In September 2018, Global Reviews conducted an industry study that benchmarked 19 universities. Each study included a full site audit, as well as conducting research and task analysis of 675 study participants. This enabled us to analyse the online customer journey against industry top performers and provide data-driven recommendations for our clients.
In this article, we will extract the outcomes of one task from a segment of the customer journey of one specific university, the University of Sydney. It is important to note that it is not an analysis of the overall customer journey. Specifically, it reviews only the ‘matching to needs’ segment within the ‘CONSIDER’ phase of the customer journey.
Looking at University of Sydney’s performance within the ‘matching to needs’ segment we can see they are performing below the industry average of 51% and are 27% percentage points below the top performer, University of Queensland.
Match to needs segment performance
75% of their site users successfully performed a task to find specific entry requirements on a course details page. On initial reflection, this may appear to be a good result but in today’s digital world, it’s not great if 1 out of 4 users can’t find important information such as entry requirements on the page. Meanwhile, only 1 in 10 users failed the University of Queensland’s task.
Usability task results
Digging deeper into the data, a number of insights emerge, primarily from an efficiency and evaluation perspective. It took users almost twice as long to find the information and on average visit 3 different pages (even though the task commenced on the page that the answer should have been found on). Our industry-tailored content audit also reveals a poor performance, only scoring 30% in comparison to a 69% performance from University of Queensland.
You may be asking, given the poor performance, why is user satisfaction so high?
It’s a fair question and one that comes up regularly within our client sessions. Nielsen Norman Group, world leaders in research-based user experience, would attest that people bend the truth to be closer to what they think you want to hear. To design the best experience, pay attention to what users do, not what they say. We find when asked if they were satisfied with the website to help them perform tasks, participants can be generous in how they score. Dig a little deeper and they report the problems that they experienced. In the case of the University of Sydney, the problems emerge within the poor evaluation score of 30%, revealing issues with the initial signposting and visual hierarchy of the page, resulting in general confusion and poor navigation.
Problems encountered when finding course information
This information is crucial in guiding our review of the site. Combining this with our click-stream data from the task, as well as the page heat-maps (where users clicked on the page) we can reveal very specific problems encountered and suggest improvements.
Prospective students struggled to navigate to the information
Looking at University of Sydney, we can reveal that relevant content cues are not present above the fold. There’s a distinct lack of information associated with the content of the page. All primary and secondary calls-to-action (CTAs) drive customers away from the page, having not revealed anything in relation to course details, which is of course, supposed to be the primary purpose of the page. Users are required to scroll to find relevant information, yet 20% of users still use the ‘above the fold’ CTAs – 50% of which go on to fail the task.
Where do I start? Relevant content cues & hierarchy are not present above the fold
Even when users scroll, there is no navigation or quick links to help guide them to the information. Then, as users stumble onto relevant content, they are presented with incomplete, text-heavy content and inappropriate links. For example, in ‘Your admission criteria’, 30% of users clicked on the ‘undergraduate admission criteria’ link, resulting in 50% failing the task. They missed the text direction above to check the ‘Admission Criteria’ section on the page.
Incomplete segments are not guiding users to find information
This is poor execution for a number of reasons:
- Users don’t read direction, they follow it. The link brings them to the wrong page, a more generic admissions page.
- The incorrect link uses the same terminology (admission criteria) within the same paragraph of text.
- Is the user not already on the ‘admission criteria’ section as it’s called ‘your admission criteria’? This is confusing.
- There’s a lot of text and links related to less important information. Priority is not given to the relevant detail. For example, Is ‘GaoKao International student scores by province’ more important than the course prerequisites detailed outside the admission criteria.
Looking at the implementation of the top performers, we can clearly see where improvements can be made.
University of Queensland getting good results from clear IA & signposting
On the University of Queensland’s site, there is clear information architecture and signposting above the fold that guides users to the correct information. Analysing the heatmap, we can see strong engagement in the ‘Program details’ section. All of these users completed the task successfully, primarily because the prerequisite information is clearly presented as a priority within the ‘Admissions criteria’ section. There’s a dual (top and right) sticky navigation frame that focuses the user on the content and enables them to easily scan and navigate to the sections available.
Griffith University’s content hierarchy above the fold
Griffith University have added a comprehensive course summary above the fold. The information is presented with appropriate visual hierarchy and carefully considered details that links the user directly to more details such as ‘Additional requirements’.
To summarise, we recommend that the University of Sydney make the following changes to their course details page;
- Consider developing page navigation that helps communicate the breath of information that can be found and directs the user to it.
- Prioritise the most important page content above the fold so users are not guided off page before understanding what information is available.
- Organise and simplify ‘Your admission criteria’ content with the most important information and more appropriate links (if required).
- Create a course details summary above the fold, for users to glance through the important course details and criteria
- Consider decluttering the content and providing appropriate spacing between content sections
Whilst internal review would be required, some are considered to be ‘Quick wins’. Based on research, the ‘matching to needs’ scores are heavily weighted within the overall Universities Study. Implementing some of these design improvements could dramatically improve the university’s overall score. More importantly, they could help potential students find the right information and build trust in their brand.
This is just a taste of the types of insights and recommendations we provide. For more insights, join our webinar on Tuesday 9th April where we will be looking at:
- The prospective student’s mindset when researching university options
- What the top performing universities are doing differently
- How a few tweaks to key pages can improve the user experience
We will also be appearing at London’s Higher Education Marketing Conference on Tuesday 30th April so be sure to come along and say hello!