Digital Marketing & Communications

We've seen 1s and 0s you wouldn't believe

We are changing the University of Bath CMS

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📥  CMS, Development

We are changing the content management system (CMS) that is used to update This is a significant development in the University of Bath’s efforts to deliver world-class digital communications. The new CMS is currently at prototype stage and will go live in early 2015.

The importance of digital publishing

Groups across the University depend on our website in some measure for engagement, marketing or delivery of services. As a result, they also depend on the CMS being fit for purpose.

There are around 13,000 HTML files managed through the CMS. These have been produced by the 325 members of University staff who have a CMS account. Over 50% of these publishers have used the CMS in the past 6 months. Of the ‘active’ users, around 25 make use of the CMS on a daily basis.

The Digital team follows trends in digital publishing and, based on the example of other large institution websites, it's clear that we should be getting more from our CMS. More importantly, our publishers - both regular and irregular - have told us through their support requests and in person that they are frustrated by the limitations of the current CMS.

Making a CMS fit for our purposes

We want to make our website more interesting and useful, and to help us do that we need to make publishing to that website quicker and easier. By making the CMS less onerous to use, publishers will have more time to concentrate on quality creation and curation of content.

An obvious question is, which CMS will we use? But the more important question is, what do we need the CMS to do? What features will it have?

Based on our analysis of publisher needs at the University, the core feature set of the new CMS will include:

  • dashboard-based interface to make it easier to find and manage content
  • structured content templates making publishing choices more straightforward and pages quicker to create
  • markdown and a compact WYSIWYG will replace HTML to simplify formatting
  • category tags to knit content together
  • clearly defined publisher roles and permissions
  • access to the CMS without classroom-based training
  • direct access to content performance data to inform editorial decision-making about what to publish and when.

These ‘starting features’ and those that follow on from them will be sequenced on a CMS product backlog (a webpage containing prioritised cards on which each feature is represented). Publishers will be able to subscribe to the board and keep track of the progress of feature developments they are particularly interested in.

Starting with an alpha

Setting up a new CMS and transitioning all our publishers and content across to is a complex undertaking. So we have to start small-scale and develop the capabilities of the CMS on an iterative basis.

It all starts with an alpha phase. The objective of the alpha exercise is to build a working prototype of the CMS. This will be used to test our approach and help us understand what it will take to deliver the CMS on the scale that’s needed to support our entire university website.

The development of the CMS alpha is underway. In November 2014 we will start using it to manage the content in In January 2015 we will report on the results. Between then and now, we will be running regular demos and user research workshops with publishers around the University (details of which will follow).

Digital team member doing a demo of the CMS

Prototyping the publishing interface for the CMS alpha

Putting users first

From February 2015 we will take the learning from the alpha and begin rolling out a beta phase of the new CMS and the process of moving our publishing activity to this new platform. It will take a significant effort but the rewards will be worth it.

Let us be clear, better digital publishing will not be achieved by changing our software alone. Nevertheless, a simplified application will make publishing and editing quicker, help improve content quality and make our site more useful and engaging for the millions of people who use it each year.

Digital Team sprint notes, 13 October - 20 October 2014

📥  Weeknotes

It was a big week for anyone who is a fan of miserable weather. Similarly, it was a big week for the Digital Marketing & Communications team, who made significant strides in a number of important projects.

CMS alpha

Several members of the team continued work on the CMS alpha as the second sprint got underway. The team worked on deploying the publishing app and made good progress on the publishing interface so that publishers could choose a content type and start creating a new content item.

They also further refined the content types that will be used in the alpha and began transitioning the content from our About pages to the new CMS.

Prospectus App alpha

Rhian and Liam investigated what makes a great online prospectus, and began mapping out the required content to successfully define a course.

Liam also wireframed a simple structured content editor workflow for the new online prospectus.

Student pages

Charlotte carried out a content inventory of any pages involved in the student experience, laying the groundwork for the roadmap towards an updated Student section.

Digital roadmap

Ross submitted the latest Digital roadmap for review to the Digital Steering group and received approval. University staff and students can access the latest version.


Justin and Paul met with Phil, Ross and Rich to plan out the next three months of work on Services, including work on:

  • IP & Legal Services
  • the Office of Policy & Planning
  • Marketing & Communications
  • Computing Services
  • Transport.

Justin also met with the Computing Services team to discuss the work we’ll be doing on their section this year.

International student mobility

Liam supplied Colin Grant, our Pro-Vice chancellor of Internationalisation, with illustrated slides that depict our successes in International student mobility, recruitment and partnerships.

This week

Work will continue on our CMS and Prospectus sprints, and other work covering new Research features, further investigation of student content and a drafting of a new structure for Office of Policy and Planning is underway.

It starts earlier every year…

It’s more than two months until Christmas, so naturally the DMC team have started getting into the festive mood early by opening up the first box of mince pies for 2014. Glad tidings everyone!

Mince pies

The first sign of Christmas

Digital Team sprint notes, 7 October - 13 October 2014

📥  Weeknotes

It's still wet. It's still windy. It's still cold - it's official, winter is coming!

Last week

  • Dan, Phil, Ross and Tom N began working on the CMS alpha, defining content types in Contentful and using Hugo to publish test content.
  • Liam, Rich, Rhian and Tom T began work on their very own alpha, defining the prospectus app content types and also got to grips with content modelling.
  • Charlotte completed a review of each Graduate School's research application process and created a single version which can be shared, making it easier for prospective postgraduate students to apply to Bath.
  • Iris continued her review of the Research section, deciding on the key metrics which we will use to measure its effectiveness. She also began writing up her recommendations on how we can improve the performance of the section.
  • Liam and Tom N documented the current level of WCAG-measured accessibility across templates on and investigated what we can do to improve the levels of accessibility on our site for users with disabilities.
  • Paul met with Imaging, Design and Print Services (IDPS) team members to review existing content and create new content to better address user needs.
  • Kelvin tested out applying a compression technique on our servers to speed up the delivery of our website to our users.
  • We held our fortnightly Show and Tell.

This week

We will:

  • begin an inventory of our current student content
  • carry on with our CMS and Prospectus publishing app sprints.


Show and Tell, 10 October

📥  Show & Tell

Another Friday has come (and gone) where DMC and friends share their latest projects and, oh, what a magical session it turned out to be.

Kelvin - KIS (Show) and Tell

Kelvin kicked things off with revealing all. His coding skills, that is. For a few years now, Kelv has been our KIS expert (Key Information Statistics). Important statistics are displayed on the Unistats website which provides prospective students with comparable information across all courses and universities. Our pages on this site also include links to our own website.

Every year Kelv has had to eat a lot of data in order to match the correct UCAS codes with the correct courses with the correct pages. He then has to generate a long list of redirects to make sure all the links go to the pages they are meant to be going to.

This year he discovered something amazing. He realised the searching could be automated. So he created a tool which searches the courses and produces the list of redirects in a fraction of the time. Not only is it a time saver, Kelv now hopes the other devs can become KIS experts too.

Dan - Just my Type

Dan followed on from Kelv by revealing the work he and Rich have been doing on content types. Over the past week, they have been battling the Big Question; 'how do we define content types?' along with discovering what content types exist on our website. Eventually they settled on the idea that content can be broken down.

  • Element - Smaller bits within the type. For example Name, Location.
  • Type - A bucket of content. Made up of multiple elements. Types are a unit that can be reused.
  • Item - A completed type. For example a team profile, displaying the name, location and contact detail of that team.

One type can produce many items. Once these had been defined, Dan and Rich looked at the website and realised the content could be broken down into various types like Announcements, staff profiles, events.

This work allows us to break down the content on a page, split it up, put it elsewhere and structure it how we want. In the future, changes made to webpages can cascade across the website much quicker. It will also allow us to analyse how different content is performing.

Tom N - Accessibility

This week Tom N took a break from teaching us about security (and a break from drawing on flip charts) to tell us about accessibility. Having a fully accessible website means that people with disabilities or other difficulties can use our website. There is no easy way to test for accessibility. The needs and disabilities our users may have can be so varied, there's no one automated tool to cover everything.

There are, however, some tools out there that can test our site for some of the problems and HTML Codesniffer is one of them. Quick and easy to use, the programme will flag up:

  • errors that must be addressed
  • warnings that should be addressed
  • other areas that could be addressed in an ideal world, but do not fall foul of accessibility guidelines.

We hope that over time, any new pages we create will be more accessible for more people.

Phil - Bamboo

Carrying on with the technical theme of Show and Tell this week, Phil told us why the dev team use Bamboo.

Building and deploying is hard work. Not only does the code have to written, it has to be standard and it has to pass vigorous user acceptance testing. They also need different versions of the same sort of code. The devs also need to be able to write and re-write code, without over writing each other. They use GitHub to do this. So what about Bamboo?

The brilliant thing about Bamboo, is that all this work is fed into Bamboo and the programme will automatically run all the tests and let the devs know if something is amiss. Simply Bamboo is critical to ensure everything works.

Now let's get on with the magic...

Rich - The content horcrux

A few Mondays ago, after a bit of a difficult week, the content team were treated to a Harry Potter themed presentation. On Friday, Rich shared his wizardry with everyone else.

The reliving of some of Harry's adventures enabled us to take away some great messages.

  • Use data and empathy to create good content. Be driven by data and have a good understanding of your user needs. However we should also understand our colleagues and why they might want a bit of content created.
  • Like Dumbledore's Army, we can help train and teach each other, so we can all share the true act of creating wizard content.

And they all lived happily ever after (mostly).

Due to a room change taking good photos was fairly impossible, so here's a relevant gif...

Obliviate/Expecto on Make A Gif

Do we run away from a problem, or do we stand tall and cast our strongest spell? (Psst it's the latter.)

Digital Team sprint notes, 30 September - 6 October 2014

📥  Weeknotes

It's wet. It's windy. It's cold. Welcome to sprint notes!

A lot of our energy at the moment is going into reviewing the effectiveness of different areas of the current site, or preparing for some forthcoming sprints.

Our finance information has been audited by Charlotte and Rhian whilst Iris is now half-way through a two week sprint to review the effectiveness of /research and coming up with a series of recommendations for changes to that section.

Ross, Richard and Dan have been busy evaluating a wide variety of sections of to discover what kinds of content types we have and how they're currently structured. In our forthcoming CMS sprints we'll be seeing how well these apply to our /about section.

Our existing accessibility practices have been reviewed by Tom Natt and Liam. They have written up our options for improving those practices and about how and where we can introduce automated testing to help us out.

Justin has been auditing the HR and Computing Services sections (more than 4,000 files!) whilst also working on a new structure for the Office of Policy and Planning section and working on the content for the Marketing and Communications section.

Paul got the new Intellectual Property & Legal Services section handed back to that department for review.

Alongside this, Justin, Ross, Rich and Phil planned out the next three months work on Services.

The templates and CSS for the newest parts of the site are built using Sass and Foundation. Kelvin and Tom Trentham have been changing how this part of our infrastructure works, moving to Grunt and Ruby Sass rather than scssphp, and rolling out Foundation 5.4.4.

That was a busy sprint! As of tomorrow we start using some of this knowledge to improve our site!

Very quick wins and failing very fast with a One Hour Upgrade

📥  Agile, Scrum, Team

What good can you do with just one hour? Quite a lot, it turns out.

When Rich and I were at IWMW 2014, we were quite taken by the idea of running a one hour ‘makeover’ on a website (we think we heard colleagues from Manchester talking about it). Last week the University of Bath Digital team decided to find out what each of us could do to improve given the gift of 60 minutes to use as we wished. We called it ‘One Hour Upgrade’ (for want of a better name).

Is it really a ‘thing’?

Each member of the team got to pick a thing they wanted to improve about the site, which they believed they could complete within the hour. This ‘thing’ was to be a personal choice and not something from a current sprint backlog or maintenance board. Just so long as it was a lasting improvement.

We used a sprint board and throughout the morning each person stuck up their proposed improvement. Then at 3pm we got together in a stand up and each person explained why their thing was an improvement worth doing.

Some suggestions fizzled out under scrutiny (is that really a thing? can that really be done in an hour?). But most improvements were validated and refined by the team giving us the confidence to proceed. Another interesting development was that a few team members opted to help out on someone else’s improvement rather than pursue their own after hearing the other person’s impassioned pitch.

That ‘planning’ took about 10 minutes to complete. Valid improvements were moved through to the ‘doing’ column and then we got down to work. As the improvements were completed, they were moved through to ‘review’ column and at the end of the hour, we had another stand up to ‘test’ whether the improvements were done or not.

What did we do?

What didn’t we do?!

  • Iris, Rhian and Rich switched to a template that was less text and more task orientated.
  • Liam and Dan removed the use of a spyglass icon on the search field on /students replacing it with the word ‘Go’, bringing it into line with other pages.
  • Charlotte and Dan made sure extra curricular (which is wrong) was replaced by extra-curricular (which is right) plus some other style guide enforcements.
  • Paul banished residual metadata referring to us as Web Services, which is what we were called back in the day.
  • I made sure that every blog has a tagline (which they should) and that no summary closed with a full stop (which they should not).

What didn’t get done?

So you can achieve a lot in an hour. But there are limits.

  • Kelv and Tom Natt didn’t manage to complete a functioning dashboard on the office screen showing the status of Bamboo builds.
  • Tom Trentham couldn’t complete his improvement to the blogs deployment process'.
  • Justin didn’t have the time to restructure the content on coaching and mentoring in the HR section.
  • Dan didn’t get round to making an SVG version of the uni logo.

Was it worth all that vast amount of time and effort?

On balance, I think yes it was.

It was fun and productive. We made a number of small but valuable improvements to the site, quickly, and we deployed them immediately. It was cathartic for some of us knowing that those problems were no longer out there annoying users. While for others it was revealing.

And, it was an interesting exercise in distilling Scrum down to its raw elements, which proved a good refresher for us all.

Will there be another Hour?

We agreed that we will do it again. But we will iterate and do some things differently and better.

  • The items we put in the ‘upgrade’ backlog were written out as tasks but we should do user stories.
  • People generally worked on their own, which we usually discourage so more teamwork is in order.
  • Most of the stuff we did involved fixing something someone else had done; rather than fixing it for them it might be better to use the hour instead to educate and pass on the skill.
  • Most of what we did was fixing debt and that’s not what the opportunity is really for; the next ‘One Hour Upgrade’ should be about innovations.
  • Discovery is as valuable as delivery; there doesn’t need to be a deployment at the end of the hour.

If you try something like this yourselves, let us know how you do it.

Digital Team sprint notes, 23 - 29 September 2014

📥  Weeknotes

While it has been a fun filled Freshers' Week for all the new students here on campus, for the DMC team it has been yet another work filled sprint week. That means only one thing - another set of sprint notes for your reading delight.

What we did....

  • Iris continued her journey branching out into other areas of the website. This time she joined Justin and Paul in the Professional Services section. She spent her week reviewing Computing Services and prototyped several pages to show what improvements could be made.
  • The Imaging, Design and Print website provision has been Paul's focus this week. He has built a structure for the new section and has written content based on user stories.
  • Justin has been continuing his hard work on the Department of Marketing and Communications section.
  • Charlotte and Rhian have continued their research into editorial calendar formats and have drafted a new version for the new academic year.
  • The CMS infrastructure was upgraded to plug in additional security. Thanks Tom T and Kelv for that.
  • Liam has been testing our Foundation based pages against the latest version and applied patches and rewrites where needed in preparation for a major upgrade. (Watch this space...).
  • Group Manager celebrated its 8th birthday so Tom N gave it a refreshing rewrite.
  • Our content formats were investigated by Dan, Rich and Ross who wanted to find out how they were defined and structured.
  • Chris had an incredibly busy week with 397 tickets in the RT queue, but this was mostly due to a little bit of downtime last weekend.
  • Ross has also had a busy week meeting with various departments to discuss the Digital Roadmap and plans for the future.

Launch (nearly)

After several months of work from Charlotte, Iris and Rhian the new section for first year students is ready to go live. Once the behind-the-scenes work has been done we will be launching it!

One hour upgrade

This week saw a very special event. An event so special it deserves its own paragraph in the sprint notes.

Wednesday saw the entire team set aside one hour in the afternoon. We each decided what we wanted to work on. One thing, for one hour to make our website better. Pages were re-written to reflect the style guide, colours were documented and icons improved. But you'll have to read Ross' blog post about it to find out more.

Content maintenance round up

Not only is it the end of another sprint, but it's the end of a month! So it is time for a content maintenance round up. Every Friday Charlotte and Iris go through our content maintenance queue - updating links, updating copy, putting up videos and other small, medium and big(ish) tasks. This September we have completed 31 tasks including:

  • homepage updates
  • messages for first year students
  • updates to our training and how-to guides.

But there's still plenty in the queue to keep them busy. Rich will also be blogging about our content maintenance system, so keep your eyes out for that too.

Next week...

  • Charlotte and Rhian will be moving on to a student finance project.
  • Justin will continue his work on the Department of Marketing and Communications web section and Paul will carry on his work in Professional Services.
  • Dan will also continue to look at content formats.
  • Iris will be back to research.
  • Tom N and Liam will look at accessibility.
  • Kelvin and Tom T will work together on improving SCSS.
  • Lastly (but not least) Chris will be rolling out Universal Analytics.
Monkeying around. (Thanks to Katrina James for the photo.)

Oh to be a student again.

Show & Tell, September 26 2014

📥  Show & Tell

It's always nice to start our Fridays off on a good foot with a Show & Tell. Sadly we had a late drop-out as one of the presenters had to do Important Things, but we still had four presentations on everything from analytics to baboons.

Monkeying around. (Thanks to Katrina James for the photo.)

Charlotte monkeying around at the podium. (Thanks to Katrina James for the photo.)

Editorial calendar - Rhian

Rhian and Charlotte have been developing an editorial calendar for our student-facing messaging, so Rhian walked us through the process of building the calendar and how it works.

An editorial calendar is a schedule used to publish content over a specified period of time with a specified outcome.

She wanted to create a format which could:

  • act as a schedule for all student-related dates
  • identify any clashes in our messages
  • be used by others.

After investigating several tools and services, she and Charlotte opted for iterating an earlier format instead - a free and readily-customisable Google spreadsheet.

The calendar includes what the topic is, what we're saying, what channels we're using and what the intended (and actual) outcome is. It's a flexible format that we hope to adapt for other audiences as well.

On-campus analytics - Ross

One third of all traffic on is internal, coming from our on-campus network. Ross has been comparing the site's performance in the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 academic years. While external traffic is going strong, we've had some drops in traffic from internal visitors, mainly during term-time.

This might be down to technical changes in how we track traffic, or it could be that students are looking at the site less and less - either way, it's something we're going to be looking into in the future.

Insecure direct object reference - Tom Natt

Tom continued his series of talks on web security, thrilling and terrifying the room with tales of how nasty people could break everything on the website. (Fortunately the devs have us covered.)

This week we learned about insecure direct object reference attacks. Essentially this is when authenticated users of a service try to get access to information which their accounts don't have permission to access.

These attacks can be hard to detect if you don't have the right checks in place, since they make the system do things they would normally do anyway - just not for that particular user.

Hacking. (Or several people eyeing up a takeaway cappuccino at a coffee shop where all the employees wear crowns.)

Hacking. (Or several people eyeing up a takeaway cappuccino at a coffee shop where all the employees wear crowns.)

Digital monkeys - Charlotte

Our resident Scout is working on her Queen's Scout Award, and told us about the volunteering she's been doing with the charity Colobus Conservation as part of the Award.

This has included running a YouTube channel full of monkey videos and learning HTML, CSS and Javascript to build an interactive monkey fact quiz.

She's also been out to Diani, Kenya to help rehabilitate injured monkeys, build monkey bridges over roads and cut back vegetation that tangles with power lines, which leads to the monkeys getting electrocuted.

We all learned a lot about colobus monkeys, baboons, vervet monkeys and Sykes' monkeys. There was talk of getting one as an office pet, but that would be wrong, and probably against University regulations.

The Digital team gets back to work.

The Digital team gets back to work. (Thanks to Charlotte for the photo.)

Our next Show & Tell is on Friday 10 October - hope to see you there!

Digital Team sprint notes, 16 September - 22 September 2014

📥  Weeknotes

Previously, on Digital…

  • Liam and Ross met with the Library team to review the prototype of a new /library landing page that is optimised for task completion, has a clearer layout and makes editing easier with a structured content format
  • Tom has been rewriting Group Manager, an application we use to manage access and permissions and which we are going to rely on all the more in months to come
  • Kelvin and Liam were upgrading our version of Foundation (the JS & SCSS framework that underpins the latest templates used to structure our website) to the latest stable release, bug fixing, rewriting and rebasing as they went
  • Dan and Tom started developing filter options to the blogs landing page to help users refine our long list of blogs to just those relevant to their interests
  • Charlotte, Rhian and Rich started work on the editorial calendar for online communications with registered students - identifying annual events and contacting stakeholders across the university to let us know of such events or key dates, so we can plan a schedule of messages
  • Justin completed a content inventory of the Office of Policy & Planning web content and passed this across to the project team for review, before starting an inventory and audit of Computing Services web content
  • Justin and Paul created a draft content structure for the new section for Imaging, Design and Print Services
  • Iris ran an inventory of the Computing Services section for custom features and code we need to be aware of (eg. help forms, Twitter widgets, accordions, etc).
  • The team spent a couple of hours on Friday on a 'Data Hunt' to identify sources of data about the University campus that might be hacked into useful services in the future.
Sticky notes on white boards

The inaugural @uniofbathdmc data hunt was bountiful

Next, on Digital…

  • Editorial calendar development continues
  • Running discovery work on content formats and site sections ahead of our CMS Alpha sprints in October
  • Transitioning the current CMS to supported, upgraded Java infrastructure
  • Developing our accessibility testing toolkit
  • Work on the Computing Services, Marketing & Communications and Transport pages continues.

A very warm welcome to our new students on campus. You may feel a little disorientated but you are not Lost.

Show and Tell , September 12 2014

📥  Communication, Show & Tell

On Friday 12th we had another bumper show and tell with attendance from our Director of Marketing no less.

Homepage Countdown

Miles, Tom Trentham and Dan talked us through their findings and rationale to their current proposal. Some of which are:

  1. Reduce the number of disconnected menus.
  2. Make it mobile friendly.
  3. Re-orderable "strata" of content to match changing priorities.

Library landing page rebuild

Kelv and Liam showed how the new Library landing page was looking and how it got made:

  • Re-use of existing assets from previous projects for maximum efficiency and consistency.
  • Months of research provided tons of data to inform our decisions.
  • We've made top tasks easier to find and mobile friendly.


Tom Natt continued his excellent series on online security. This chapter was on how Cross Site Scripting works:

  • A live demo.
  • Executes injected Javascript in the user's browser.
  • The most common exploit of all.

New CMS architecture - Wild speculation ahoy!

Phil introduced the thinking behind what we hope to achieve with our upcoming CMS rebuild:

  • A less fragile infrastructure.
  • Looking at Hugo to provide static publishing.
  • And Contentful to bootstrap content structuring.
  • "All wrapped in a bow".

The Legend of Hootsuite

Iris ran us through what Hootsuite is and what we're using it for.

  • Publishing, because you can schedule things and manage loads of accounts
  • Customer service, because you can monitor tweets to multiple accounts and assign them to the right people
  • Reputation management, because you can set up a zillion feeds and searches

Our next Show and Tell is on 26th September 2014. Come along!