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Future student online experiences

Future student online experiences

Sharing the work of the Prospective Student Web Content Team

Content as a service – how I think about websites

I want us as a community to think differently about website management. Instead of thinking of the website as an entity in itself to be managed, we need to think of it as collections of features that influence users to behave in particular ways. In this post I’ll explain my thinking, which is driving the approach of our new team.

I’ve been working with websites for a long time; about 20 years. Almost all of this time has been with large, information-driven websites serving diverse audiences.

One thing that’s stayed with me for much of this time is the concept of usefulness. It’s the ultimate measure of the value of a part of a website. If a piece of content or a feature isn’t serving the user or the business in a demonstrable way, then it probably shouldn’t be there.

This philosophy has served me well in helping colleagues keep their websites as lean as possible. It’s good for the business (less content to manage) and it’s good for the end user (few choices to make as they navigate).

Instead of thinking of the website as an entity in itself, we need to think of it as collections of features that influence users to behave in particular ways.

As such our overarching goal can be expressed as changing student behaviours rather than production (or removal) of web pages.

Prioritising changing student behaviours in specific areas of their application experience will deliver significant benefit to the University in terms of staff time saved, while increasing levels of student satisfaction.

What this means for the Team’s initial priorities

During this first year of the Prospective Student Web Content Team’s existence, we’re delivering a project through the Service Excellence Programme which seeks to set out a path for our subsequent operation as a service.

Since coming on board, I’ve been reviewing the work done to date by colleagues in Service Excellence, and discussing with a range of colleagues the areas in most urgent need of attention.

Boiling it all down, we have four areas in which we want to create a measurable impact:

  • Fewer ineligible or wasted applications – we need to better support students to independently decide whether study at Edinburgh is a good fit for them, and if it is to make the strongest possible application.
  • Fewer unnecessary enquiries – many of the enquiries colleagues handle could’ve been answered by the student themselves. Making students more successful in achieving their information goals is critical to reducing the enquiries that can get in the way of delivering better customer service to the students who really need it.
  • Management information that informs decision making – I think of this on a number of levels, ranging from providing the high level data that informs our overall priorities down to the user insight at a micro-level that confirms we’ve designed a feature the right way (and gives the web publishing community confidence in the decisions we make and the advice we give).
  • Reduced duplication of effort when updating information (facilitating greater CMA compliance) – the University’s web estate is too big. It’s that simple. We’re going to develop key areas of golden copy content so that they work better for students and better for our colleagues in schools doing the recruiting. The content we manage needs to be so good that no reason remains to do a repeat job on another website

In future posts, I’ll be elaborating on these and explaining how we’re turning these goals into areas of activity with the support of colleagues across the University.


In the meantime, if you’ve got any pressing questions, please do drop me a line.

Neil Allison’s contact details


I’d love to hear what you think of this approach. Leave a comment and join the discussion.

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