By John Anderson Burnett, on 8 May 2014
Six months ago UCL Communications launched a new UCL homepage; the result of over a year of research, planning, design and testing with Web and Mobile Services, Mark Boulton Design and a pan-UCL review group.
Here we take a quick look at how the homepage has performed against the project objectives:
- Improved navigation
- A better showcase for UCL’s strengths and characteristics
- Improved user experience across different devices
Happily the six-month review showed significant gains against our objectives and helped us identify opportunities for refinements (Something we’ll take a look at towards the end of this blog post). Unless otherwise stated the statistics are aggregated from 393 survey responses from members of UCL’s main audience groups.
1. Improved navigation
The homepage has seen a 35% increase in the proportion of respondents rating it easy or very easy to use and a 26% increase for clear navigation. The biggest increases were among prospective students, current students and academic staff.
Staff and student directory
As a group, Admin/Professional Services staff recognised a significant improvement against these factors. Some expressed concern, however, at the relocation of the staff and student directory to the staff gateway. This change was unintended and a consequence of technical limitations. Work is underway in Web and Mobile Services to improve UCL Search and restore the directory functionality to the UCL homepage.
The length of the page also concerned some respondents. The expansive and image-led style used in the news and events section is growing in popularity and takes inspiration from a variety of sources including news websites, such as the BBC and the Independent, other university websites such as Caltech, Harvard and Cambridge and social media sites like Pinterest.
Navigation elements of the site appear at the top to reduce the need for people to scroll in order to complete day-to-day tasks.
2. A better showcase for UCL’s strengths and characteristics
The homepage has seen a 12% increase in the proportion of respondents rating the site as good or very good at reflecting UCL’s strengths and pedigree. Scores for design and imagery also increased by 10% and 11% respectively.
The survey also asked respondents to select between opposing adjectives to assess changes in perceptions of the site. This exercise demonstrated that respondents rated the site more favourably for all the target areas, with increases for the following adjectives:
The biggest increases were among prospective students, alumni and academic staff.
News and events at UCL
The previous homepage had two slots to feature where UCL was appearing in the news. The new homepage is much more flexible and enables UCL’s Communications and Marketing team to feature different types of media, showcasing UCL’s impressive and diverse range of activity.
The new design routinely features eight different pieces of content, including national and international news stories, comment pieces, multimedia (video, audio and images) and social media elements.
This element of the page is primarily directed at external audiences such as prospective students and research collaborators.
The research showed that 79% of survey respondents reported that they scan the top two news pieces either always or most of the time, whereas 41% scanned the whole news and events grid always or most of the time.
3. Improved user experience across different devices
The proportion of users rating the mobile experience as good or very good increased significantly, albeit from a low baseline:
The homepage was developed using responsive web design principles, so it adapts to display differently on different screen sizes and devices, such as mobiles and tablets.
Page load speed
Another central aim was to improve the page load speed. This benefits everyone, but is particularly important for people accessing content on their phones.
Measuring the performance one week after launch, the overall page load time had reduced by 22% from 2.8 seconds to 2.18, while on mobile devices it had reduced by 58% from 7.25 seconds to 3.04 seconds. This data is taken from Google Analytics.
Refinements informed by our analysis
Based on our evaluation and user feedback, we have identified the following refinements:
Staff and student directory
The biggest concern among respondents related to the staff and student directory. Work is underway to restore this functionality to the homepage. As a short-term measure the staff and student directory feature has been added to the staff gateway.
Length of page
Based on feedback from the survey, we shortened the news and events section. This section can be expanded or reduced in order to best showcase the activity of the university.
Audience gateway news feeds
Work is underway to include dynamic news feeds on the audience gateway pages. This will enable audiences to see filtered news that is relevant to them.
Illustrations for regular features
The homepage often includes regular features such as UCL in the media, the UCL Events blog and UCL Opinion. We commissioned a UCL Neuroscience PhD student, Matteo Farinella, to produce illustrations to help audiences identify this content and to differentiate UCL’s homepage from other universities.
Gateway link changes
Our evaluation revealed the links that audiences used most. Based on this, we reordered some of the groupings on the audience gateway pages. We also added a small number of new links.
UCL Communications will continue to evaluate and refine the homepage to improve its performance for UCL’s many different audiences. If you have suggestions or comments you can email is at digital-comms(at)ucl.ac.uk.