Staff profiles – who are they for and what do they do?

You might be reading this and thinking that you don’t need to read any further, however, before I lose your attention, just because you already have an ‘awesome’ staff profile, or you don’t have a staff profile doesn’t mean you won’t pick up some hints and tips. 

Last year (July 2018) saw our new web site go live and, as I’m sure you have seen, it is pretty spectacular. The launch of the new website saw everything remodelled and updated, our staff profiles changed and now look better than ever.  

Old style staff profile:

New style staff profile:

As displayed above, our new staff profiles have much more wow factor and look so much more visually appealing. With this in mind, our ‘image style’ changed from a headshot to a shot in action. This displays our staff in their natural environment and gives the profile personality and character.  

Since the launch of the new site and a fresh look on our staff profiles, we have seen an increase in visits to our staff profiles. In the year July 2018 to July 2019, we have had 334,595 visits to all the pages in our staff profile area compared with 229,561 visits to all pages in the staff profile area from July 2017 to July 2018That is an increase of 45.75% and highlights the success of our new look staff profiles (Google Analytics, 2019). 

Furthermore, in the first year that our new website has been live, we have seen a decrease in bounce rate by 5.20% showing that users are interacting better with our new staff profiles. (Google Analytics, 2019) (For those who do not know what a page’s bounce rate is, it is the percentage of visitors who leave our website after viewing that page) 

Why do we need staff profiles? 

Staff profiles are great as they offer a place on the website our academics and support staff can make their own. Its somewhere that can showcase your research, expertise and industry experience but, most importantly, it’s the area of the website where you can show your personality. This is why we want you to write your staff profile in the first person (I am …) so you are talking directly to your audience. 

There is some essential information that we require on our academic staff profiles: 

  • About – this should summarise the main aspects of your job roles and what your focus is (teaching, research, management etc)  
  • Teaching responsibility – this should outline what courses you work on, any particular modules etc 
  • Research interests – this should describe briefly the research topics you are involved in 
  • My qualifications – highlighting what you have achieved 
  • Experience in industry – any experience you have in industry (past or present) 
  • Recent publications – this is where you can list your most recent work in date order 
  • Abstract – every member of staff has to have an abstract on their profile that is a summary of their main roles at the University written in the third person (Callum is …)  

With support staff profiles, you may not have any teaching responsibilities, but we still want you to show a high level of experience and expertise. 

Who looks at our staff profiles?  

We have a couple of two main groups of individuals who look at our staff profiles. 

  • Business and external stakeholders 
  • Current students and prospective students (Google Analytics 2019) 

Business and external stakeholders are looking at staff profiles to identify what research our academics are involved in and to learn more about what our academics achieved here at the University of Derby.  

Prospective students looking at staff profiles will be researching the academic teams on courses they are looking to study. They will be looking to see what research these academic are involved in and what industry experience they have. They are using staff profiles at the beginning of the recruitment cycle when they are looking at where to study, after an Open Day when they have discovered what our University has to offer and have spoken to academics and, finally, before arriving at University in to begin their time studying with us.  

Current student are using staff profiles for getting in contact with staff. They also allow students to discover which academics would be the best to work with when they are looking at research areas for independent studies. 

Which staff profiles were in our top 15 search results?  

  1. Professor Kathryn Mitchell (ViceChancellor) 
  2. Professor Ashiq Anjum (Professor of Distributed Systems) (Engineering and Technology) 
  3. Hari Punchihewa (Deputy Chief Executive and Finance Director)  
  4. Professor Lu Liu (Head of School and Professor of Distributed Computing) (Electronics, Computing and Mathematics) 
  5. Professor Antonio Liotta (Director of Data Science Centre) (Electronics, Computing and Mathematics) 
  6. Michael Sweet (Associate Professor in Aquatic Biology) (Life and Natural Science) 
  7. Professor Tristram Hooley (Professor of Career Education) (International Centre for Guidance Studies) 
  8. Professor Dennis Hayes (Professor of Education) (Arts, Humanities and Education) 
  9. Professor Miles Richardson (Director of core Psychology Programmes) (Life and Natural Science) 
  10. Professor Philp Hodgson (Head of Law, Criminology and Social Science) (Business, Law and Social Science)   
  11. Professor Alex Nunn (Professor of Global Economy) (Business, Law and Social Science) 
  12. Ian Turner (Associate Professor in Learning and Teaching) (Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching) 
  13. Professor Malcom Todd (Provost)  
  14. Professor Judith Lamie (Pro Vice-Chancellor, External Affairs) 
  15.  Dr Ian Bake (Senior Lecture in Psychology) (Life and Natural Science)  

What can you do to improve your staff profile? 

Content is key when it comes to staff profiles. The more that you can put on your staff profile, the more someone can get to know who you are. What you get up to in your research and work is important, so why would you not want to share this? As well as ensuring the right amount of content is on your profile, it is also important to remember to keep your content up to date. If you keep up to date with your content regularly, changes won’t feel like a huge task compared with if you rewrite all of your content every few years.  

Do not forget that we are more than happy to help you out with your staff profiles. We have our online guidance and as a team, we run our a fortnightly digital drop in session, where you can sit down with one of the team to discuss staff profile content, how to structure content on your staff profile or even how to use our content management system (CMS), Terminal Four. 

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 yet 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.


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.


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.


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

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

There is also a useful piece from the Government Digital Service’s senior writers with ten tips for writing for blog posts, opinion pieces or presentations.

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


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

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

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 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.


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.

How we’re getting our web pages loading faster

People don’t like waiting. They certainly don’t like waiting for web pages to load. This is why we are now using a content delivery network (CDN) that speeds up this process. Here, we look at exactly what this means and how it may affect you. 

What is a content delivery network (CDN)?  

A CDN is a network of servers set up to deliver web-based content faster, particularly assets like images and pdfs that include a lot of data. Delivery is faster because the servers are distributed geographically so there will always be a server close to the user, wherever they may be. This means their images and pdfs will load quicker.  

We are using a CDN from Amazon Web Services (AWS), who also host our website. As well as the CDN, AWS also provide an image manipulation tool that allows us to load different sizes and quality of images to the site depending on what type of device is being used. The system recognises the type of device being used and automatically changes the url. This allows us to introduce responsive imagery across the site, where users on mobile devices will be shown smaller images.  

What are the benefits?  

User experience  

The primary benefit of introducing this technology is it will improve the time it takes to load a webpage. In the digital age we live in, users don’t like to wait, especially the undergraduate demographic. A shorter load time improves user experience particularly for international users. For example, if a user in Australia is using our website, they will be loading images from a server local to them as opposed to having to load images from the UK.   


Page speed is a factor in how search engines rank results. Over time, this technology will have a positive impact on our search ranking. Users are more prone to leave a slow-loading website. A CDN can reduce this bounce rate and increase the time that users spend on the site. A faster website should mean people stay and stick around for longer.  

Server space  

We will also save space on our web servers. Normally, when providing responsive imagery when an image is uploaded, we would have to save several different size versions of the image. At a minimum, you’d have a small, medium, large and full-size version of each image. Now, we can store the original image and, when it’s used, the system changes the URL to create different sizes of images on the fly. These images are stored by the image manipulation service and are not on our servers, saving us space.  

As a CMS user, what do you need to know?  

When you use T4, these changes will have no effect on how you upload images and add content. Images should still be uploaded using the specification in our digital guidelines and optimised by passing through TinyJpg.  

There is a small trade-off of using the service in terms of waiting initially for images to be published but I believe the benefits far outweigh this. When web content with a new image is added, it needs to be published to our web server, which is synced with AWS. The sync runs multiple times every hour but it means, when publishing a new image, there could be up to 10 minutes before it is synced and therefore available to use. So the content would be live but the image wouldn’t be there. Ten minutes is the very maximum though. In most cases, it will quicker and sometimes it will be synced immediately. Hopefully, this trade-off will only be temporary. We are working with T4 and AWS on a solution.  

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

This blog is about how we can make our website as accessible as possible

Do you understand what this blog is about? If you believe it will give you information about how we can make our website as accessible as possible then the title has done its job.

I have, obviously, over-egged the pudding to make a point [do you all understand that metaphor? If not, it is not accessible]. But the first step on the road to an accessible website is to have a title for each page that tells the reader what they can find on the page. And that continues through the initial content, the subheads, the images, everything. At no point do we want our audience to be wondering what our page is about.

That is the first stage of accessibility. And it is also the first item in our content checklist titled How to achieve AA accessibility rating:

  • Your web page must have a title that describes its topic or purpose

You will be thinking that goes without saying but one of the biggest blockers for accessibility is assumed knowledge.

A short story

Let me tell you a story. A short one.

I put together a list of 15 points specifically relating to content and how to make it accessible. I shared this list with a few people and asked for feedback. I was slightly embarrassed to get replies back saying: “What does this mean?”

Clearly my list wasn’t accessible. Not everybody knows what an “alt tag” is and what it does. I do and had assumed everyone else did as well. The checklist has now been updated with better descriptions. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. All feedback welcomed.

It’s the law

We have an approaching legal requirement to make our website accessible. And we need to achieve an AA accessibility rating. We have put together our content checklist on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. This is what WCAG says about accessibility:

“Following these guidelines will make content accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity and combinations of these. Following these guidelines will also often make your web content more usable to users in general.”

computer keyboard

Our checklist

And this is our AA content accessibility checklist:

  • Your web page must have a title that describes its topic or purpose.
  • All images must have “alt tags”. This is a description of the image and can be added in the Media Library in the “Description” field. NB when creating a media gallery, ensure you use a different description for each image.
  • The purpose of each link on the page can be determined from the link text alone. Do not use simply ‘Click here’ or ‘Read more’.
  • Use easy-read alternatives to technically advanced text. Ideally text should be written to be easily readable by all levels of ability.
  • Only play sound if user activates it [unless there is a good reason otherwise].
  • Do not rely solely on shape, size, visual location, orientation or sound for understanding or navigation. Eg avoid content such as “click on the triangular button on the right when the music starts”.
  • Do not change context (eg go to another page, play video) unless this is activated by the user. We want our users’ journey through our website to be as predictable as possible.
  • Provide submit buttons to initiate change of context (eg go to another page, play video) and warn users in advance when opening a new window [opens in new window].
  • Avoid images of text as these cannot be read by screen readers (logos are OK – with the appropriate alt tag).
  • If language changes within the text, mark it in the source code so it is recognised by screen readers. Eg if there is a paragraph in French, use code <p lang=”fr”>Il y a un paragraphe en francais.</p>
  • Information conveyed by colour differences should also be explained in text. For instance, the following four points are technical and will need to be discussed with video/audio providers.
  • Provide a text transcript of audio-only content.
  • Provide captions for all prerecorded audio/video content. Note: captions include subtitles plus text to describe important sounds.
  • Provide a second audio track on all prerecorded video to provide audio description – or a second version of the video with audio description.
  • Provide captions on live audio content.

What’s next?

We are testing our accessibility regularly using the SiteMorse platform and updating our pages where necessary.

We are also taking steps to improve our methods and our content types as we learn more about what is required. For instance, users can now toggle captions on and off on video within the website, and we now have the provision to add text transcripts to video files. We are also investigating the possibility of users being able to toggle to pared down, less visually noisy versions of pages. Every day’s a school day.

A close-up of the YouTube caption button

What we need now is for our content producers to make sure any new content achieves these AA standards.

All new video we upload to the website must have captions and we also want to add a full transcript of what is said in our videos. By the time the law applies to us, we need to make sure EVERY video, new or old, on our website has both of these features. NOTE: We cannot rely on YouTube’s auto captions. They seem to work OK a lot of the time but will then say something jawdroppingly embarrassing. We do not want this. We now have guidance on how to correct subtitles and create transcripts.

Accessibility is a challenge and one we intend to meet well before it becomes a legal requirement. The bigger challenge is to make sure the website is accessible while also being appealing and engaging to all our users.

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.