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Living Systems Institute website live

You can’t have missed the rapid rise from the ground of the new Living Systems building next to Geoffrey Pope, and now there is a new website to match!

The Living Systems Institute is a new £52.5 million investment from the University which will pioneer novel approaches to understanding diseases and how they can be better diagnosed, building on our significant established research strengths in human, animal and plant diseases, and incorporating innovative diagnostic imaging technologies and powerful mathematical modelling capabilities.

The new website is fully mobile responsive and features a parallax background when you scroll up and down. As well as web cams and videos of the building going up, the site also contains further information about the Living Systems Institute research and details of the recruitment process.

Living Systems Institute site

The Living Systems Institute website is now live

View the site:

Ed Creed
Web Marketing Officer for the College of Life and Environmental Sciences

The ‘Inverted Pyramid’ web content model

You have about two seconds to ‘hook’ your reader – so the first words on your page and the structure of your copy is incredibly important.

A technique called the inverted pyramid can be used to structure your copy in a way that puts the most important information at the top and the less essential at the bottom. This means if someone only reads half your page they still leave having consumed your key messages.

Eye tracking studies have shown that people spend more time looking at the top left of a page – the place your profile picture is usually displayed on social media sites. They read the first few words of the first paragraph; if that doesn’t hook them they will read the first few words of the second paragraph. If they still aren’t interested they will leave for another website.

Using the inverted pyramid encourages you to put the most important information first (where people are most likely to see it) – this includes the who, what, where, when, why and how – then the more general (or background) information further down.

Inverted pyramid

Inverted pyramid for web writing

The inverted pyramid analogy shows that the points in your copy are made in descending order of importance.

The inverted pyramid was originally (and still is) used by journalists to give structure to news stories. It means a reader can stop reading when they have satisfied their curiosity without worrying that something is being held back. It also meant that, back in the days of having to typeset newspaper pages, sub-editors could cut the bottom off a story without losing any essential information.

Jenna Richards
Web and Digital Communications Officer (Research)


Accommodation website redesign

The Accommodation website is one of our most important sites in terms of the student experience, receiving over 1,790,000 page views a year. From researching courses and applying, accepting an offer of a place from the University, the next step is ‘where to live?’.

Current and international students also have a range of needs regarding accommodation information, as do parents of prospective and current students who have a vested interest, questions and concerns about where their son or daughter will be living during their time at the University of Exeter. So the site has a wide range of audiences who all need clearly signposted information, and of course the University wants to promote the wide range of available living accommodation options and locations on all campuses that we, and other external partners, provide.

This site has a major refresh annually, in advance of each application cycle, which is a great opportunity to assess the existing site and make improvements.


Site specification

We chose to build the site in a new responsive design, as increasingly students and parents are researching and comparing accommodation on mobiles and tablets as well as desktop computers, and this would bring the Accommodation site in line with our recently launched responsive Undergraduate and Postgraduate websites, and with Google’s new search algorithms which prioritise mobile ready sites.

Some items on the wish-list for this site refresh included:

  • Site design to work with the University Living branding used across accommodation promotional materials
  • Clear calls to action, particularly on the homepage
  • Links to social media on every page, particularly highlighting the Accommodation Office’s blog
  • Integrated micro-site dedicated to accommodation on our Cornwall campuses. Although in organisational terms, accommodation on our Cornwall campuses is provided and managed separately to our Exeter campuses, students need to have access to the general living information that the University provides on our central Accommodation website but we must avoid any confusion regarding locations of accommodation at our campuses.
  • Information about each residence available on a single page
  • Interactive map to display each residence in relation to the campus and other facilities eg sports, cafes, bus stops.

Analysing navigation

To help dictate the navigation for the site and identify any pages that were relatively unused and therefore perhaps unnecessary or could work better, we used Google Analytics to establish the most popular pages and devised a navigational structure which would clearly signpost information for each audience.

Identifying content types

We identified the types of content we would need on each page such as image galleries, tabs, accordions, static images, forms, the interactive map, virtual tours, videos, quotes, tabular information (such as fees for each residence). This enabled our designer to work to a clear brief when designing and building new templates, essential as we had a tight deadline for the project.

Building the site

Our designer built templates which made efficient use of content, for example there is only one image size used throughout the site, however images can be used at full size for a large top image, or the smaller size for a gallery on a residences page – the site automatically resizes the image accordingly. These efficiencies save time for the Web Marketing Officers populating the site with content and save on content stored in the media library, while keeping file sizes relatively low means loading times are not impacted negatively.

Clever gallery coding means that you can load multiple images into a gallery and automatically scrolling arrows appear and the images will run in a slideshow, however if you only load one image, the arrows will not display and the gallery won’t rotate – another time saving efficiency for people building the pages and efficient use of content and templates.

The residences pages are a huge part of the site and use multiple content types all on one page, which provides some challenges in the site build, particularly when considering how content will reshape to fit the device a user is looking at the site on.

The future

We continually monitor site statistics and communicate with our client so that we can assess whether further improvements or developments need to be made, and we will be running user tests to inform those developments and assess the success of the new site.

Our aim is to keep improving the site to provide the best information that we can for our website audiences, and help to ensure that the accommodation part of the student experience is a positive one and runs smoothly.

Helen Leslie,
Web Marketing Officer, Professional Services Team Leader

Chinese social media—a new way to engage with students

China has its own series of social media channels that are designed with the Chinese audience in mind and different to the ones we are familiar with in the UK. Instead of Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp; the two most popular channels in China are Sina Weibo (the equivalent of Twitter) and Wechat (similar to Whatsapp).

As part of a new international marketing campaign we started investigating Chinese social media channels as a way to reach our prospective Chinese students. We launched the University’s corporate Sina Weibo account in November 2014 and this month (March 2015) have just launched our presence on WeChat.

By having an account representing the University on both Sina Weibo and Wechat, we are introducing Exeter to Chinese students, keeping our current Chinese students connected with us, reaching out for prospective students, communicating with them, and providing them a fabulous University experience.

Sina Weibo

Sina Weibo is a mix of Facebook and Twitter. Sina Weibo is a platform where people can express their opinions, share their personal experiences in the form of text (usually around 140 characters) and attach photos, videos and longer articles. Sina Weibo has over 500 million registered accounts, and out of them, 143.8 million are monthly active users, 66.6 million are daily active users. weibo

The university account on Sina Weibo was set up in late November 2014. We have over 1,300 followers on Sina Weibo.

On Sina Weibo, we “weibo” quite often each day. Normally, 2 to 4 messages go out every day, attempting to be enough to capture people’s attention but not bombarding them. The content could be anything ranging from University photos to University events. In a nutshell, anything that may be of interest for our prospective and current students and also showcases the University’s improvements and achievements.

On average, our posts are viewed around 3,500 times and occasionally, it can surge to 7,000 times depending on how explosive  the news is. We also get “likes”, comments, “reweibo” and questions every day. For example, during February, a number of students contacted us on Sina Weibo and told us about the difficulties they had when trying to pay their tuition fees. For easy and obvious questions, we helped them directly if we knew the answer. For some tricky ones, we directed them to SID and as far as we know, all of them have now been able to pay.


Wechat is a free app mainly based on smartphones and tablets. It is similar to WhatsApp but offers a greater deal of functionality. Based on the Internet, Wechat can be used to send free text, voice messages, videos, pictures and make free video calls. Figure shows that as of January 2015, Wechat has more than 1.1 billion accounts and of them, 468 million are monthly active users. WeChat also has 100 million users outside of China., It is the most popular app among Chinese. wechat

Our University’s account was promoted on 10 March, 2015 and we have more followers every day. In just over 2 weeks, we have gained over 250 followers on Wechat.

Our followers on Wechat will be able to view all of our articles, which are about the most important news about the University, such as our China visit events. Our followers will be able to ask questions via Wechat, and they will get a timely response. It is like a mini website too so our followers are able to find information such as accommodation, maps, applications and the contact details of relevant departments very easy and quickly.

Laura Li
Chinese Social Media Officer

An introduction to Instagram

By Emily Chapman, Web Marketing Officer for HR Services and Communication and Marketing Services

Instagram logoInstagram is an online photo and video sharing social network. Instagram is app based and makes use of the ever expanding technology that today’s mobile phones offer. It was set up by two Stanford graduates in 2010 and was purchased by Facebook in 2012. Moving forward two years Instagram is now the fastest growing social network and the one that receives the highest level of engagement from users, roughly 1,000 comments and 8,500 likes per second.

  • Engagement on Instagram is 15 times that of Facebook’s, with users spending an average of 257 minutes per month on the app.
  • Instagram receives 1,000 comments and 8,500 likes per second. That equates to 1.2 billion likes per day.
  • 200 million people across the world now use the photo app, sharing 60 million images a day.

Photo filters

Instagram’s key selling point is the photo filter, a layer that, when added to a normal photo, gives it the look of professional editing. Some filters enhance the colours in a photo, while others can alter the light, change the focus or even age your photos to give them a vintage or retro look. Instagram currently has a set of around 20 filters which you can use to give your photos a more professional finish. Using a filter is not required though and #nofilter is one of the most commonly used hashtags on Instagram.


If you love your hashtags then Instagram is the social network for you. Using hashtags on Instagram is the best way to get your photo in front of other people. Instagram posts do not work in the same way as tweets (where the content of a post is searchable) so hashtags are key for users to find new content and people to follow.

What’s the most popular hashtag on Instagram? #love which has been used over 696 million times.

Exeter on Instagram

The University has a corporate Instagram account which you can follow @uniofexeter or go to Over the past year our levels of engagement have more than doubled and we are continuing to build our presence on Instagram alongside our other social media channels.

Instagram is a fantastic way to give our followers an insight into life at the University whether it be through photos of campus across the seasons or photos of special events in the University calendar such as graduation.

Our 5 most popular photos on Instagram so far are:


Reed Hall at sunset

The Forum

The Forum decorated for Christmas

E pumpkin

A Halloween pumpkin with the Exeter E carved into it


The University of Exeter sign

The Piazza

The Piazza on a summer’s morning

For guidance on how to build your community on social media see other related articles on this blog and speak to your Web Marketing Officer.

Rethinking the Undergraduate Study website

On February 20th we launched a brand new Undergraduate (UG) Study website. This is the website that showcases our undergraduate programmes to prospective students around the world. It’s the most popular part of our site, attracting more than 6 million external pageviews each year from more than 200 countries and territories.

The new site has been designed to meet the changing demands of visitors to our website, including the use of mobile devices, which has seen a 15-fold increase over the last two years. We also met the technical challenge of incorporating rich course information from iPaMs, our emerging Integrated Programmes and Modules System.

UG Study - responsive course pages

UG Study – responsive course pages

Planning and preparation

We refresh the UG Study website every year, but for this year’s full redesign we went back to first principles and asked ourselves fundamental questions about who our prospective students are, what they want from a website and how we could best provide it.

  • We listened to prospective students who told us where the UG Study website fits into their information-seeking habits, what they want from the website and how this differs from, for example, the printed prospectus.
  • We reviewed websites across UK, US, Canadian and Australian higher education looking for inspiration and examples of best practice.
  • We looked at the sites of large charities and public bodies to help us understand how they encourage their visitors to engage with them.
  • We examined sites which supported ‘big decisions’, such as estate agents, healthcare providers and financial institutions to better understand how they helped visitors to find the right product for them.
  • We read research papers and industry reports to understand that visitors to university websites expected to find familiar user interfaces and tools from ecommerce and social websites, such as search filters, expandable panels and tabbed content.
  • We analysed our web traffic and discovered that course pages, visit day pages and application information account for almost all the traffic to the site, and that almost 20% of visits to the site were made by mobile users.

Designing and building

Based on our research we designed a new scheme for the UG Study site. We aimed to give the pages a more contemporary feel, to increase the amount of space we could use for content by introducing a horizontal navigation menu and to create a set of responsive page layouts which would dynamically adjust to the size of screen the site was being viewed on.

We developed wireframes to represent our main page types and began the ongoing process of testing with potential users of the site and improving our designs based on their feedback.

Creating a single page which will adjust to display well on different devices requires content elements such as text and images to show and hide, resize and reposition depending on the size and orientation of the screen. Responsive design adds a great deal of complexity to content planning and the team had to learn new ways not only to code the website but also to create and manage the content.

Integrating data

We knew from our research that prospective students wanted to find detailed breakdowns of the courses they were considering. To allow us to deliver this, we developed new methods to import data from the iPaMs database into our Web Content Management System. Not only did this present huge technical challenges as we pulled content for more than 300 programmes from one database into another, but with colleagues in the Colleges and the Marketing Team, it required an enormous amount of work to ensure that the data was current and accurate.

Adding search

We built a new ‘course search’ tool, developed using Funnelback, our website search engine. This allows us to index only the UG course pages and bring back results in a form which can be sorted and filtered by criteria such as course duration, location and study options.


Once the site began to take shape, we involved the whole team in testing it for content, appearance and functionality on a huge range of devices. With a site built for smartphones and tablets it’s no longer enough to look at it in the most popular browsers on a desktop PC. We conducted detailed testing on more than 20 different platforms, choosing those combinations of device and browser which were most popular amongst our users. We could have tested five times as many.

Sharing our work

We took the developing site around the University, demoing it to groups and meetings in every College and involving hundreds of staff members, incorporating their feedback and comments as we went.

Launch and beyond

The site was launched on 20 February after more than 12 months of thinking, planning, experimenting, constructing, populating, data-cleansing and testing, testing, testing, all of which was undertaken by the Web and Marketing Teams, with great support from colleagues across the Colleges and Services.

Traffic patterns in the month since the site went live are very encouraging, suggesting that users are engaging with the site more than with its predecessor.

  • We have seen a 43% increase in the number of pageviews per visit to the site
  • a 58% increase in the average visit duration and 
  • a 54% decrease in the bounce rate (i.e. the number of visitors who leave the site immediately after arriving).

Looking specifically at mobile visitors we have seen even more positive results including

  • a 77% increase in the number of pages per visit and 
  • a 142% increase in the average visit duration.

We think the new site is a big step forward. It achieves what we set out to do and, we hope, meets the needs of today’s prospective students. We will continue to learn from the users of our site and to improve it further in the weeks and months to come.

Take a look at the UG Study site and let us know what you think in comments.

Rob Mitchell
Web Editor

Introducing the iExeter Governance Group

iExeter is the University’s smartphone app. Launched in 2012, it has been delivering services to more than 10,000 registered users throughout this academic year.

Here’s what it looks like:

The project to develop iExeter finished in January and now ownership has passed jointly to Communications and Marketing and our colleagues in Exeter IT. Oversight will be from a new Governance Group which meets for the first time next week.

The group is made up of representatives from:

  • Communications and Marketing
  • Exeter IT
  • The Students’ Guild
  • Learning Spaces
  • Student Services
  • Campus Services
  • Academic Colleges

The principle aim of the group is to ensure that iExeter continues to meet and, hopefully, exceed the needs and expectations of our students.

Uptake of iExeter has certainly exceeded our initial expectations. More than half our students have registered for the app and our technology partners oMbiel tell us that this puts us in the top 2 or 3 universities in the UK for take-up. The feedback we’ve received has been positive and the usage stats show that where the service is directly relevant to mobile users then the app is becoming the preferred channel. We’re already seeing access to personalised timetabling information via the app beginning to overtake access from desktop machines. Which makes sense!

We’re using this data to plan the next round of developments, focusing on what our students tell us they want to see.

We’ll keep you updated as we progress, but in the meantime if you have any comments on the app, or ideas for new features, let us have them!

Birch Engine Optimisation

Last week I read a magazine article, which coincidentally talked about the very activity that I, and my colleagues, had spent that day doing. The article said: ‘As the saying goes, ‘If you want to feel good, do good’. Research has proved that volunteering boosts happiness, partly by making you feel more connected with others.’

By the end of the day the team were too tired to attempt even a single 'bunny ears'.

By the end of the day the team were too tired to attempt even a single 'bunny ears'.

I felt strangely pleased to read that, and could vouch for its accuracy. We, the University of Exeter Web Team, had spent that day out of the office on a Community Challenge day, a scheme whereby the University allows each department one day per year to work in the community, doing something of benefit to others.

After much discussion and Googling, we selected Moor Trees as our chosen organisation, mainly because we felt that their work – growing and planting native trees in nurseries and recreating woodlands mainly in the Dartmoor and South Hams areas, was the polar opposite of our everyday work – based at our computers, working with one of the most modern and least tangible of technologies – the internet. We felt how better to benefit the community than to contribute to our beautiful local landscape – and frankly, to benefit ourselves by getting out of the office, away from people and computers and getting our hands dirty – literally.

It was an incredible stroke of luck that our visit coincided with some of the warmest March weather on record, and the day’s early chill gave way to clear blue skies and sunshine. Having gathered at an innocuous-looking gate in a hedge in Dartington, we sat around the ash remains of previous campfires as Michelle from Moor Trees gave us a brief introduction to their work and the nursery that would be our base for the day.

A few nervous titters about the composting toilet thankfully proved unfounded (visions of ‘that’ toilet scene from Slumdog Millionaire flashed through my brain), as it was less ‘Glastonbury’ and more ‘rustic campsite’.

Moor Trees’ shed was a new, proud addition to the nursery which provided welcome shady refuge at lunchtime (yes, it was THAT hot!) and also home to the old Web Team favourites – tea and cake.

So after these introductions, ‘Team Roots’ set to work – some pollarding trees (a method of pruning), some planting out one year-old oak trees into beds (these will be planted out into woodland when they are three years old). Others began repairing the wooden beds in which the acorns and young trees are planted. The beds are frequently damaged by tree roots growing under the planks, which then break when the trees are lifted, so they need frequent repair. Other members of the team were hard at work weeding pathways between the beds and the beds themselves. We were all able to have a go at most of the jobs throughout the day, although some stayed with the manly hammering and sawing work repairing the beds, and some stayed with the humble task of weeding all day.

There was a palpable sense of achievement by the time we were slowing down at the end of the afternoon. The heat had dissipated a little as a fresh breeze picked up, and we tidied around the nursery and emptied wheelbarrowful after wheelbarrowful of weeds on to the compost heap. We could look over the site and see the difference we had made – Michelle from Moor Trees seemed genuinely pleased and impressed that we had managed to complete all the tasks around the nursery in the day, including weeding the entire site, which leaves them with a well-prepared site for the new season ahead. As their busiest season is winter when the young trees are lifted and planted out, the nursery sites suffer a little neglect and need a good dose of attention from volunteers come February/March-time.

Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the day was the sense of teamwork. There was a pleasure in everybody working together, enjoying relaxed pockets of conversation, only bettered by the beautiful views provided by the South Hams countryside. The constant company of birds twittering and singing in the trees combined with the distant choo-choo of the Buckfastleigh to Littlehempston steam train was an enjoyable soundtrack to the day.

I think we all agreed that we couldn’t have had a more satisfying rest for our brains while enjoying physical work and fresh air, achieving something beneficial for ourselves, for Moor Trees, and for generations to come.

Media studies

Last week saw the conclusion of this year’s Student’s Guild Sabbatical Officers election campaign at the University. Once again the Guild here broke records for the levels of participation and the campus was filled with enthusiastic students having fun boosting their favourite candidates.

The web has long had a role in student elections here – we’ve had online voting for 6 or 7 years – but this year things seem to have moved to a new level. We had a call the Friday before last to say that some of the students had staged a flash mob on the Piazza in the middle of campus, and that we had some film footage. We thought for a while about whether this was the sort of thing we should be running with, wondered whether it gave unfair promotion to one of the candidates, then stuck it on our YouTube channel and tweeted and facebooked it. By the following Monday the clip had been watched 4,000 times. A week later and it’s pushing 9,000 views.

I thought this was an example of one of the candidates stealing a march on the others, but no. It turns out that you couldn’t be a serious candidate in this year’s elections without your own campaign videos.

We had other, slightly less appropriate Flashes (Warning: Slightly Not Safe For Work).

Some managed to combine campaign messages with serious larking about:

Others seemed to be working on a more subliminal level, although quite what they were conveying wasn’t always clear:

Some of them had fantastic production values:

Some of them were creative sweeties, and even included QR codes for mobile voting:

Some came across as bizarre performance art:

And some seemed to lay their candidates open to a charge of littering:

Very few of the clips went for straight manifesto delivery. All the candidates seemed to conclude that a video could do a thousand times more than a poorly photocopied poster in terms of establishing an impression with their electorate. Even those clips which did detail a specific platform played with the format and tried also to show some personality.

And if all else failed and you couldn’t ape the established news media, you could always just co-opt them!

With one exception, each of the clips above – and these are just a selection – was watched more than 1,000 times during the campaign, that’s against a total number of votes cast of 6,501 which perhaps says something about the reach of videos like these. Of the 5 elected candidates, 4 had online video as  part of their campaign.

We may look back with regret in years to come when our candidates are running slick attack ads against each other, but for now we applaud their ingenuity, their hard work and their sense of fun.

An Apple for teacher?

I work in an almost Apple-free institution. At least, we think we’re Apple-free.

Historically Macs have not been widely supported here, although some colleagues do use them. There are good reasons for this and I’m not an IT strategist so I shall gracefully turn away from discussing them, other than to confirm that my priority is to be able to share, collaborate and work with all my colleagues, rather than to have a shiny aluminium unibody space capsule of a machine glowing elegantly on my desk. I’m happy using my PC.

Despite the fact we don’t support them, don’t purchase them, don’t install and use their devices in our offices, they are in the hands of our customers and over the last few years no company has shaped, informed, affected and attacked the way we do digital things here more than Apple.

The way our sites and services look is now challenged to live up to the grey, sleek almost Scandinavian aesthetic that Jonathan Ive and his disciples have propelled into cultural dominance.

The shift to mobile sites and services, which is finally having a real impact on what we’re doing and planning would not have happened so explosively without the iPhone.

And now the iPad, a sleek lozenge of plastic and metal which has the potential to replace a briefcase full of notes and papers, your atlas, your portable DVD player, your camera, your filing system, your bookshelves, your audio library and much more is making inroads.

"Now, can you point to the ATP molecule? (image copyright Apple 2012)

"Now, can you point to the ATP molecule? (image copyright Apple 2012)

No ad for the iPad is complete without shots of schoolchildren conjuring magic from its screen and, the implication is, being changed forever. Following Apple’s announcement of textbooks for iPad yesterday it looks like we’ll soon be seeing the same shots featuring rather more grown up, perhaps slightly spottier students.

See the YouTube clip for more details (and more shots of transformed students and their grateful teachers).

Although the focus of yesterday’s announcement was on US Schools, I can see this having a direct and perhaps much more immediate impact, on the way university students are taught.

The commissioning, production, approval, adoption and distribution of school textbooks is carefully controlled and regulated. University lecturers, many of whom are at the cutting edge of the use of technology for teaching, are creating and distributing material to small groups all the time, to their own timetables and governed only by their own expectations.

If Apple have, as they claim, put the means of production of engaging, interactive, always-up-to-date learning material into the hands of teachers and academics, and if, as they claim, existing material can be iBooked and distributed in a matter of minutes, then we may well have another revolution on our hands.

There are serious challenges implicit. All universities have carefully planned and supported Virtual Learning Environments which provide a means to create educational material as well as a repository for them. They offer a rich experience, bringing together collaborative tools, mixed media teaching materials and interaction with classmates and teachers. iBooks may do none of those things as well or as coherently in the context of a large institution. But they look exciting and clearly have something to offer and, more to the point, they are about to be pushed at us from every angle by the most powerful marketing outfit of the 21 century.

Watch this shiny screen space.