Google it: how users find information online

Daniela de Leon
Tuesday 18 July 2023

The way users move through the web is changing – are we keeping up?

The digital landscape is a rapidly shifting terrain, with user behaviour continuously evolving. The way users navigate the web is changing – from manual URL entry to search engines and social media redirection. We must stay ahead of this curve, ensuring the University web content is accessible, discoverable, and user-friendly.

The state of the internet

Long gone are the days when users type their destination URL into the navigation bar. Most users reach University web pages using organic search methods such as Google, Bing, or Ecosia. This tells us a few things:

  • search engine optimisation (SEO) is critical in getting our web pages seen
  • users are relying more and more on algorithms to discover new content
  • when users are searching for our content, they are arriving with a specific task in mind.

Our own research

Recently, the Digital Communications team investigated how users were navigating the University site. We found that 53% of users reach the site using search engines, emphasising the vital role these platforms play in the digital journey of our users.

A much smaller percentage (31%) of users navigated directly to the site, suggesting a high dependence on search engines even for users familiar with our University. This insight underlines the importance of search engine optimisation in ensuring our content is not only visible but also easily discoverable.

We also found that use of the site’s internal search feature correlated with longer visits to the site. The average length of time spent on the site for users navigating using the internal search feature was 10.4 minutes. This is much longer than the average time spent by users navigating without internal search (2.4 minutes), which could mean that internal search is helping users browse through larger amounts of content such as course information.

What this means for our future

In light of these findings, we are putting the user journey at the heart of our web content strategy. As we move forward, Digital Communications is committed to improving the University’s website search engine visibility and optimising the content for easy navigation.

Our team’s focus on guides developed from users’ top tasks will make the University’s site easier to navigate with simplified and accessible content. These guides will be supported by a robust internal search feature which will allow users to find what they’re looking for quickly, without having to navigate through the site.

Our research underscores the need to prioritise user needs in our evolving digital landscape. By enhancing content, boosting site visibility, and focusing on user experience, we can make the University web pages an accessible source of information for everyone.