In 2017, I led the content strategy, migration, and rewrite for the new University of London website.
The University of London offers a range of awards and degrees by online and distance learning through its ‘Worldwide’ department. Academic direction is provided by its 17 independent member institutions, including LSE, King’s College London and UCL.
In 2016, the University of London decided to consolidate its digital estate into a single website framework. This meant merging the self-contained distance-learning website (londoninternational.ac.uk) with the federation website (london.ac.uk).
The decision created a lot of challenges. The distance-learning operation was a full end-to-end service and a significant income generator for the university. It was completely at odds with a rundown federation website, whose main purpose was directing to the member universities’ own autonomous websites.
We had to find a way to meet these strategic objectives without affecting the marketing of distance-learning products or damaging the experience of current students that relied on londoninternational.ac.uk for key information relating to their studies.
Auditing: Recognising that the only chance to consolidate these would be to reduce the front-facing structure, I conducted a full qualitative audit of the distance-learning website.
Navigation: I proposed a compressed navigation around study routes that provided two benefits. Firstly, we could explain how distance learning works in better terms than we did already. Secondly, ‘study routes’ could also accommodate options to study on campus in London, making it an ideal solution for this clash of purposes.
Content design: I proposed optimal designs for high-value assets such as course pages. By negotiating down the word count of items like entry requirements by 75%, for example, it became feasible to introduce accordions, which was ideal for mobile audiences.
Web writing: I led an aggressive approach to reduce unnecessary text and change how we presented information. This meant giving more editorial control to marketing and redefining the role of ‘owners’ so subject matter experts were no longer outright authors of web content.
Migration: I sub-managed a team of five permanent and temporary staff to manage the recreation and transfer of assets to the new content management system.
At the beginning of 2017, I created a detailed web content strategy that proposed content creation opportunities and new ownership and governance structures.
Building the new website over the course of the year provided the perfect opportunity to put many of its recommendations into practice by stealth.
But once it launched in November 2017, the question remained: how this would be formalised in terms of governance? Why develop a new website only to retain the same practices that had left the old site so unfit for purpose?
So, I continued to campaign strongly for a change to the content ownership and governance structure of the new site.
These changes were implemented in May 2018 – a last act of defiance before I left the University of London to join a new project at the University of Greenwich.
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Next week, I’ll be giving my first conference presentation in five years, and this time under the mantle of my new profession. … More Hands off – it’s ours! Taking back the reins.