How do we decide what goes on the homepage?

Carley Hollis
Friday 12 February 2016

The University homepage is, for many users, the front door to the University website. For some, it’s the first impression that they’ll have of the University; for others, it’s a frequently visited signpost to other places they’re trying to find. The use of a homepage has changed substantially in the last 10 years; the advance of search engines such as Google now mean that users can often find the information they are looking for in a website without ever needing to visit a homepage. However, considering that on average the University homepage is visited more than 300,000 times a month, it’s still highly important to us that the content found on the homepage is correct, engaging and shows the best of the University.

What is on the University homepage?

As we mentioned when we talked about the redesign of the University homepage, the things on the University homepage are there because of user need. We performed a huge card sorting exercise which allowed us to understand why users may come to the homepage and what they were trying to achieve once they did so. We focused entirely on external users, as we know that our internal users – current students and staff members – each have specific landing pages which should direct them to the pages they are most likely to be looking for. From here, we designed the information architecture of the homepage.

One of our big decisions was to have a hero banner – that’s the large image which runs the length of the screen and allows us to direct users to time sensitive information. We change our hero banner based on things going on across the University which external users may need to know about; particularly around graduation and orientation. The hero banner is usually changed around 4 weeks before the start of semester to the orientation banner, and a week before graduation.

Two variations of the hero banner used on the University of St Andrews homepage

News and events

One of the parts of the homepage that changes most frequently are the news and events tiles. Previously, on the old version of the homepage, every news article which was written by the press office was shown on the homepage, in the footer. The issue with this was that many of these articles were not written with the general public in mind; instead, they were written as press releases; designed to be sent to journalists and media contacts. The analytics showed that in the most part, the news stories were not receiving much traffic from external users.

When we designed the new homepage layout, we ensured that news and events could be showcased in a ‘at a glance’ format that mirrors the way that users scan webpages.

Example of the news tiles used on the University homepage

Whilst it is no longer the case that every single news story now appears on the University homepage, the stories which are selected gain a lot more visibility. Due to this, a member of the content team meets with the Press Office on a weekly basis, to find out about any big upcoming stories or events, and to offer ideas on how to make these stories stand out online. For some stories, this includes creating interesting images and linking to them from the homepage. In other instances, we take a story for which we know there is a lot of multimedia content – images, video, quotes from academics – and we turn the story into a piece of ‘long form content’.

Long form stories – also called interactive storytelling – are the features articles of a digital age. Usually not time sensitive, they take the reader on a journey through a tale where the words are interspersed with image galleries, the biographies of the characters and additional video content. The digital communications team first had the idea for long form content after reading the New York Times’ Snowfall article, which is considered iconic in the digital storytelling arena. We decided to create our own template which can be used to tell long form stories, which led to both Lightbox and this piece on the redevelopment of St Salvator’s Quad being published last year. We currently have two more long form stories in the works, and would love to hear from members of staff – and especially researchers and academics – who think that they have a story which could benefit from interactive storytelling.

If you have a story which you think could benefit from appearing on the University home page, please email the Press Office (proffice@st-andrews.ac.uk) who can liaise with Schools, digital communications and the media to promote news and stories from across the University.

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