Going on an adventure

Posted in: DMC team

After almost three years working at the University of Bath, on Friday 23 September I will leave my role as Digital Content Editor and Digital Supporter for AHS.

I’m going on an antipodean adventure, travelling around New Zealand for a year.

While I’m incredibly excited about what is the trip of a lifetime, I’ll be sorry to leave behind great colleagues, friends and work that I am immensely proud of.

During my time here I’ve transformed professionally, which has been an adventure in itself. A former magazine sub-editor who wrote album reviews for online and print in his spare time, I now use an agile approach to design, create and curate digital content that meets specific user needs.

This is in no small part due to the expertise, guidance and enthusiasm of the Digital Marketing and Communications team.

Working with them has not only been excellent fun, but it has given me an assured understanding of how people perceive web content, how we all actually use the internet and how we can make the experience more useful and intuitive.

Creating something that works

I’m particularly proud of transitioning our Accommodation, Eateries, Events and Security content from the previous incarnation of the University CMS and website to our shiny new one. In fact, we were among the first departments to make the switch.

Our new site, inspired by the principles at the heart of gov.uk, puts users first. It’s a hugely positive move that is already bearing fruit.

Take our Student Accommodation content. Previously we had content across several different folders, resulting in disjointed and duplicated information.

Now it’s all in one place, with a group landing page we can modify depending on the time of year and stage of the applicant journey.

While earlier in the year we pinned accommodation application information to it, now - as we approach intake weekend - we can push useful and relevant arrival information to our users.

Information about what you should and shouldn’t bring with you, where to pick up your keys and how to send luggage to the University if you’re moving from overseas.

That has undoubtedly helped the content to perform much better this summer.

For example, when applications for accommodation opened back in April, our analytics shows signs that user engagement and has improved.

  • Increased sessions on day applications open - 2015 (4,498) vs 2016 (7,997)
  • Monthly unique pageviews leapt from 64,623 in 2015 to 91,592 in 2016
  • April 2016 bounce rate down vs 2015, from 43.69% to 32.56%
  • Exit rate also fell from 25.49% in 2015 to 18.23% in 2016

Combine that with an increase in entrances and average session duration and it looks like our content is easier to find and more useful.

Tailoring our content to meet specific user needs is working.

Thinking about content in this way - putting the user first - is so simple, so sensible and yet still relatively rarely implemented.

Well I’m taking this with me, out into the world.

Decluttering dusty old windows

When I was at University, way back in the mid-2000’s, I was told that a website was an organisation’s shop window.

Many organisations also heard this and have piled everything they have onto their website and left it all there, gathering dust, not really knowing why they put it there but pleased they have because now it’s in the window and people will know. They’ll know about all the things in the window. Right? Or will they just walk past thinking, “That place looks a mess”?

Shops don’t put all their products in the window at once. Not good ones anyway.

Stores like Selfridges invest great skill, research and consideration in their window dressing. They carefully and deliberately showcase the things that their customers want or need at a time when they desire or require it.

So why treat a website any differently? Declutter. Find out what your users need, give them that clearly and simply enough that anyone can understand it, and adapt to changes in user behaviour. Repeat.

I can’t stress enough how much this has influenced me, and how much agile content excites me.

I’ll always remember and be grateful for what the University of Bath has taught me, and I couldn’t have hoped to learn from a better bunch of people.

It’s been a blast folks. Thank you.

Steve and his partner will be blogging and podcasting during their trip round New Zealand, and you can follow them on Twitter.

Posted in: DMC team

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  • Have a great trip Steve, and great job on the AHS content. The improvement is huge and it's good to see the data to back it up.

    • Thanks Rayner. Was a lot of hard work, but it's paying off. I'm really pleased with it.

  • I love this post!

    Hope you have an amazing trip. We're gonna miss you.

    • Thanks Iris, I'll be watching the site's progress from afar. All the best with the rest of the transition. You're all building great things.

  • I remember coming to see you in the Team Bath corridor to look at updating some Olympic content. My how you've grown!

    Really great post, I love the shop window analogy - you've really identified one of the major stumbling blocks we have when trying to prioritise and present content.

    It's been a pleasure working alongside you, very best wishes for all your journeys ahead.

    Stay in touch 🙂

    • Haha, how things have changed since the corridor days. The pleasure has been mine, Liam. Been a privilege to learn from and work with such knowledgeable, friendly people.

  • Great post Steve. It's been a pleasure working with you.
    Keep in touch via the fantasy football 🙂
    Happy travels!

    • Thanks Dan, I will. Although I think this season is a bit of a write off already. Champion two years ago, it's all unravelling now. I'm the Jose Mourinho of the University.

  • Great post Steve!
    Great to see the data and love the analogy.
    I enjoyed working on the first part of it with you.
    Enjoy your next adventure!

  • Good luck Steve. It was a pleasure working with you and you will be greatly missed.