Running from around the start of August until the end of October, the Undergraduate Induction period is one of the most important times in our editorial calendar.
It's a time of high-stress for a lot of new students. Many are nervous about leaving home and desperate to make sure they're prepared for their new life at university, so it's crucial that we provide information that helps them be in the right place at the right time.
Starting with people’s needs
In 2016, we transitioned undergraduate and postgraduate induction content into Content Publisher. The first stage of this process was to find out how new students were using our content and what they needed to do with it. We did this by holding some user story workshops with stakeholders to find out what they saw as the important things for students to know. We then looked at the data from the existing induction content and combined our findings.
What we found was that students mostly wanted practical information and guidance about things like collecting their room keys and finding the Student's Union. The more pastoral content, which covered topics like homesickness and making friends, was not so well received in this format.
As a result of this, we created practical pages like:
We didn't ignore the pastoral side of coming to university, but we kept these pages focused on specific user needs, covering topics like how peer mentors can help you settle into uni life and how to make the most of your time at uni.
There are also things we, the University, need new students to do, like register, get vaccinated, and pay their fees - important stuff. So a lot of the content we created and transitioned for Induction was about these things. In those cases, even though the type of content was different, our user-first approach was not. The University needs students to do these things, but we still had to make sure that the content was written with the students' needs in mind. Their need is to find this information at the right time and to be able to understand it and act on it.
Content when it's needed
The best way to help people to be in the right place at the right time is to give them information in the right place and at the right time.
Throughout the Induction period, we restructured the Collection pages so that priority pages rose to the top, adding relevant pages when they were needed, relegating or removing any that had lost relevance.
To do this, we created content calendars for the undergraduate and postgraduate Collections. These showed where on each Collection we should pin every page of Induction content, and when.
Those early user story workshops we held with stakeholders fed into this. We plotted the user stories they wrote on a timeline, working out what information was important for students at certain points in the Induction period.
Since then, we've worked with colleagues from around the University as part of the Induction Operations Group, making sure that the calendar was correct so that students would see the information they needed, when they needed it.
Working with the experts
While we were creating content, we were also been listening to our colleagues about how to approach Induction. As I mentioned, we were part of the Induction Operations Group, a regular gathering of student induction experts from all the faculties, the School of Management, Student Services, the Student's Union (including the SU President), the International Relations Office, and others.
These meetings were really useful in understanding more about what the web content needed to do from the University's point of view, but they were also an opportunity to share our work with colleagues, take their feedback on board, and review our content accordingly.
This year, through the Induction Operations Group, we also worked with colleagues from Student Services who ran a trial of 'Student Welcome'. This is a platform that lets you track a user's progress through content pages and quizzes so you can check how many of your users looked through the content you provided.
As we already had a lot of the necessary content on the website, we worked with Student Services to avoid duplication and reviewed the Student Welcome content to maintain similar tone and style with the website.
Digging into the data
Over the last two years, we've worked hard to make sure that our Induction content (and the rest!) is clear, user-focused, and accessible. Sadly, because of the way we've restructured the Induction content, it's impossible to get like-for-like comparisons between most pages. For example, we can't say that the new Fresher's Week pages are performing better or worse than the old ones because they're structured in a completely different way.
Having said that, we can see comparisons between the pages for some of the key tasks that students need to do during the Induction period.
Comparing the pages that linked to University registration in 2015 and 2017, we saw a slight drop in unique views, from 37,267 to 34,656. We also saw a rise in bounce rate, from 11% in 2015 to 61% in 2017. The page itself was active throughout the Induction period, but for some of this time it was just a holding page as the registration platform itself was not active.
What we can take from this is that having a holding page for a service that's not live can mess up your data! Next year, we might want to leave the page unpublished until the registration platform is live.
From 1 August to 1 October 2015, the page about vaccinations for new students had 2,467 unique views and a bounce rate of 72%. This year, the new page got 7,286 unique views, and the bounce rate increased to 88%.
In this case, the increased bounce rate could be a sign that the page is performing well. Near the top of the page is a clear list of the vaccinations students should have before coming to university. The high bounce rate suggests that users got the information they needed and were able to leave the page without further actions.
The new page about the Heathrow pickup for international students also seems to be performing better than the old one.
Between 1 June and 1 October 2015, the Heathrow pickup page had 1,647 unique views and a bounce rate of 57%. This is compared to 4,196 uniques and a bounce rate of 43% for the 2017 Heathrow pickup page.
The low bounce rate is a good sign here because the point of the page is to encourage people to book themselves onto the service. Coupled with an average time of 2 minutes 37 on the page, and we can tell that people were reading the content and interacting with the page to achieve their goal.
We also promoted the service on Facebook and Sina Weibo (Chinese social media) with a gif linking to the new page. Here's the English version...
...and the Chinese translation.
Now that we have two full years of data from the new pages, we'll be able to review how the content is performing year-on-year and make further improvements ahead of next year's Induction period. We'll also continue to work with our colleagues and our users, looking at how we can make improvements based on their experiences and feedback.