Usability of the English website increases after relaunch…

Usability of the english website for Lund University has increased from 50% to 80% since we relaunched the pages in September 2007.

The 80% figure is based off the success rate of student volunteers attempting to complete key tasks on our website.

Usability report – March 2008

Much of this success is from giving clear links to the education database, the increased completeness of this database and the use of target group focused pages.

Tasks included finding course information or making an application.

The average number of page views, per task, has been reduced by half – this is positive, and reflects a more user-centric design with clearer menus and links.

80% – fine, but what’s still not working? Our education database is still problematical, to say the least, and some of the new pages I introduced are simply not working.

The Future Students pages, for example, simply confuse the students and add an extra level of pages which they clearly could do without. Simplification is definitely needed.

The transition of moving students from our site to studera.nu is also not handled well, they are often dumped off our website by a ‘Apply Now’ link into a whole new environment – this is not good service.

Usability testing only tells us so much. We can identify the major problems but the more subtle issues such as the effectiveness of course descriptions, or the role that student reviews play in the decision making process, are hard to assess by this type of testing alone.

I also focused only on the central website – the sometimes complicated relationship between this, and the other websites of the university, which is often a source of frustration (judging by many of the survey comments) was not assessed.

The report contains some suggestions for improvement which I’ll be implementing over the next few months and then test with a further group of volunteers.

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Lund at Wikipedia – one of our top ten pages…

Wikipedia has been identified, by many of the students I speak to, as being important to them – and trustworthy – when they are learning about a university.

You can see page view statistics, for wikipedia articles , via a site developed by Henrik – a wikipedia adminstrator. This is a more user friendly version of data which is available from Domas Mituzas, one of the wikipedia Trustees.

Here’s a simple comparison of page views, of a few different university’s wikipedia pages, for February 2008. 

English pages of Wikipedia, page views, Feb 2008

Harvard University: 116 591 

Oxford University: 35 903

Uppsala University: 7 049

Lund University: 6 049

Stockholm University: 5424

Karolinska Institute: 995

 Swedish pages of Wikipedia, page views, Feb 2008

Harvard University: 914

Oxford University: 56 

Uppsala University: 1 533

Lund University: 1 327 

Stockholm University: 1028 

Karolinska Institute: 564

It’s dangerous to compare page views, when you don’t exactly know how the figures are generated.  But, if you compare – just for fun- these numbers with the page views the english pages from www.lu.se/english got (in the same month) then the wikipedia article appears, just, within the list of our top ten most viewed pages.

In the same time period, we received 929 referrals from the english wikipedia, 182 from the danish wikipedia and 171 from the Swedish.

Not only further proving the importance of wikipedia, these statistics also give us the opportunity to see what affect any future changes in the wikipedia article on Lund have on the number of referrals to our websites. 

The truth hurts…

I read a post about people just wanting the truth at Living Light Bulbs yesterday, it describes how you need to face up to the fact that there are things wrong with your company, product or website.  Because even if you are hiding from the truth, your customer is well aware that your service is not as good as it could be.

Yeah okay, it uses a rather gross image (zits) but its final point is a good one: ‘If you have limited resources you have essentially two choices 1. Cover up the truth or, 2. Improve what’s already true about you’¨.

What’s the point of collecting data on what’s wrong with our websites if we don’t do something with it? I was already thinking about this when I checked the Questback statistics and saw this, brutally honest, comment:

“I strongly believe that the Lund University Web Site, is a mess, a complete mess. I think that you could gain a lot be simplifying it instead of making people enter in a never ending turning wheel. It is quite stressful and not user friendly at all. I hope I could have been of some assistance, good luck for further developments.”

Yes, it hurts to read this stuff. And this comment is not based on an isolated event. Our website is extremely decentralised and, as a result, it is possible to end up in the loops she is describing. This may not be the experience of all our users but the fact that it happens just some of the time is a critical usability issue.

How can we use this kind of comment above, and the rest of the data we collect? The long term view is identify the biggest problems and get to work solving them – on the basis of priority. The shorter term view is to use the survey data, and particular the comments, to remind ourselves that our webpages are really, yes really, read by real people, who get stressed when the navigation, or the content, lets them down.

It’s painful to read, we’d much rather just look at the visitor numbers and page views, but by listening to the users – whenever, and however we get the chance – we can continue to improve our work on a daily basis.

You have less than a minute to find a course…

I’ve just come to the end of series of usability tests, I’ve been looking at the Medical Faculty and Social Sciences Faculty websites using student volunteers to examine their usability.

Among other things I’ve been asking the student volunteers to look for specific courses offered by these faculties. The results have generally been positive but doing this task has prompted several of the students to comment on just how important this task is.

Take a look at these quotes from the volunteers:

“If it takes too long to look for things then you just stop it and say, well, I don’t want to go to Lund and go to another university instead”

” I can tell you from back home, that when I picked a university and looked at the homepages I was more interested in those which had a really nice webpage….I mean not much text, but really clear links, like you can study this, and you apply like this, you first see what they offer and how to apply”

Finding courses and programmes is the key purpose of a university’s website. We have to optimise our websites to the extent that what we teach (or what you, a student, can learn) is never more than a few clicks from the homepage.

People are not patient when they are looking at websites.

Using Google Analytics we can very quickly get an idea of how long people spend on our university website. The average time people spend on our website is less than 4 minutes. This is a crude, and simple, analysis but it emphasises how short the time is that we have to give users the information they are looking for.

Imagine you’re a student – choosing a university. You’re looking at 5 different university websites. Which is the one which will catch your eye and probably become the one you enroll at? I think it’s the one where you find the course and understand how to begin the application process in less than a minute.