The University of Southampton
Digital Team Blog

Weeknotes 9, sprint 8: learning what our users actually want

Are you planning to enrol to university soon?

Maybe looking to come to an open day?

Or perhaps getting to do something you’ve always dreamt about?

Exploring new skills? Finding your independence?

Which university course page do you remember looking at?

Whatever our prospective students are after, they’ll almost certainly start with course pages, on their phone or a website like ours, or both.

What we’ve done

Card sort testing

We visited a local college and conducted a few exercises with our target audience – high quality prospective students who are interested in going to university in the next three years.

The main objectives for the test were:

  • To understand how our users expect our top-level user needs-based content to be organised
  • To understand users’ expectations of where course pages would be found
  • To find out what ‘natural’ language our users attribute to our content topics and categories of topics

During the test, we asked them questions about what they look for on a course page, and to do a task to sort different course information into categories.

From the Post-it tasks it was clear that the most important criteria were:

  • Entry requirements
  • Student satisfaction – students’ ratings of teaching (NSS) were very important in the sense that they would like to know what current students think of the university/course
  • Course content – details of modules, not just names. In particular, which are optional and which are a compulsory part of the course
  • Career opportunities and companies that hired graduates from the course, as well as desired careers and ideas for potential career paths
  • Contact details for someone involved in that course, not just generic university contact details
  • Similar courses – if they can’t get in, what other options are open to them

Post-it task with our users

Getting our remote tests ready

Sue and Chris have been very busy building remote tests in our platform, UserZoom. The questionnaire was written by Institutional Research (IR) to help us speed things up. There is a lot to do and we have recruited participants via YouthSite. This build wasn’t without its challenges, but we got there eventually.


A snippet from our online survey in UzerZoom 

Build and development


Our developer, Jon, has been working (literally) round the clock to complete the build and design of all seven sample pages in the HEFCE and Radical design. This was very labour-intensive work, but he did it! Helped by Linden, they’ve managed to turn around 14 course templates as well as ancillary pages such as accommodation, book for an open day and more!

Getting the alpha site ready for testing

They were also busy getting the alpha site ready for deployment, so Sue and Chris can get it tested by our remote participants. This will enable us to test some of the user journey and see what alterations we need to make.

What we’ve learnt / challenges

A few observations and learning points from this week:

  • From a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) point of view, we would like to have more time to conduct keyword analysis and competitor benchmarking, so we can help inform the content from a user perspective and advise if the course names, for example, resonate with our audiences. This is something that we can take to the next phase.
  • We need more time for card sort tests and we will ensure that we take it into account in future planning
  • Our governance workflow needs adjusting. We mentioned that marketing needs to be involved in the content production workflow and that we will amend it based on the outcome of the experiment. If we have more time, a marketing expert for the relevant faculty should review these as well
  • It brings up the question once again about the ownership of the course pages and who this content is written for
  • We need an operational content strategy. In the SPOCs and Fact-Checkers workshops (many moons ago), some stakeholders raised the very valid point that they’re having to fact-check and approve content for myriad channels. We can all agree that this is an inefficient use of their time. How content is created, how it is approved and governed has implications. Our old approaches to content production are no longer fit for purpose. This is no longer just about approving a webpage, because there is a broader user journey to take into account and these content pieces could and should be repurposed in multiple contexts. It is about who, what and how it will be consumed. This is tricky, but can bring a lot of rewards to the University… if we master it.

What’s next

Next is testing! And crunching data.

Huge thanks again to Needee, Rosie and Kitty from IR for helping us to turn around the analysis quickly. We’re very grateful for the support. I would also like to mention our project team. Everyone worked and is still working really, really hard to ensure that we get the most out of our experiment and bring value to the University. 👏

We’re very keen to share the results with you in our Show and Tell on 3 July. Bookings are first come, first served, and with only a few places left we will be closing it soon. Don’t worry if you cannot make it; we will record the presentation and share our deck with you.

Parting words for this week

Nothing like finishing with a good metaphor:

If a business was an ocean explorer, then content strategy would be the compass. You can have the best boat, a killer crew and a meticulous map. But without a compass, you won’t know if you’re sailing in the right direction. 

True North on the content strategy compass is a single, shared goal: to create experiences our users love by delivering the right information, to the right user, at the right time. Makes sense, right?!” – Selene Rosenberg

“There’s content in them thar hills.”
Source: Simon Migaj on Unsplash

Thank you for reading.

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