Why we’ve shelved the Schools website project (for now!)

Over the last year, a number of academic schools have asked us whether we could roll out the design of the School of Economics website, which launched late last year, to other schools. The team cautiously agreed that we’d look at all School sites, to see if there was a way for us to work on School sites whilst also continuing on our external website project. Following our Agile project management methodology, we went through a feasibility phase which involved auditing all features on a School website, prototyping what new sites could look like and then looking into the content shown on Schools’ sites as they are at the moment. However, once we’d completed these phases, the team realised that we couldn’t move forward with School site redevelopments – we’ll explain why, and what we found out in the process in this blog post. 

Features audit

Our first step, when we started looking at how we could make School sites better, was to ask what features current School sites have which we would want to carry forward. (By feature, we mean something like a staff profile, an image gallery or a map – anything which we want to standardise so that it’s easy to use in multiple places.) In order to audit the features of all School sites rapidly, the digital communications team split into pairs and filled in a Google form which allowed us to tick a box whenever a feature appeared on a site. The benefit of using a Google form was that we could immediately see what percentage of Schools used each feature – allowing us to prioritise which features we should work on prioritising first.

Screenshot of the digital communications findings from the School features audit - pages

Prototype School website

Once we’d completed this features audit, we knew what features needed to be designed. We always do as much preparatory work up front as possible, so that when it comes to creating a website, we can just mix and match patterns without needing to create or code new features. This speeds up the process of creating and launching new websites. Our next step was to start creating new versions of all of the features that we’d identified – then showcasing them on a prototype School site.

University of St Andrews prototype School website
The prototype School site homepage.

Google analytics report

Whilst the prototype site was being developed, we were also looking into the Google Analytics data for our academic Schools, to try to understand what users are looking for on each individual School website. We weren’t able to look at the Google Analytics for every School, as we didn’t always have access to their analytics, but our investigations found some fairly consistent findings. For almost all Schools, the most popular subpage of the site was the staff listings page, cementing our belief that we need to get staff listings and staff profiles right. We also found that over 20% of visits to School sites are from mobile devices – so making sure that all patterns work at all sizes was important.

School Pageviews Mobile Pageviews % of Total
ELT 250,381 66,319 26%
Modern Languages 233,498 56,715 24%
Geography & Geoscience 12,974 3,134 24%
Divinity 292,470 70,026 24%
Classics 130,009 29,823 23%
Maths 202,731 45,662 23%
Psychology 205,629 46,201 22%
Art History 130,717 26,757 20%
GSD 129,672 25,712 20%
Biology 17,892 3269 18%
Management 336,717 60,624 18%
Economics & Finance 150,228 26,453 18%
International Relations 442,460 77,261 17%
English 276,362 46,943 17%
Chemistry 131,155 22,241 17%
Average 21%
Total 2,942,895 607,140

The content audit

After completing the features audit, Google Analytics analysis and creating a prototype site, we were fairly confident that we could start working with Schools to roll out the new information architecture and design. The last piece of work to be completed before we approached Schools was to audit the content that all Schools had – partly to ascertain the standard of content on School sites, and partly to ensure that all content that Schools currently have online could be moved into the new architecture. Once again, the team split up and each audited every School website – making a list of every page on a School site, and checking whether the content met University house style, was a duplicate of a page elsewhere, or should be limited to just students and staff.

Once we’d finished, we printed out every School’s audit. The photos below show that the audits of 19 School websites covered three walls of our meeting room, and we quickly realised that there were a number of hurdles that we needed to jump before we could start moving content into the new design.

All of the St Andrews School site audits printed out - two walls

All of the St Andrews School site audits printed out

There were two big issues with the content on School sites. The first problem was that a lot of content did not meet house style, or was a duplicate of centrally held content, or was out of date. This meant that the digital communications team would need to work with Schools to undertake a lot of pruning of content, and updating information to make it meet our content standards. There was a concern that due to the scale of the content which needed to be amended, this would severely hamper the speed at which we could roll out the new design.

The second issue was that many academic Schools have information for prospective students on their webpages. On our prototype, we hadn’t included any information for prospective students, as our intention is to hold all information for prospective students in one central place: Study at St Andrews. However, much of the content for prospective students on School sites is information which ideally would be held on course pages, which we were aware are very difficult for Schools to update. This was a red flag for us; as a University, we need to make sure that information about programmes is available to prospective and incoming students, and that it’s in the best place for these users to find it. It became clear that we needed to create a new undergraduate course search facility – utilising all of the specific information Schools hold on their websites – before we could focus on School websites.

Next steps

Since we communicated this finding to DCPB, our project plan has been amended to fast-track some pieces of work which are required before we can start working with Schools. This includes communicating with Schools about the new Subject pages, as well as starting to move to the new version of our content management system, and of course,  researching and prototyping the content for the new undergraduate course search. In the meantime, we’re hoping that Schools and computing officers might be interested in the work we’ve done to date, as any work on updating content would vastly cut down on the amount of time it takes to update School websites in the future.

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