The Curse Of Knowledge

Have you ever played a game of charades at Christmas and been frustrated by your team-mates’ inability to guess even the simplest of your acting efforts? Have you ever tried showing somebody how to perform a simple task in Word and been wound up by the fact that they just can’t seem to grasp it, no matter how simply you explain it?

Congratulations; you’ve just been visited by The Curse of Knowledge.

The Curse of Knowledge is a cognitive bias inherent in all human beings which, in a nutshell, means the more familiar you are with something, the harder it is to put yourself in the shoes of somebody who isn’t familiar with that thing.

The term was first coined in 1989 Journal of Political Economy article by economists Colin Camerer, George Loewenstein, and Martin Weber. In 1990 an experiment by a Stanford graduate student, Elizabeth Newton illustrated the curse of knowledge by the results of a simple task. A group of subjects were asked to tap a well-known song with their fingers and to predict how many of the group would guess correctly. It was found that the tapper would always overestimate the number of correct guesses, by a very large margin. This simple experiment has far-reaching ramifications; in effect, it means that it is almost impossible for somebody with knowledge of a thing to accurately predict the actions or outcomes of somebody who does not have the same knowledge.

As digital marketers and web developers the Curse of Knowledge has huge implications for the way we design and develop. We design and plan based on our expected or desired outcomes, but everything we do is biased by the fact that we already know what the desired outcome is. It is almost impossible for us to predict how our users and customers will react because we cannot “un-know” this knowledge and we will always suffer from this cognitive bias. Users will behave in unpredictable ways because they don’t know what you know, there will be things they don’t understand that seem very obvious to you.

What can we do to combat this natural prejudice? Trying to think like a new user or customer is impossible; your brain won’t allow you to. No matter how hard you try, you cannot un-know what you know, and it will always, always, taint your judgement. The only way to counter this effectively is with extensive user testing. Make no assumptions and no predictions. Build, test, feedback, iterate. If you can afford the services of a professional user-testing organisation, you may find this a worthwhile expense, otherwise you can perform smaller scale testing with your own customers, perhaps through the use of site surveys and session recordings – although bear in mind that your customers may suffer from the same biases as you do, ideally your test subjects should have as little exposure to your testing environment as possible. The most important thing is not to “go with your gut”, because your gut is cursed.

Look out for my next post where we’ll be exploring some common User Testing techniques like the 5 Second Test and Blur Testing

A blog about using plain English

We need to use plain English. Plain English gets our message across quickly and easily. People understand it the first time they read it. Plain English is efficient. It uses short sentences. Is that plain enough for you?

The challenge we face is balancing plain English with getting across our brand personality and our key messages. We need to be welcoming and approachable. We also need to express our expertise. So we don’t want our English to be plain but dull and cold. We want it to be warm, engaging and compelling. All this applies whether we are writing for print, the website or email communications.

Academia tends to have a strained relationship with plain English. I had a brief conversation recently with a colleague who has a pretty high level of academic qualification. They admitted that the further up the educational tree/mountain/ladder you climb, the more complicated the language you are encouraged to use.

In other words, Professors are told to talk fancy.

Cleverness

The reason behind all the jargon, complicated sentence structure, academic language and even Latin is to give an impression of high intellect, of expertise. Half the battle, surely? However, if the great idea is hidden behind too many long, complicated words, the meaning will be lost to too many people. It comes across as cleverness for the sake of cleverness.

Here is an interesting point from Gerry McGovern. In the past, when someone read a sentence they didn’t understand, they saw it as their fault: “I must be stupid.” Now, they see it as the fault of the organisation: “They must be stupid.”

So our audience knows that it is our job to make sure they understand the message. And they are right. We want people to understand what we are doing. We want everyone to understand that we are experts in our fields.

Clarity and brevity

And the trick is that other experts in these fields would much prefer us to use simple language. Another colleague shared this little treat with me.

In 2012, research by Christopher Trudeau at the Thomas M Cooley Law School in Michigan into the use of language found that the more educated the person, the more specialist their knowledge, the greater their preference for plain English. They may understand complicated language but they want clarity and brevity. They simply don’t have time for all those long words.

Professor Trudeau also found that the more complex the idea, the greater the need for plain English. This is a big challenge for us. But it is one we need to overcome. It means that all our producers of content need to understand the idea before they can express it in plain (but engaging) language.

Accessibility

And I haven’t even talked about accessibility yet. I’m going to do that now. Our aim is to be the most accessible university in the UK – both physically and online.

Making our content accessible means using language that everyone understands. And everyone includes the potential student, researcher, business partner, business partner’s granny. They could be 15 years old, they could be 83. They could have a PhD in biochemistry or they could have no qualifications at all.

Beyond our stated aim, we also have a legal requirement to make our website content accessible. There are standards we must meet. Many of these are technical. In terms of the language we use, the standard is simple:

  • Make text content readable and understandable

Ideally, text should be written to be easily readable by all levels of ability. If we do feel the need to use technically advanced text, we should provide easy-read alternatives to explain what we mean.

So call a spade a spade. Don’t call it a long-handled slab of sharpened forged steel.

Writing tools

There are a couple of tools you can use to test your language. These tools will judge you on your sentence length and structure, use of passive voice and word choice.

Within Word, you can access readability statistics through File/Options/Proofing. Tick Use readability statistics and OK that. Then use the grammar check (F7). You will have to go through the checks but you will then get a list of statistics. These include Flesch reading ease. You should be aiming for a score between 60 and 70. By complete accident, this blog scores 65.

You can also use Hemingway Editor, which will give you a readability score. This relates to the education level (US grades) required to understand your text. The app judges this blog to be readable by sixth-graders. They are 11 to 12 years old.

Support

For anyone across the University who is producing content for the website, we do offer Writing for the Web training. This gives you an idea of the type of language you should be using. Contact digitalsupport@derby.ac.uk.

And the general Style Guide for Writing is available on the Marketing and Student Recruitment page on staff ID Intranet @ Derby (under Professional Services).

Building effective creative for paid Facebook campaigns

Facebook campaigns are often thrown together as a last resort to boost bookings or sales. This is because they are easy to set up and have a relatively low cost per conversion. However, they require more thorough planning if they are to be successful.

Facebook campaigns need building, ensuring each step is carefully crafted to ensure you’re able to get what you want out of the campaign and, preferably, for the lowest cost.

With users typically scrolling passively through newsfeeds, you only have a few seconds (maximum!) to grab their attention so, as content creators and advertisers, we don’t have it easy.

Once you’ve set your objective and targeting, all that remains is your creative – don’t fall down at the last hurdle.

Format and placement

Facebook supports a variety of advertising types, enabling your ads to appear on Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and/or Audience Network. Each ad is made up of two components: the format and the placement.

Format defines what your ads look like. Choose from single image, single video, slideshow, carousel, collection and instant experience (aka canvas).

Placement defines where you want your ads to be displayed within Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and/or Audience Network:

  • Facebook (feeds, instant articles, in-stream videos, right column, suggested videos, marketplace, stories)
  • Instagram (feed, stories)
  • Messenger (inbox, stories, sponsored messages)
  • Audience Network (native, banner and interstitial, in-stream videos, rewarded videos)

It’s worth bearing in mind that the advertising objective selected at the start of the campaign impacts the formats and placements available to you at the creative stage.

Copy

Good copy writing is key to get your message across effectively and, ultimately, for a user to act on your advert.

  • Keep the message clear and concise

Use simple language so users can easily and quickly understand your message when scrolling through their feeds. However, make the most of space! Don’t be afraid to use the fields available to you.

Which takes us nicely onto the next point …

  • Keep in mind which formats and placements you are using

Some will display more copy than others (ie Facebook feed will display more copy than a right column ad) so ensure key information is included in the fields that are displayed consistently across all (or most) of the placements being used.

  • If the ad is for an event or product, add detail

Add dates, costs etc. People want to know this information up front! Avoid leaving the user disappointed by encouraging them to click through to your ad only for them to realise they cannot afford the product or are unavailable on that date.

  • Have one clear call to action

The audience should be able to easily and quickly understand what action they’re meant to take next.

  • Write for your audience

Within Facebook, your audience can be highly targeted, based on age, gender, location, interests, behaviours or connections. You can even create custom audiences, for example users who have already visited a specific webpage. With the ability to target more effectively, don’t settle for a one-size-fits-all approach.

Try splitting out audiences and tailoring copy for each. This may involve more work at first as you have to create multiple ad sets within your campaign but you may see better campaign results in the long term.

Imagery

  • Use visuals that match your copy

You’ve spent the time writing the copy, so keep your imagery relevant to your message.

  • Try to avoid copy on images or keep minimal at least

Consider the placements being used. Always ask yourself “will I be able to read the copy on mobile or in the right column?”

Ask yourself whether the imagery is accessible to everyone. Is key information displayed on the image? Will this be missed by users with impaired vision or those using a screen reader?

Facebook also has a review process that identifies the amount of image text used in an ad. Images with more than 20% text may be penalised, experiencing reduced delivery. So, if user experience isn’t a good enough reason, do it for yourself.

  • Use authentic imagery

Where possible, steer clear of stock imagery. The audience will be able to relate better to imagery that’s more authentic.

  • Consider different dimensions for different placements

If shown on Instagram feed, would you prefer a square version of the image? Maybe you’d prefer to use a square image for Facebook also, to stand out in the feed? Do you have vertical imagery to use on Instagram stories ads?

Video

  • Use the highest-quality source video available

Keep resolution high and try to avoid using video with black space around the edges (pillar boxing).

  • Choose attention-grabbing video thumbnails

From a user perspective, if the thumbnail is boring it’s likely the video is boring.

  • Consider video orientation

Today, 96% of online video consumption is on mobile (Social Chain, 2018) and people are using their phones vertically 98% of the time (Ogilvy, 2017). In a world centred on convenience, forcing users to turn their phone horizontally to watch video in widescreen is increasingly considered an inconvenience. If we want our video ads to be seen and, more importantly, watched, we need to be creating content that is optimised for mobile and building ads that match how users are consuming content. This means using square or vertical ratios.

  • Integrate captions into your video

85% of Facebook users now watch videos with the sound off (Sprout Social, 2018) and this trend can also be seen across other platforms. It’s therefore important to make sure your video can be understood effectively both with and without sound. Use of captions, and closed captions, ensure the content can be accessed by everyone, including those with hearing impairments or cognitive and learning disabilities.

  • Consider the length of your video

Ads under 15 seconds work best in feed and the top-performing Stories ads are under 10 seconds in length (Facebook and Oracle, Sept 2017). Notice that says ‘under’, so don’t use 10/15 seconds as a target length every time you produce a video. Trial using different video lengths and see what works best for you – shorter could, in fact, be better.

Test, test and test again

Facebook provides a split testing feature that allows you to test different variations of an advert to see which works best and improve future campaigns.

When setting up your next campaign, trial two different ads, varying the imagery or copy, to see which gets the best results.

This also helps to remove personal opinion when building the creative. Only the audience knows what it wants and the results may surprise you!

In need of inspiration?

Facebook has created an Ad Library to provide advertising transparency. What this also means is that we can search and browse all ads currently running across Facebook platforms. Just search for a name, topic or organisation and voila, ads for days!

Happy peeking and, most importantly, …

Happy building!

How To Write The Perfect Alt Text

What is alt text?

Alt text is the descriptive text that is supplied alongside an image in a website. It is the text that is used if an image doesn’t load or for other reasons may not be visible to our users. As they aren’t often seen, they are easily overlooked, however, for sight-impaired users they can be an absolutely essential part of your web page. Blind or partially sighted users, for example, will probably rely on a nifty bit of software built into all mobile phones and most browsers called a “screen reader” which will read a web page’s content out loud, including the alt text. So you can see that it’s absolutely vital that they are well written so that everybody has the opportunity to understand our content equally.

Additionally, accessibility is the law. There is a requirement for websites to meet minimum accessibility standards. As a University, our aim is to not only meet but exceed those targets, not just because the law requires it but because it’s the right thing to do.

Writing the perfect alt text

Take a look at the following image taken from the University’s website which we’ll use as our example:

A smiling female University of Derby student sitting on a settee in halls holding a mug of coffee

First and foremost, alt text needs to describe the image. It should help users who read it to understand the content of the image. There can be a tendency to write alt text in a way that supports the content of the page but doesn’t describe the image. For example:

“Find out more about our halls”

This kind of thing is no good at all. That won’t help anybody understand the content of the image. It tells us that we’re looking at the accommodation section – but we already know that. It tells us nothing about the image. A much better alt text would be:

“Woman drinking coffee.”

We’ve immediately given the alt text purpose. It’s describing the image. It’s still not great though. We should try to give the image some context. Images on our website should tell a story; they should have a reason to be there. How about:

“University of Derby student drinking coffee”?

Better. We’ve given the image some context. This is no longer a picture of a random stranger drinking coffee, this is one of our students drinking coffee, which makes more sense in the context of the website. Of course, there’s still an issue with this. This alt text could also describe any of the following photos:

A group of alternate photos about coffee to show that alt text can be ambiguous

The recommended maximum number of characters for alt text is 125, as a lot of screen readers will stop reading out the alt text if it’s longer than that. Let’s see if we can use some more of those characters to give our alt text some clarity:

“A smiling female University of Derby student sitting on a settee in halls holding a mug of coffee”

Now that’s an alt text, and we’ve only used 97 characters!

We’ve described the image in a way that makes it distinct. We’ve given it context within the page and we’ve described the content of the image in detail. If you’re struggling to write an alt text, it might be useful to find another image that’s thematically the same and try to write alt text that fits your image but not the other. A bit like spot the difference. Use a character counter to check the length of your text – you’ll be surprised how much you can fit in just 125 characters!

When to not use alt text

There are a couple of situations where you may not need to add an alt text to an image:

If the image is purely decorative or structural. For example, if you have a fancy underline that’s been done as an image or perhaps a background gradient image. Those images don’t convey any meaning, so they won’t need an alt text.

If the image is already fully explained by the supporting page content. You might have a bar graph that is supported by a table. You wouldn’t need an alt tag for the bar graph as its content is fully supported by the table.

If you’re a web developer, it’s important to remember that the alt text property itself should always be included to meet accessibility requirements but, in these cases, it can be empty.

As a general rule of thumb: if in doubt – use alt text.

In summary:

There are some basic rules that you should follow to make sure your alt text is truly outstanding:

  • It needs to describe the image
  • It needs to give the image context within the site
  • It needs to be fewer than 125 characters
  • Do not use phrases like “image of” or “picture of”, let the screen reader handle that

How to improve the search visibility on your content

We all want our content to appear on the first page of a Google search. That is all down to how your content is ranked. And you can do something about that. There are similarities in how your content ranks in search results between search engines and our on-site search. Here are some tips you can take to improve the search visibility of your content…

Do your research

An example my old boss used was to imagine you’re writing a page about a pen. Should you be writing about a black pen, a ball point pen, a biro? Before you start writing, it’s important to do your research to find out the kind of language and phrases people are using when they search.

There are lots of tools you can use for finding out keyword ideas. A couple I would recommend are Ubersuggest and Google’s Keyword Planner. They are both free tools, the later requires you to be logged into Adwords, which you can do through your Google account. These tools will give you ideas of the kinds of terms and phrases you need be using throughout your content.

Below is an example of the keywords ideas from Ubersuggest for the term apprenticeships.

Ubersuggest keyword idea of apprenticeship
Example keyword ideas generated using Ubersuggest for the keyword apprenticeships

URL

The words used in the URL of your content are important. By default, in T4 the URL is formed from the name of the section, however, moderators can override this by using the output uri field. It is best practice to set this yourself, keeping your URL concise, including relevant key words/phrases and ignoring stop words such as and, the, a, etc.

For example, if the name of your section is Accounting and Finance courses at the University of Derby then accounting-finance-courses would be a good output uri.

Meta description

The meta description is a snippet of usually up to 160 characters which summarises the content of your page. The snippet is shown in search results and is important in getting users to click through to your content. Use your research to help you write your description.

Example of how the meta description shows in Google and site search results
Example of how the meta description shows in search results, first Google, followed by site search

In T4, by default the abstract within the Section Config content type is used for the meta description. Moderators can override this using the description field on the metadata tab of your section.

Page headings

The use of headings to structure your content well will improve user experience by making your pages more readable. Better quality content can lead to lower bounce rates and users spending more time on pages. These are positive indicators when it comes to ranking search results. To find out more, Justin’s recent post on the importance of headings is well worth a read.

Internal linking

The more links there are to a page within a website, the more important it is deemed to be. Therefore, link to your content appropriately.

For example, if you’re writing content about plastic pollution and there’s a news article that covers the same subject, add a link. If you don’t own the content where you want the link to be added reach out to the relevant person. If you’re unsure who that is, email digitalsupport@derby.ac.uk.

This works both ways too. Within your content, you should be adding links where appropriate, for example, if you refer to an academic member of staff in your content, link to their staff profile.

External linking

On a similar note, external websites that link to your content influence search results. Once your content is live, look for opportunities for other websites to link to your content. Don’t be afraid to ask. Email colleagues, contacts, web admins and blog owners who you think will be interested in your content. Again it works both ways so link out from content appropriately too.

Be wary though, bad link building practice eg buying links is penalised by Google so ensure any links built are authentic and organic.

Sharing your content on your social media networks will help too. But don’t just post it, engage with people talking about subjects related to your content and share with relevant users.

What next?

Have a go at applying the tips above to your content. If you have any questions or if you’d like to talk in more detail about improving the search visibility of your content, you can book a slot at one of our drop-in sessions. You can do both by emailing digitalsupport@derby.ac.uk.

Tickets and tribulations: what happens when you email digital support 

Our Ticketing System

When the website launched in July 2018 we also launched some less obvious systems at the same time. One of these systems was Jira Service Desk, which is fundamentally a ticketing system although it does a lot of other cool functions. We decided to go for Jira for a couple of reasons:

  • IT currently uses it to great effect
  • It was not gratuitously expensive
  • Atlassian, the company who own Jira, have a good reputation for quality software

After looking at the existing system, which was effectively just ordering emails in an outlook inbox, we decided it would be a great opportunity to upgrade our customer support operation. We thought the best time to do this would be when a big change was already happening (a brand new website) and that directing users to a new mail box would be easier to introduce at the same time.

What does Jira Service Desk ACTUALLY do?

Jira is marvellous! I’m not just saying that as the digital systems guy. From a customer service point of view, it’s actually pretty incredible.

I’ve always thought that customer service should be a priority for any team that deals with a large amount of tasks or assignments internally: having the ability to see any information of emails past or present, what conversations happened, the resolution etc.

For the purposes of this blog post, I’m only going to talk about what we use the system for at the moment but, as we explore and introduce new aspects of the service desk, I will hope to write more about them.

What happens when you email us?

Whenever someone emails Digitalsupport@derby.ac.uk, it comes through to our Jira Service Desk which everyone on the digital marketing team has an account for. The ticket then sits in our unassigned issues queue until whichever team member is looking after Jira that day assigns it to an appropriate team member.

Please bear in mind that all jobs that require work, ie not just a question, should come through Jira and not been emailed to any one person in the digital team. This so we can accurately manage workloads and that jobs don’t get done before others just because a direct email has been used.

As soon as a ticket is assigned to a user, the clock starts counting down and, depending on the priority of the job (the P column) they have certain service level agreements (SLAs) to progress or complete the job. The priority is set by the person who is distributing tickets which follow the process we introduced:

Highest – Only reserved for the jobs that mean our digital systems are not working or breaching the law. Examples of this would be the website is currently down/incorrect information that could lead to a CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) breach. All other work is put on hold while this is addressed.

High – Reserved for jobs that are urgent and would require to be completed within a working day.  This is communicated verbally with whoever receives this ticket. Examples of this would be incorrect information on the website/social media complaints.

Medium – The majority of jobs that come through sit at medium, which is the standard assigned level. We aim to resolve or progress these jobs within two working days where possible. Examples of this would be general content approvals for key pages or creating a form for an important event coming up.

Low – Low is assigned to non-priority jobs that don’t really have any urgency. We usually look to resolve or progress these within five working days. Examples of these jobs would be staff profile updates/approvals of content on non-key pages on the website.

Lowest – Lowest is for jobs that have no real importance or timescales. We would look to resolve these issues when the team has surplus time available. Examples of this would be a campaign running in a year and preparing photographs well in advance.

To contextualise these priorities, out of the 3,035 tickets we have received since July, I have only ever assigned two at the highest level, that is how rare they are.

Does you putting urgent on a ticket change how it gets assigned in priority?
Nope, after assigning over 3,000 tickets, we look at the content and make an educated choice based on the information and current workload. Everyone’s tasks are urgent to them. We have to look at the university as a whole.

Are there any trick/tips to getting your tickets seen faster?

Yes! For those that have made it this far into this blog post, I will show you a cool trick that has been introduced recently. We have created a portal that allows you to pick what type of job you are submitting.

This allows you to pick exactly what type of job you are submitting and it will be assigned into the relevant queue, which means you don’t have to wait for it to be assigned by whoever is on charge on that day. When you fill in the portal form, it also asks you the questions we know we need  information for, which means we don’t have to go back to you for more information. It’s quicker for everyone!

I know what you’re thinking: ‘Wow that’s great! Is there anything I can do to help you?’

What a generous offer. The main issue we have with tickets on Jira is when they are emailed in and everyone and their uncle are cc’d in. Then, when everyone hits the dreaded reply-all button to give a small contribution to the subject, it raises a new ticket (because it’s a new email) and every time someone does it keeps creating new emails.

The importance of headings 

How many times have you landed on a page only to be overwhelmed by the amount of copy on it?

Headings are not only a great way of breaking up paragraphs, but also allowing the reader to skim the page for the information they wish to digest, especially if they aren’t committed to reading every last word.

You probably already know headings are a great way of providing structure to a page visually, but they do so much more – here’s why they’re an essential part of any web page.

Headings make your content accessible

We’ve just topped the Sitemorse INDEX for UK Universities and Higher Education for the second successive quarter, so we know just how important website accessibility is. We need to ensure that every page we create or edit meets the same high standards; and right at the top of any page checklist should be headings.

In order to achieve an AA accessibility rating or above you should ensure that “Headings and labels describe topic or purpose” Headings and Labels, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

This is why headings should be treated as labels – they are there to introduce or summarise content below – they should not be unrelated statements or marketing jargon.

“When headings are clear and descriptive, users can find the information they seek more easily, and they can understand the relationships between different parts of the content more easily.” W3C.

This technical structure is particularly important for assistive technologies such as screen readers to read out the structure and provide in-page navigation to the user.

Headings influence your search rankings

The often-forgotten benefit of correctly using headings is that search engines use them to index the structure and content of your web pages; why wouldn’t you go to the effort of adding these correctly in order to improve your search ranking on Google?

Search engines like Google pay the most attention to H1 headings, but they will also look for the other headings within a page. This is why it’s important that your H2s are treated correctly as sub-headings and contain similar keywords to your H1 tag. They should be easily readable, make sense and not be stuffed with keywords, as the likes of Google will recognise this!

What you need to know about headings

Headings go from Heading 1 (H1) all the way down to Heading 6 (H6), the least important heading.

All pages should include an H1 – this is the most important heading on your page and this may often be very similar to the Page title (or in T4 terms, the Section Name) but your heading tag can often be more descriptive and expand on the Page title.

The H1 should give readers an indication of what the page is about and you should always make sure that you only have one Heading 1 on a page, as this will allow the likes of Google to understand the context of your page’s content.

H1 headings should be followed by an H2 and this should be followed by an H3 and so on.

Skipping heading ranks should be avoided as this can be very confusing and if the structure isn’t hierarchical, users of assistive technologies (eg screen readers) may not understand the relationship between the headings.

This means you should make sure that an H2 is not followed directly by an H4, for example. However, you can skip ranks when closing subsections, so a Heading 2 starting a new section can follow a Heading 4 if that closes the previous section.

Finally, remember that headings should be used for headings only – they shouldn’t be used to make text larger or bold and definitely not links!

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us or book a slot at one of our drop-in sessions which are regularly advertised in Inform. You can do both by emailing digitalsupport@derby.ac.uk.

Google Analytics Top Tips

Google Analytics is the de-facto industry tool for tracking your website’s performance against your business metrics. It’s a great way to find out how users are interacting with your website, where you’re attracting them from, and measure the effectiveness of your advertising campaigns.

Off the back of a couple of questions that I’ve had this week, I’ve thrown together a trio of tips to help you get the most from this brilliant tool.

Tip One: Removing insignificant data:

When you’re filtering a table, sometimes the number of results can be very large, especially if you’ve added a secondary dimension, or you may get results from pages that no longer exist, or are statistically insignificant.

To cut these redundant rows down you can click the “advanced” button next to the filter:
A screenshot of the Google Analytics filter bar

You’ll see the following screen: 

A screenshot of the Google Analytics advanced filter

If you click on “Add a dimension or metric” and choose one of the metrics (which are shown in blue in the list) you can filter out results that don’t meet a certain threshold:

A screenshot of the Google Analytics advanced filter with more rules applied

Here I’m using excluding results where there are fewer than 100 page views.

Tip Two: The Wonderful Pivot Table

Pivot tables are one of the most useful and under-utilised data layouts in Google Analytics. They’re a slightly more difficult concept to understand than a standard table but, once you do understand them, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them.
Let’s say that you want to see which is your most visited page by country. You might be tempted to add “Country” as a secondary dimension of “Page” – while this would get you the results you wanted, it’s not a very elegant solution, and your results would be in an extremely long and difficult-to-interpret table.

Enter the Pivot table.

Pivot tables live within the icon group on the right-hand side above the main data table in most reports:

A screenshot of the Google Analytics table display buttons

Pivot tables allow you to break down one dimension by another – for example, you might want to see most popular pages broken down by country:

A screenshot of the Google Analytics pivot table

As you can see from the above screenshot – I’ve taken the “Pages” report and used the pivot table. The “Pivot by” button in the top left is the key. I’ve set it here to “Country”, and the metric I’m measuring is “Page Views”. I can also add a second metric to this if I desire.

Tip Three: Context Is King

One of the most important things to remember when examining data from Google Analytics is that context is king and understanding the key drivers behind the data is vital. For example, if I want see if there has been an uplift in users from a particular demographic, or for a particular area of the site, it’s important to examine the context of that. Firstly – we are a seasonal business – we have both yearly cycles, and also smaller cycles within the year. Before deciding on what to compare to, take a look at those cycles and ensure you’re running a like-for-like comparison. Take this view, which is number of visits to the site as a whole for the entire year:

A screenshot of a Google Analytics graph showing a year of site interactions

You can see here that there are a number of places where there are fluctuations. There’s a big jump where the new site launched, then there are smaller, weekly, cycles where usage drops off over the weekend. A slump in users around Christmas, and a huge jump around September, so not all periods are equal. If you were looking for an uplift for a specific page based on a marketing campaign, but happened to compare your period to the Christmas slump, you’d see a much larger jump in numbers than might actually be attributable to the campaign.

If I compare page views over a five-day period, and then use “Compare to previous period”, which will compare them to the previous five days, I get the following graph which looks like good news as we’re showing a strong upward trend.

A screenshot of a Google Analytics graph with an incorrect date comparison

However, this is a false positive, because the previous five-day comparison includes a weekend, and as we’ve seen above – user numbers dip during a weekend. If I run the comparison over the same days from the previous week I get a much flatter graph and truer numbers.

A screenshot of a Google Analytics graphs with a date range comparison

This is a contrived example, but it demonstrates the importance of understanding, not just the data itself, but also its wider context.

If you’ve found these tips helpful, and you’re interested in getting to grips with Google Analytics then James from the Marketing Team is running some Google Analytics half-day training courses through the year to give you some serious GA skills. Drop an email to digitalsupport@derby.ac.uk to book a place.

Why websites and content have to work on a mobile device

As of October 2018, there were 4.1 billion active internet users in the world, of which 3.9 billion were mobile internet users. Just to clarify, 95% of people who access the internet are doing it using a mobile device.

Browsing habits have changed considerably over the last few years – we idly browse on our phones while watching TV, rarely do we pull up a chair to our computer and settle down to ‘surf the net’. So we have to consider the variety of devices and screen sizes that our audience are using.

The rising tide of mobile use

It’s no surprise that mobile use is increasing when we consider the convenience they offer and the evolution of connectivity technologies over the last few years.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) releases periodic data which suggests that mobile devices are the go-to devices for all age groups in Great Britain, with the exception of the 65+ age group in Great Britain.

Devices used to access the internet

And this plays out with https://www.derby.ac.uk as well. Year on year, our website is seeing a growing proportion of mobile users, and declining desktop usage.

Designing websites for a range of devices

Our new website has been designed with mobile use at the forefront of the development process, it is what is known as ‘responsive’ which means that it adapts the content to fit user device sizes and orientation. This approach allows us to deliver a more consistent user experience irrespective of the device they are using.

What we have seen over time is that users want to be able to explore websites and consume the content irrespective of the device they are using. They want this consistent user experience. But this isn’t the only consideration that has to be taken into account.

Eliminate clutter

Mobile devices have a more restrictive view-port which means that unnecessary elements become a hindrance to the user and will negatively impact the user experience. Websites with a clean user interface will result in users feeling more comfortable in browsing our website and will take on board more of the content that they see.

Mobile interaction is different

With a laptop, you use the ultra-precise mouse to interact with the device, with mobile you rely on a less precise pointing device – your finger! In practice, this means that there is no benefit in creating hover effects on links, buttons need to be large enough for our audience to use effectively and menus are best offered in an expandable format to ensure they don’t take over the valuable screen real estate.

Photography

Clear photography becomes more important with mobile users. An image may look perfectly clear on a desktop device but, on mobile, some images can be difficult to see so use of imagery should be carefully considered.

All of these things have been taken into account on the new website and we are continuing to work closely with many teams to ensure that new content continues to be developed with this in mind.

And this approach is having a positive impact

Our previous website had mobile pages, however they weren’t as optimised as they are on the new site – where we have rebuilt the site from the ground up. To pick out a few statistics:

  • Bounce rates (which measure users who leave the site after viewing one page) for users on mobile devices have improved by 20%.
  • We have seen a 7% increase in undergraduate prospectus requests and a 41% increase in postgraduate prospectus requests from mobile devices.
  • We have had a 4% increase in open event bookings from mobile devices.

We are seeing other interesting trends on an international basis as well. We have seen a 270% increase in mobile users in India and a 42% increase in mobile users in Asia in general.

Why we are looking for Gold Standard case studies – and how to create them

Content marketing is the new rock ’n’ roll. Possibly. You’d probably have to speak to a marketing expert to confirm this.

What is certain is that creating engaging, compelling content about our students, our graduates, our researchers, our business partners, our university is hugely important. It consolidates and builds on our reputation, our profile.

This is why we are working on a series of case studies. We want these stories to be interesting to prospective students but also to current students, parents, business, the wider world. People who will share the story.

More than interesting

In fact, we want them to be more than interesting. We want to make it difficult for people not to read them. We are looking for a Gold Standard in our case studies.

This means giving them the best title, the best images, the best introduction. And we want to keep people on these pages so they can see all the great things we are doing, get to see all the links and promo blocks we have put in for them. But also so they get to know us, get to understand what we do, what we are good at. Get to like us, to respect us. And, if they do, they may well tell their friends about us. Share us. Spread the word.

Something I prepared earlier

We started this process by publishing a small handful of case studies. These case studies have a specific focus but also have a broad appeal.

For instance, our Business Studies case study is about a TV show that everybody watches or has at least heard of. And our Architecture students’ piece is about positive public reaction to their designs for Derby city centre and the Assembly Rooms. We also have a Forensic Science student working in a CSI unit – you know, like on the telly. And Paul Cummins’s poppies that marked the centenary of the First World War. Oh, and a Data Science case study about some research that could turn your laptop into a mini supercomputer. And we have links to these case studies from promo blocks on subject and course pages.

Joining in the fun

Since I first wrote this, our product teams have rolled their sleeves up and produced some excellent case studies. Some are finding it easier than others but there is no doubt that the stories are compelling, such as Gaming student lands dream job with Xbox, The student who redesigned our University and From the office to the ice wall: Dainora’s leap of faith.

And that is the crux of what we are trying to do. Compelling stories. You need an angle, a hook. Something you can pull out and say, in old Sun newspaper lingo: “Hey, Doris, look at this!” It needs to be a story worth telling. Because, if we produce great stories consistently and put them out there, people will keep coming back to us, sharing us. And so it builds

A how-to guide

If you haven’t got to grips with it yet, I have created a case study template. It is full of hints and tips.

These will help you get a handle on what is required for one of these case studies – and give you an idea on how to construct them. But also read the case studies other people have produced. If you rate them, let them know and ask them how they went about it.

Keep using your Q&A forms. Learn which questions work best and share these with your colleagues. Also remember that not every Q&A response will be worth a case study. Recognise that. If you’re not sure about it, try to sell it to the person sitting next to you. And also note that some of the case studies we have created are simply a repurposing of already-existing material from news articles and blogs. So keep your eyes peeled.

What Derby did for us

One thing that all these case studies need is for our students, graduates, business partners to tell us what we have done to help them become amazing. That’s the most important thing we can share, intertwined with the compelling story: how we at the University of Derby have added value to their lives by giving them skills, contacts, opportunities etc. We want people to see this and think: “That could be me.

Remind me why we’re doing this?

We’re doing this because case studies, gold-standard case studies, are a great way to engage with our audience. Take a look at this lovely Twitter-related spike …

And here are some visitors to our Forensic Science course page who may not have got there without our case study …

Some figures

The new approach is measurably better than the old approach. Here are some figures for our newest set of case studies:

Xbox: 100 page views and 4 min average view time (live for one month).

Student redesign: 130 page views and 4.5 min average view time (month and a half).

Ice wall: 16 page views and 3 min average view time (one week).

And here are some more figures which relate to case studies that were on the old site and have been reworked in the new format for the new site.

New site

Ed Hollands: 370 page views, 5 min average view time (five months)

Forensic Science: 350 page views, 3.5 min average view time (four months)

Paul Cummins: 180 page views, 4 min average view time (two months)

Old site

I have taken a snapshot of these figures over a similar period that the case study has been live on the new site – and have also added the total number of page views they received.

Ed Hollands: 107 page views, 3.5 min (total 189)

Forensic Science: 80 page views, 2 min (total 96)

Paul Cummins: 17 page views, 3.5 min (total 71)

And, yes, that last one is why I put Dainora’s ice wall case study figure up. She received almost the same number of views in one week as Paul, the star of the First World War centenary, did in two months. It is clear the new approach to case studies and how they are being used and shared is getting our message out there so much better.