How can UK universities utilise digital experience to combat the impact of the demographic dip and falling student numbers?

How can University of Sydney improve the performance of their course details page?

The Global Reviews European team recently attended the Higher Education Marketing Conference in London, and with most of the major universities in attendance it was a thoroughly interesting day filled with plenty of engaging presentations covering a broad range of topics. Many of the speakers discussed, from a variety of perspectives, the falling numbers of students applying to universities in the UK. This blog post does not endeavour to further analyse or discuss the reasons for or the impact of this but will rather discuss (on a very small scale, this is only a blog post after all) how universities can use digital experience in order to convince students to apply, and to choose them as their firm choice.

A recent study conducted by Global Reviews, which benchmarked 10 UK university websites, showed us that the university website is the most important touchpoint for prospective students in their research journey, but for many the digital experience doesn’t deliver. Prospective students are more likely to use the university site than any other site when looking for answers to specific questions, starting to research courses, researching university life, and developing a shortlist of universities to consider. However, across the 10 sites measured in the study, on average more than one in three deemed the effort required of them to complete tasks on the site was more than they had expected. So, prospective students are looking to university sites to help them make this huge decision but in many cases the sites are making things unnecessarily complicated and/ or difficult for them. What can they do to improve the digital experience?

channel used higher learning

One key consideration for universities is understanding what information is most important in terms of decision making, what are the things that they should be prioritising in order to convince prospective students to choose them? Apart from the obvious ‘reputation’, ‘having the best course for my needs’ is the leading reason to choose a university, followed closely by ‘courses that are easy to understand’. There are many facets to reputation, most of which are difficult to manipulate outside of the usual content on awards, accolades and student satisfaction statistics, and solid marketing and PR campaigns over time (see the University of Bradford, whose most recent marketing campaign as presented at the conference by their Director of External Affairs, has seen an increase in applications for this diverse university!). However, making courses engaging and easy to understand is something that University websites absolutely can control, and can change reasonably easily!

One in three prospective students in our study said they didn’t know exactly what course they wanted to study, but had a broad idea of interest areas, and one in ten didn’t even know that much by the time they started researching. Most UK university websites allow users to search by interest area, using keywords. However, the majority do not offer any more than the most basic filter options to aid prospective students in navigating the search results or tailoring what they are seeing to narrow down their options. So those 40% or more of prospective students must trawl through multiple courses looking for key information on the course details page in order to help them understand what might be best for them. From there, unfortunately for tech-savvy Gen-Z, it’s back to basics with a notepad and pen as most UK university websites don’t allow users to save courses to a list of favourites to revisit later. This experience is a laborious one, and in order to capture the attention of a generation that is used to having easily accessible information at their fingertips this needs to change.

This starts with the search functionality itself, for most prospective students this will be the very first thing they interact with on any university website. Existing functionality is basic across most UK university sites, allowing users to input keywords relating only to course study areas in order to bring up reams of results, or requires them to know the specific title of a course. But when we asked prospective students how they would prefer to begin a search for courses, four very different options are chosen in almost equal proportions; by specific course, by interest area, by study level (undergrad or postgrad), and by career interest. If I am a prospective student, and I want to be an archaeologist, but I don’t know what I need to study in order to achieve that, I may want to be able to search on the university’s course search to find this out. Having tested this on the top 5 universities in the UK, not one returns any course search results to help me with my query, some don’t even use predictive search, and more shockingly a couple don’t prioritise course search as an option. Based on a similar study we run in Australia, which features over 30 universities, we have seen the positive effect that more sophisticated search functionality can have on conversion. For example, the University of South Australia utilise a multitude of search functionality to help their prospective students locate relevant courses in whichever way works best for them.

At UniSA prospective students can search by career, course or study area:

unisa search

Or if they need a helping hand getting started in their search, they can select from study area tiles:

unisa explore

And once they’ve got their search results, UniSA offer tonnes of helpful filters to help them navigate through all the available options:

unisa filters

Open Universities Australia provide a specialised tool on their website to help prospective students match a course to their needs:

oua help

Once a prospective student chooses a course that seems to meet their needs, the next most important factor is whether it is easy to understand information about the course. Based on the recent UK study conducted by Global Reviews, the most important information prospective students want to see on the course detail page is an overview of the course and what it entails, the degree structure including electives, available courses based on entry requirements, study hours and assessments, and learning outcomes. Our higher education Client Advisory experts have also conducted specific studies around the presentation of information on course detail pages, information architecture, and labelling. Many UK university websites do provide all of the desired information on the course detail pages, but fail to communicate it in a way that prospective students with no experience of university will understand, use so much block text that it is impossible to scan the page to find the relevant information they are looking for, and often use labelling that does not clearly indicate what information might be hidden within a collapsed section.

Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Australia allows users to jump to different sections of the course details page using a main horizontal navigation, and clear labelling. Clear CTAs for applying and enquiring also feature in this navigation bar, and the bar is sticky so scrolls down the page with the user. Further down the page a more detailed vertical navigation also exists to help users navigate within the main body of the page. ECU are also trialling compare and save functionality from the course detail page, and many other Australian universities provide this already, including Deakin and UniSA, enabling prospective students to compile a shortlist on their site (no old school notebook and a pen required here!). Language is straightforward and accessible, and content delivers against all the most important information prospective students have said they want on the page.

ecu degree

ECU provides in depth information about learning outcomes, course structure (including a table showing each unit of the course across all four years and the credit points for each), detailed information about work placements (including specific attendance requirements), and also gives a long list of potential careers that a prospective student might achieve as a result of studying this course. This comprehensive content is presented in ‘chunked up’ sections, making good use of font size, colour, bolding, shading, tables and more to ensure that the page is easily scannable, and the information is clearly displayed. Despite the language on the page being very user friendly and accessible, ECU recognise that there may still be some terms that need further explanation in order to help prospective students understand the course and what it can offer them, so they provide a ‘Quick guide to uni-speak’ that provides further detail.

ecu guide

ECU have put their prospective students at the centre of this experience, by understanding at each point what it is that the user might want to do next and then delivering tools and/ or content to help them do that. Any prospective student reading this course detail page would likely come away with an in depth understanding of the course, but also of why they should choose ECU, as there are multiple ‘reasons to choose’ presented within the content and a dedicated link-through section to the ‘why choose us’ page. For any prospective students who find that, even with all this easily consumed content, they still need more information, the CTA to enquire is present throughout their digital journey on the page. ECU really get it right!

Conversely, many UK university course detail pages feature one thing only, lots and lots of block text. Many don’t use a single table, image, or call out box, and much of the content includes jargon that prospective students may not understand, with no offer of explanation. Any prospective student visiting these pages is going to have to work much harder to understand the course options than they would at ECU or any number of other Australian universities. Why is the UK so far behind in terms of digital experience? Why are UK universities not prioritising this as something to develop, and fast, when they are trying to attract the most tech-savvy generation of school leavers in history, at a time when student numbers are falling? This absolutely needs to change.

 

If you’d like to find out more about how your university’s digital experience can be optimised to improve conversion, contact us by phone or email:

Neil WhiteAlex Hughes
Commercial DirectorCommercial Director
neil.white@globalreviews.comalexander.hughes@globalreviews.com
+44 (0) 203 405 9331 +44 (0) 203 405 9332
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Prospective students don’t know what they don’t know

university website

Our recent UK higher learning study revealed that 1/3 of UK prospective students don’t know what specific course they want to research, but rather, they have a broad idea of an area of interest.  Until students know more about the university and area of interest, they’re not going to know what courses are on offer let alone which course to specifically search for.

While browsing behaviour dominates when it comes to locating a range of courses, leading universities are providing multiple pathways to cater to different needs of students, for example those that know the specific course they want to study verses those that don’t know but may have an interest area in mind.

Our recent webinar explored some of the ways Australian universities are helping prospective students to find the right course to match their needs and area of interest. For example, search capabilities within the site provides the opportunity to not only help prospective students find specific courses and subject areas, but also to serendipitously discover other courses that might be suitable for them through the use of additional filters.

For more insights into the student mindset when researching universities and courses online, watch our webinar or contact us for more information. We will also be featured at the upcoming Higher Education Marketing Conference in London, so be sure so come say hello!

Presented by: Geri McGann – Principal Client Advisor

Let is know what you thought about the webinar and have your say as to what we deliver next!

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How can University of Sydney improve the performance of their course details page?

How can University of Sydney improve the performance of their course details page?

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.

digital sales effectiveness 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

Uni Syd Match to Needs

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

Matching to needs 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

Uni of Sydney had most problems

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

Uni Syd click path

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

uni sydney cta

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

uni syd admission criteria

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

uni qld nursing prereq

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 uni

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;

  1. Consider developing page navigation that helps communicate the breath of information that can be found and directs the user to it.
  2. Prioritise the most important page content above the fold so users are not guided off page before understanding what information is available.
  3. Organise and simplify ‘Your admission criteria’ content with the most important information and more appropriate links (if required).
  4. Create a course details summary above the fold, for users to glance through the important course details and criteria
  5. 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!

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Global Reviews announces headline sponsorship of the London Higher Education Marketing Conference 2019

higher education marketing conference

Global Reviews brings its world renowned research programme to London’s Higher Education Marketing Conference.

“The Higher Education Marketing Conference 2019 will offer leading professional development in supporting innovation and maximising impact in the delivery of effective higher education marketing campaigns. Those attending will gain the latest insights from higher education marketing experts and leading practitioners in understanding the evolving trends in student recruitment, assessing how to enhance engagement and communication with prospective students and developing marketing strategies which support outstanding outcomes within higher education.”

Regent’s Park, London – Tuesday 30th April 2019

Global Reviews, a company dedicated to empowering businesses with data driven insights and recommendations, is proud to announce it will be the headline sponsor of Inside Government’s Higher Education Marketing Conference for 2019 (https://highereducationmarketing.co.uk). The conference will be held Tuesday 30th April at the Royal College of Physicians in Regent Park, London and will be chaired by Martyn Spence, Director of Marketing and Communication, Heriot-Watt University.

Keynote speaker

Gerard Farrell, Head of Product at Global Reviews, will be a keynote speaker on the day, unveiling recent UK higher learning research and bringing best practice examples to bear on how the UK higher learning industry can improve its digital acquisition, retention and communicate channels.

  • Revealing new Global Reviews research and insights detailing how UK universities can perform better in meeting the online marketing and sales needs of their prospective students.
  • Understanding trends across university websites and highlighting common pain points prospective students face when researching course and university options.
  • Delivering best practice examples of the online consumer journey from both the UK and Australia.

Bringing our celebrated Higher Learning research programme to the UK

With nearly 20 years of experience in measuring and benchmarking customer journeys through multiple online channels and having worked with 15 universities in Australia, Global Reviews is bringing its higher learning benchmark to the UK.

Utilising real world scientific methodologies, Global Reviews not only provides the most sophisticated online journey benchmarking programme in the world but also provides the ability to respond to competitive market dynamics through a whole market view. Our insights consistently drive higher conversion rates and reduce abandonment.

Our methodologies consist of a unique blend of active and passive methodologies, subjective onsite behavior and objective best practice feature and function audits. Across the end to end online buying journey, segmented into two phases and six buying stages, our products benchmark and forensically analyse the elements of the online experience which are causing the greatest loss in sales. Our expert client advisory team deep dives into the thousands of behavioural data points generated in one study alone and provide evidence led insights to turn lost opportunities into conversions.

Five ways we can help your digital team:

  1. Prioritisation of customer experience development based on proportional market conversion increases
  2. Reduce reliance on site centric single data sources and provide whole market visibility. (The 80% you don’t currently see)
  3. Access to a leading team of digital conversion specialists and best practice intelligence
  4. Benchmark the performance of your online customer journey against local competitors and worldwide leaders.
  5. Reduce subjective debate within your team and gain independent validation on the decisions and choices you are making for your online sales and marketing strategy.

For more information about Global Reviews or to register your interest in a demo at the conference, contact Suzy Sliwczynski (suzy.sliwczynski@globalreviews.com).

 

Additional Conference Information:

 

About Global Reviews

The Global Reviews story began in 2000 out of a passion to present companies with the most accurate and actionable measure of website customer experience.

Our research approach is rooted in the knowledge that a more successful research solution will be achieved through the collaboration of three distinct groups:

  • Your team
  • Your customers
  • Our experts

Through this collaborative process we follow a design pattern which starts broadly, considering your requirements and then refines this to a single evidence led approach to achieving the project goals.

When choosing participants for our studies we choose carefully and work only with the highest quality panel partners. The majority of our studies include only in-market consumers, those who are currently looking to purchase a product or service like yours. When choosing samples, we cut out the noise and focus only on those customers who will improve your commercial performance. Once chosen our respondents complete tasks on their own devices in their own homes and we record and observe their natural behaviour. In this manner we bridge the gap between claimed behaviour and actual behaviour. With access to millions of customers worldwide and leveraging many diverse research solutions, there is no door into the digital world we have not been able to open to complete research.

For more information, visit www.globalreviews.com. You can also follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

Media Contact:
Suzy Sliwczynski
Marketing Manager
suzy.sliwczynski@globalreviews.com

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Join our free webinar on Wednesday March 5th for an overview of the results of our January Digital Marketing Effectiveness (DME) Study of UK Current Account providers

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Online hotel booking providers told to instil trust and confidence with consumer

Around 250 attendees at the “No Vacancy” conference in Sydney today were provided with some key insights into understanding consumer behaviour when it comes to online hotel booking.

The top take-away from “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” presentation by Greg Muller, Global Reviews CEO, was that these sites needed to instil trust and confidence with the consumer in three main areas:

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At a recent Global Reviews Online Retail Webinar specifically looking at the process of purchasing a laptop online, attendees were presented with some insights around the awareness to consideration phases of the customer’s journey.

The Global Reviews Shortlist Report found the following key insights:

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