chrome 80 will show, under certain conditions, a new, quieter notification permission UI [user interface] that reduces the interruptiveness [sic] of notification permission requests,” wrote PJ McLachlan, a Google product manager, in a Jan. 7 post to a company blog.

Chrome 80 is scheduled to release Feb. 4.

What Firefox is doing

Mozilla, the maker of Firefox, just rolled out version 72 this week. High on the list of new features for the browser: An end to intrusive, page-obscuring pop-ups from sites asking to send the user future notifications.

Firefox 72 will prevent most of these pop-ups from appearing. Instead, the browser will display a small cartoon speech bubble in the address bar, then briefly jiggle it for attention. The user can ignore it – leaving the bubble in place – or at any later time interact with it to show the pop-up and choose whether to accept notifications from the site.

Mozilla’s complaint about the site notification appeals rested on two facts. First, the vast majority of the requests are denied – ultimately, 99%, according to the firm’s research – and second, the pop-ups disrupt the user’s workflow.

Chrome’s take on the same problem

Google set a more conciliatory tone. Calling notifications “an essential capability” for some web applications, McLachlan also said it’s Google’s goal to “protect notifications as a useful service for users.”

Chrome 80 will treat site requests similarly to Firefox 72. Rather than allowing sites to place pop-ups on the page requesting permission to send notifications, Chrome 80 will slip into what Google called a “quiet UI” that features an alarm bell icon with a strike-through. On Chrome for the desktop, the icon will appear near the right edge of the address bar. (On mobile Chrome, it will show near the bottom of the screen.) The first time Chrome presents the quiet UI, an in-browser dialog, which can be dismissed, will explain the feature.

Users will be able to engage the new notification request UI manually using a new option found in Settings > Advanced > Privacy and security > Site Settings > Notifications. Toggling the “Use quieter messaging (blocks notification prompts from interrupting you)” switch turns on the pop-up blocker.

Google will also automatically enable the quieter UI for some users. Those who “repeatedly deny” the notification requests will be auto-enrolled, McLachlan said without going into specifics. Google will automatically silence some sites as well.

“Sites with very low acceptance rates will be automatically enrolled in quieter prompts,” McLachlan added. “They will be automatically unenrolled once the user experience is improved.”

McLachlan criticized sites that request notification permission right off the bat, saying that those websites often have very low acceptance rates. “We recommend that websites wait until users understand the context and see benefit in receiving notifications before prompting for the permission,” he wrote.

Google has frequently used Chrome to force websites to make changes that the search giant believes are beneficial to the web in general. A prominent example was Google’s push to get sites to adopt HTTPS. The Mountain View, Calif. company will use that same tactic here, punishing sites that don’t meet its guidelines – whatever they end up being – on notification appeals. It can wield the stick because of Chrome’s domination of the browser market: In December, 66.6% of all personal computer browser activity was credited to Chrome, overwhelming any rival (the closest competitor was Firefox, with a paltry 8.4%).

Firefox’s approach didn’t bother trying to influence websites on their notification practices for the simple reason that few would make changes under threat from Mozilla and its small browser share. Chrome, on the other hand, must be obeyed; to refuse risks largely losing control of notification requests.

Google has a reason for wanting notification entreaties to be less intrusive and disruptive: Anything that keeps users focused on tasks such as web searches – which then display Google’s ads – and not distracted by extraneous chores will better the firm’s bottom line.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Google strengthens Chrome’s site isolation to protect browser against its own vulnerabilities

Google is telling Chrome users that it has extended an advanced defensive technology to protect against attacks exploiting vulnerabilities in the browser’s Blink rendering engine.

Chrome 77, which launched in September but was supplanted by Chrome 78 on Oct. 22, received the beefed-up site isolation, wrote Alex Moshchuk and Łukasz Anforowicz, two Google software engineers, in an Oct. 17 post to a company blog. “Site Isolation in Chrome 77 now helps defend against significantly stronger attacks,” the two said. “Site Isolation can now handle even severe attacks where the renderer process is fully compromised via a security bug, such as memory corruption bugs or Universal Cross-Site Scripting (UXSS) logic errors.”

As the label implies, Chrome’s site isolation limits each Blink rendering engine process to documents from a single website, thus isolating everything in a rendered site from other sites. The idea is that if a malicious website exploits a vulnerability, the hackers controlling the attack site won’t be able to access any data, say extremely valuable corporate data, outside of their own criminal website.

When Google fully implemented site isolation in mid-2018 (a year after it debuted) with Chrome 67, the technology’s primary purpose was to defend against the Spectra-style attacks envisioned when in-chip vulnerabilities were revealed earlier that year.

That’s now changed.

“Suppose an attacker discovered and exploited a memory corruption bug in Chrome’s rendering engine, Blink,” Moshchuk and Anforowicz said. “The bug might allow them to run arbitrary native code within the sandboxed renderer process, no longer constrained by the security checks in Blink. However, Chrome’s browser process knows what site the renderer process is dedicated to, so it can restrict which cookies, passwords, and site data the entire process is allowed to receive. This makes it far more difficult for attackers to steal cross-site data.”

For example, when site isolation of the renderer is activated, cookies and passwords can only be accessed by those processes “locked” to their corresponding sites.

There was cause to extend site isolation to cover Blink’s rendering processes. “Past experience suggests that potentially exploitable bugs will be present in future Chrome releases,” the Google-led Chromium team acknowledged in documentation. “There were 10 potentially exploitable bugs in renderer components in M69, 5 in M70, 13 in M71, 13 in M72, 15 in M73. This volume of bugs holds steady despite years of investment into developer education, fuzzing, Vulnerability Reward Programs, etc. Note that this only includes bugs that are reported to us or are found by our team.”

M69, M70 and so on are the Chromium labels for Chrome 69, Chrome 70, etc.

Chrome 77’s additional site isolation capabilities were foreshadowed last year by Justin Schuh, principle engineer and director of Chrome security, when he tweeted, “…work is under way to protect against attacks from compromised renderers.”

At the same time, Schuh said that, while engineers are working up site isolation for Chrome on Android, that’s also unfinished because of “resource consumption issues.” That consumption was one of the prime trade-offs for implementing site isolation, as increasing the number of processes increased the browser’s memory consumption by up to 13%.

As of Chrome 77, the Android version also sports site isolation, Moshchuk and Anforowicz said in their post two weeks ago. The technology wasn’t enabled the same way as on desktop personal computers, though.

“Unlike desktop platforms where we isolate all sites, Chrome on Android uses a slimmer form of Site Isolation, protecting fewer sites to keep overhead low, wrote Moshchuk and Anforowicz. “Site Isolation is turned on only for high-value sites where users log in with a password. This protects sites with sensitive data that users likely care about, such as banks or shopping sites, while allowing process sharing among less critical sites.”

That password-triggered site isolation has been switched on for nearly all – 99%, said Moshchuk and Anforowicz – on Android devices with at least 2GB of system memory.

More information about Chrome’s site isolation – a lot more – can be found in a paper that Moshchuk, along with two Google colleagues, Charles Reis and Nasko Oskov, presented in August at the annual USENIX Security Symposium.

Site isolation has been – or will be – taken up by other browsers. Count Opera, of course, among the former, as the Norwegian browser relies on the fruits of Chromium, the open-source project that produces the technologies, site isolation among them, that power Chrome.

In February, Mozilla said its own “Project Fission” would add site isolation to Firefox but did not spell out a timetable. It’s unclear what progress Mozilla has made since then – an initial newsletter from the Fission engineering group was never supplanted by one newer – but developers have reduced the memory Firefox requires for a typical process, a necessary step if site isolation isn’t to cripple the browser with performance hits.

Microsoft, which late in 2018 dumped the homegrown browser technologies behind Edge for Chromium’s, will almost certainly feature site isolation when it eventually debuts a stable version of the so-called “full-Chromium” Edge.

Not surprisingly, Google remains hot on site isolation. Very hot.

“I’m not exaggerating when I call site isolation the single greatest advance in browser security since the creation of the sandbox,” tweeted Google’s Schuh on Oct. 17. “It has fundamentally changed the kinds of guarantees the browser can provide and sets the strongest security baseline of any real-world platform.”

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Which Static Site Builder Builds the Best Website?

Static site builders are tools designed to make building a website easier by setting up a lot of the code you would normally have to write from scratch. Whether you need a website for a business or starting a blog, choosing a static website is typically a great choice.

Jekyll and GatsbyJS are two builders that have become particularly popular thanks to their ease of use. Which builder is best? Let’s break these two options down.

Jekyll vs. GatsbyJS: Under the Hood

It’s important to know what code is used to create each of these builders. If you already have a background in a certain programming language you may find one these builders a little easier to use.

Jekyll (Ruby)

Jekyll is built with the Ruby programming language. Ruby is an all-purpose language that is reliable for many different applications. Jekyll is a Ruby Gem, a package of code built inside of Ruby that makes installation simpler at the terminal.

GatsbyJS (Javascript + React)

GatsbyJS is built using React, a JavaScript library that has become very popular for building websites. In order to use GatsbyJS, you will also need Node.js and the Node Package Manager (NPM).

Using GatsbyJS requires a pretty comfortable grasp of JavaScript. Fortunately, JavaScript is the most popular language for working on web code. If you have a good grasp of JavaScript you might find yourself more comfortable right from the start with GatsbyJS.

Jekyll vs. GatsbyJS: Installation

Installation of both static website builders is pretty simple using the command line.


Quickstart Guide for Jeykll Static Site Builder

To get started with Jekyll, once you have Ruby installed, you only need to run a few instructions at the command line. Jekyll’s Quickstart Guide is a great resource.

  1. Install Ruby
  2. Install Jekyll and Bundler Gems
  3. Create your website
  4. View in your browser on http://localhost:4000

It’s a pretty simple process once you get the hang of Ruby.


GatsbyJS will require a few things to be installed to make launching a website simple. The three things you will need are:

  • Node.js
  • Git
  • Gatsby Command Line Interface (CLI)

Node.js is essential to run Gatsby.js, so you will need to make sure this is installed first. You can download Node.js for Windows. If you’re on macOS, GatsbyJS recommends using Homebrew to install Node.js through the terminal.

Git is required for GatsbyJS on all systems, but chances are you’re using this already if you’re working with code.

The Gatsby CLI is a tool built by GatsbyJS that lets you develop websites easier. It is a package in the Node Package Manager (NPM) for Node.js.

To install the Gatsby CLI all you have to do is run an NPM command at the terminal.

npm install -g gatsby-cli

Note for Windows users: GatsbyJS leans a little towards macOS in its installation. For Windows installation, GatsbyJS recommends using Windows Subsystem for Linux if you’re using Windows 10.

GatsbyJS provide a Quickstart Guide as well. The Gatsby CLI runs commands at the terminal using the gatsby command. Here is an example using a Gatsby starter, which is just a code template provided by GatsbyJS:

Quickstart Guide for GatsbyJS

Once you run this sequence you can open http://localhost:8000 to view your website.

Jekyll vs. GatsbyJS: Ecosystem and Features

When choosing a site builder you should look at not only the builder but all other tools and support it can use.


Jekyll uses a combination of Liquid, Markdown, HTML, and CSS to process websites. Liquid does a great job performing logic inside of HTML. Markdown is a neat little tool to speed up coding by letting you write plain text words; Markdown will convert your text to clean HTML. Markdown has a long list of features that make your development easier

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Jekyll does have a plugin system that can create some additional functionality, using Ruby Gems. There is a host of plugins built into Ruby for Jekyll, and you can create your own.

Jekyll also features a pretty unique feature that can import code from existing websites, and convert them to Jekyll. The idea is to take an older, maybe more cluttered, website and improve performance with Jekyll. You can import code from WordPress, Tumblr, Drupal and more.


GatsbyJS uses React.js by JavaScript which is widely used, thanks to its speed and modern design. Webpack, CSS, and JavaScript all combine to deliver an impressive stack.

GatsbyJS also has a rich plugin system supported by Node.js and delivered as packages. The popularity of Node.js gives GatsbyJS a little bit of an edge. NPM packages are extremely popular in web development thanks to their stability and the use of JavaScript.

GatsbyJS has a selection of starters and themes, which are just templates you can start a website with. They’re nice to have, but not something that really will make or break choosing GatsbyJS. The real advantage is going to be the use of Node.js

Jekyll vs. GatsbyJS: Final Impressions

Before wrapping up, it’s pretty clear that the programming language first and foremost is the most important thing to consider when deciding between these two builders. All of their real features are based around their code, so if you’re comfortable with Ruby (Jeykll) or JavaScrip t(GatsbyJS) the decision will be pretty clear.

We like Jekyll for its stability, it has great support from GitHub. The use of Liquid and Markdown are nice to have, and the feature to import old code is pretty useful.

GatsbyJS is packed with a lot of features, centered around Node.js. GatsbyJS touts a modern stack that can develop websites for both the web and mobile. React, Webpack, GraphQL, CSS, and HTML are built-in, and good to have. JavaScript is one of the easiest languages to learn

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, so even if you don’t know it, you can learn quickly.

The starter library for both builders is nice, but if you’re building a serious website you won’t have much of a use for them at all.

Both builders are powerful and evenly matched. With that being said the builder we like more is GatsbyJS. It uses JavaScript which will work well into the future

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, boasts great performance, and has the support of the NPM library which continues to grow.

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