Subject area pages, 12 months on.

Improving user experience. Enhancing conversion rates.

Back in June 2016 we began looking at how we could improve the user experience for those exploring course and subject level information. Subject pages were used in some areas of the website as a way of grouping related course pages together. But they were being used inconsistently; the layouts and designs varied between colleges, some courses weren’t associated with a subject page at all, and none of the pages were responsive. 

This inconsistency was impacting on the student journey by making it harder for users to find and browse course information.

We also knew from a previous search engine optimisation (SEO) project that we needed more specific subject area content on our website to improve our search rankings. From a marketing campaign perspective, we knew that we also needed responsive subject areas to direct specific campaign traffic.

So we launched a project to create a standardised design for all subject pages across the university. With 50 subject areas that cover all of our courses, and a tight timescale in which to deliver so much new content, it was a challenge that would be delivered in conjunction with colleagues from across the marketing department.

Developing the page

Old subject area page - Forensic Science
Old subject area page – Forensic Science

The whole process started by working with the dedicated college marketing teams. We ran workshops to understand the type of content they would like to be able to host on these pages, discuss how they might look and how campaigns would be using them. It became clear quite early on that thes pages needed to make it easy for users to order a prospectus or book onto an open day – after all these are our key calls to action.

Having gathered our requirements, we spent some time sketching initial designs which were then interpreted as a wireframe concept (see below – I’m no designer!).

Wire frame of subject area page
Developing the subject area page – wire frame

Release and launch

Rolling out the new subject area pages was a significant task. It meant drafting in staff from the college marketing teams to implement the pages across all 50 subject areas.m – very much a team effort.

Part-way through the year we undertook some more work to make these pages more conversion focused – driving more users to book open days or order a prospectus. You can see the pink bar that was added which made the key calls to action more prominent.

New subject area page - Forensic Science
Responsive, conversion-focused. Just better.

The design met all the requirements we identified at the start of the project, but the impact on the user experience and how it engaged prospective students was going to be the real measure of success…


For the purposes of this review, I am going to continue to focus on the Forensic Science page, but the impact has been similar for all other subject areas.

Comparing the performance of the previous subject area page to the new one gives you some idea of how successful they have been for goal conversion (Open Day bookings and/or prospectus orders). 


2015-16 Old subject area page

2016-17 New subject area page

Prospectus orders



Open day bookings



We can also see that users are spending more time on our new subject pages. This shows that the new layout has improved the user experience of our site and helped to increase those all important conversions.

The project blueprint.

On Monday we kicked off with the first major session for the website redevelopment project. Deeson delivers a project blueprint session as part of all major website projects. The goal is to get under the skin of the organisation and explore the strategic aims of both the organisation and the project.

Where are we heading? What is the organisation’s vision and strategy?

Before the session, Deeson interviewed some the Senior level stakeholders. These interviews focused on what the project needs to achieve for the organisation. Including, results that the website would need to deliver and any potential challenges.

When looking at the University’s vision and strategy, much of our discussions focused on our top level ambitions. For example, our drive to be a £200m institution by 2020. We also discussed the development of the Industrial Gateway concept with the aim to make collaborative working with businesses easier.

Who are our key audiences?

Next, we moved on to the most important element we need to focus on: who are our key internal and external audiences?

This session served as an overview of who uses our website and has provided the foundations for determining how to communicate with each user group. Starting at this point provides a basis for further research and insight generation, ensuring we deliver what our target customers want and need.

Additionally, we discussed what each user group would use our website for, drawing comparisons with car showrooms – University of Derby test-drive anyone?

Group work – Blueprint session

So what are we trying to achieve?

With our key audiences determined and our strategy blueprint outlined we then moved on to nail down what our website needed to deliver to support theses objectives. We established that we need to work towards delivering:

  • A website that wins hearts and minds through speaking to our prospects in a way that excites and engages them about the learning experience at the University of Derby.
  • Helps us to continue to secure top academic talent and tell their stories in a way that supports student recruitment and enhances the student experience.
  • Have the best, most effective website that we can have!

It’s fair to say that the session had been intense, exhausting but hugely confidence inspiring. Moving forward, the outputs of the session will now inform to add detail to the delivery plan. It will also inform the rounds of user research that will follow.

What’s next?

From here we start to delve into the detail. We will be running a workshop that will dive into the technology and resource available to deliver the new website. Alongside this, another workshop will dig deeper into our core audiences with colleagues from across the University.

To follow on from this there will be a session run by Deeson’s Creative Director, Andrew. The ‘The Art of the Possible’ session will aim to open our eyes to what we could deliver as part of this project.