PG Study home page on iPhone 5
In February we launched a completely new Postgraduate Study website. Like last year’s redesigned Undergraduate Study site, the new responsive design adapts to mobile screens as well as desktops and laptops. Making our sites viewable on mobile devices is important. Mobile traffic to the Postgraduate site increased by 265% in the past year; and April’s release of Google’s new mobile-friendly algorithm for searches on mobile devices will make optimising for mobile users even more imperative.
Although modelled on the Undergraduate site’s responsive design scheme, it was by no means a matter of pouring postgraduate content into an existing design and changing the colours and images.
Before deciding about the new site’s design, content and functionality Web and Marketing staff conducted a great deal of research to work out what prospective postgraduates want and how best to deliver it.
- We reviewed 30 home and overseas competitor universities’ postgraduate recruitment websites. We found producing a professional, user-friendly, comprehensive PG website with all the relevant details in one place would set us apart from many of our competitors, with easily accessible costs and funding a big potential differentiator.
- We examined sites of non-HE organisations - think tanks and consultancies who trade on their expertise in key subjects, creative agencies for how they showcase their achievements and ability to make a difference, PG referral sites such as FindAMasters and Prospects, and training and skills sites.
- We reviewed feedback from postgraduate surveys and focus groups conducted by Market Research to understand what information applicants want.
- We looked at recommendations from external surveys and reports including last year’s HEFCE report ‘What information do prospective postgraduate taught students need?’
- We reviewed analytics reports for traffic to the PG Study site to see what are the most visited pages, where in the world our visitors live, what devices they use, how many visit more than once and how many pages they view.
Our discoveries helped us understand more clearly how to meet our main aim of improving the quality of the information, access and experience for users of the site to support recruitment.
We aimed to make it easier for prospective students to:
- find programmes relevant to their academic and personal interests, so effective search would be critical;
- research these in detail, including easily accessible costs, funding information, module details and staff research expertise;
- make contact with the University, including via social media and opportunities to visit;
- find important information about student life, accommodation and student support;
- discover how an Exeter postgraduate qualification could enhance their employability and knowledge of a subject area;
- apply for postgraduate study or research.
A much clearer and more direct approach to giving the details of particular offerings should make a better experience for prospective students, and prominent and plentiful calls to action would promote engagement with the University
The variety of programmes we offer reflects people’s varied motives for postgraduate study. We had to allow flexibility in each programme page’s content, and ensure they would display correctly in course search results. Content analysis and planning presented a few challenges. You have no idea how many different programme durations we have until you have to allow for all of them in one content template!
College Web Marketing Officers, together with Marketing Managers and Programme Administrators thoroughly reviewed all the programme information in the new page layouts to ensure its accuracy, and enriched it with video, images, profiles and quotes.
We separated taught Masters from research degrees in the navigation, as their audiences are quite different. We created separate templates for them in our content management system, along with a choice of additional templates allowing optional elements to be bolted on as necessary.
Our research showed all the key decision-making information needs to be available in one place, so we made sure when a site visitor finds a programme of interest they have direct access to all they need to assess its suitability, without having to hunt around.
- We imported programme structures and module descriptions from the iPaMS database for those programmes where up-to-date data was available. Where it wasn’t, programme structures were created manually in the CMS.
- We included the appropriate English language requirements within each programme page.
- We incorporated current funding lists generated from the central Funding database either within individual programme pages, or as a discipline-level page within the Postgraduate site, linked to from a call-to-action button on the relevant programmes.
- We added further call-to-action buttons for online applications, enquiry forms enabling questions to be sent direct to College Admissions contacts, and links to subject sites.
Every page provides a tailored postgraduate course finder combining taught and research programmes, with filters by type, location and study mode.
Because postgraduate programmes cover very specialist topics, we built in the ability to add targeted key words to our programme page metadata to ensure programmes are found for specific search terms in the course finder.
The postgraduate search facility also integrates options to search for staff research interests and funding opportunities from any page in the site.
General information pages
Supporting information about study, support, admissions, visits, student life, careers and money matters needed thorough review and reorganisation, as duplication and complexity had burgeoned in the old site. Moving it into responsive page layouts was an opportunity to have a clear out to provide more streamlined and focused information.
Responsive sites can’t have a deeply nested site structure, so working out how to organise this information in the main top navigation required a lot of thinking through and testing.
Prospective postgraduate students come from a wide range of ages, places and backgrounds with varying motives for taking up postgraduate study or research. They can be passionate about exploring a particular discipline, wanting to return to academic study, looking to enhance their career prospects or change careers.
From their market research, Marketing created a set of personas – fictional site visitors, fleshed out as individual characters with personalities, motivations, back stories and attitudes. At various stages we tested whether or not the way we were setting the site up would assist them in successfully answering their key questions, even before we had anything to try out on real people.
This little group of imaginary site visitors included:
- a current final year Environmental Science UG,
- a final-year UG student from China wanting to study an International Marketing Masters in the UK,
- a local primary school teacher looking for professional development,
- a redundant engineer in his late 20s wanting to undertake a PhD,
- a legal professional from Africa looking for a Law Masters,
- an offer holder for an MA in the Drama department, planning his studies at Exeter,
- and a mid-career health professional seeking career progression.
It was really good to have them on our team, giving us their perspective at the design and build stage and keeping us from putting obstacles in their way.
We tested the site on current final-year undergraduate students and used the findings to adjust the structure, labelling and content. It confirmed some things we already knew too, such as search being vital, as at the time it hadn’t been completed, but everyone wanted to use it as soon as they landed on the site.
They also expect universities to be vague about programmes and funding opportunities, because this is what they encounter all the time. They want us to be clear, concise and direct, and give them the facts up front.
We tested the new pages on a variety of different devices to make sure all the information remained accessible.
The next phase
The launch of a new website is only the beginning. We will monitor the site’s performance to identify areas where we can make specific improvements, and conduct mini-projects for developing new functionality and features as we identify a need.
Further planned improvements include:
- easier access to international qualification equivalences,
- improvement to the display of research expertise and funding search results,
- access to full module details,
- further keyword research for specific programmes.
We aim to keep the Postgraduate site working for us and our prospective postgraduates the way it needs by identifying and responding to changes not just in the technology people use, but to the landscape of postgraduate recruitment.
Web Marketing and Editorial Officer