Wayne State Law School home page ranked 3rd in the nation

In a recent report by Georgetown Law the Wayne State University Law School home page ranked 3rd out of 195 other Law School home pages in the nation.

What makes the Law School site special

We started the Law School redesign project over two years ago and the new site launched last year. The goal of the project was to overhaul the entire site architecture and focus on the strengths of the school that resonate with prospective students. The old site was completely static with Dreamweaver templates. Even content updates were a pain and could only be done by technical staff. We aimed to change this by moving it into the central content management system that we created and give access to the content experts in the school. It was a huge success, updates are now being made on a consistent and timely basis. Items can be scheduled and the number of dynamic features continue to grow.

Some of the things that make the site successful and ultimately led to it’s high ranking in this survey were:

  • Location and address to the school right on the homepage
  • Search box prominence
  • Use of cascading stylesheets
  • News headlines
  • Favicon to matched the university’s
  • Smiling faces in all the photos
  • Social network links to connect with the community
  • RSS feeds easily accessible
  • Microformats (the only site that had them)
  • Hierarchal organization

Overall Score: 78

A new site coming

After all that I have to mention we have actually begun the process of realigning the Law School Web site yet again. Over the past year they have outgrown their navigation. They are now going above and beyond the tool set we originally planned and now it’s time to make those elements permanent features on the site. Over the past year we have learned a lot about how students interact with the site, through user studies and analytics. We are planning to refine the navigation even further to reduce redundancy and potential confusion.

Congratulations!

It gives me great pleasure to congratulate the Web Communications and Law School staff for sticking to the overall goals of the site and putting in all of their time and talent to make something truly noteworthy. Great job!

Download the full Georgetown Law report

Too much cache

While posting the university closure announcement on wayne.edu this morning I ran into an issue. When visiting the page it wasn’t pulling the updated content. My browser was using a cached version of the page it pulled yesterday.

Cache for fast access

Digging a little deeper I found the problem. We were setting a base expiration time to one week.

ExpiresDefault "access plus 1 week"

This was great for most files but when it comes to HTML and CSS a week if too long for the general public to see it. No one would think to manually refresh a page just because they suspect their version is from cache.

It looks like this problem only effected the homepage and all other sites have correct default expires.

Access plus 3600 seconds

I made a change today for HTML and CSS files to only cache for one hour. Someone visiting the site and bouncing between pages will still see quick response times. But returning visitors each day will pull a new page and style sheet each hour.

ExpiresByType text/html "access plus 3600 seconds"
ExpiresByType text/css "access plus 3600 seconds"

This should eleviate users from not seeing emergency or critical information when needed. Over the next week we will be testing and tweaking this setting, maybe even getting rid of caching on the homepage all together based on what we find.

Our goal is to get up to date information to the end users at the appropriate times. If a little performance has to be sacrificed to make that happen we will.

[Report] How visitors get to wayne.edu

I thought I would share some insight into how visitors are getting to wayne.edu. Below is some detail of the incoming traffic to the homepage and child pages from users who are off campus in the past month. Ideally these are people who get a first time glimpse of Wayne State as an institution.

Traffic sources from October 4 – November 3, 2009

487,781 visits via 1,623 sources and mediums

overview

Even taking away all on campus traffic I am surprised to see over 50% is still coming directly.

Sources in Detail

source

Besides for direct traffic search engines are by far our next largest traffic source. It has been said by many people before and this continues to back it up, Google is your new homepage.

Search Engines

search-engines

Google tops this list probably because we use it for all our internal site searches. This is off campus traffic but it does not necessarily mean the user started at google.com. We use Google Custom Search on wayne.edu which will show up as traffic from Google. One thing I am still surprised about is how high aol still ranks, although it is no where near the top three it is still above quite a few big names. I checked out Baidu, and it looks to be a Chinese search engine started in 2000.

Keywords

keywords

It is interesting to see the keyword list, I am going to assume the top five are from people who started at google.com since (I hope) they would not be searching for us on our homepage, but you never know. This is interesting because we do track the searches on wayne.edu and typically they are for something more specific list a program, professor or department. It does look like “bookstore” would be from wayne.edu since typing it into Google directly yields national bookstores, we rank no where in the top 10 pages.

Sites in Detail

sites

As far as non-search traffic it is interesting to see a few things. Most people are referred to the homepage from one of our existing sites. Only two results, search.comcast, which technically should be under the “search engine” category and studentvoice.com. The thing about student voice is the traffic is probably non intentional, since it is a survey service by default once a survey is complete you are either forwarded to wayne.edu automatically or it is the only link on the page. We should probably try to get that changed to more of a “student portal” to try to get someone conversions from the current students taking surveys.

Countries

countries

This comes at no surprise, we are a US university in Detroit. US traffic dominates and we are 10 minutes from Canada. We also have a large international student body, students from 70 countries.

Take Aways

Besides for direct traffic, search is still king when driving people to wayne.edu. It is unfortunate we cannot examine this direct traffic further, it would be great to know out of the 50% how many people have wayne.edu as their homepage. It would also be nice to see if they are actually typing in the URL or have it in a bookmark or bookmark bar.

User habits have always intrigued me and we make a continued effort to examine these habits as they relate to the web. Although we can only post so much publicly I will continue to try to post as many insights as possible to better help you examine your users.

An insight into wayne.edu traffic

I have not talked a lot about the number of visitors our homepage (wayne.edu) gets on a monthly basis because it really didn’t cross my mind. I won’t go too in depth but I will give you insight into some general statistics and trends.

Stats from June 15 – July 15, 2009

Top Pages

top-pages

Of course the homepage is our most hit page but the second surprised me. I thought the future students would be #2 but probably because we are well into the semester current students are an overwhelming majority. Also these numbers were pulled from internal and external audiences.

Referring Sites

referrers

referrers-graph

A majority of our traffic comes direct, to me this is not that odd since this data set is from both internal and external audiences, most computers on campus have wayne.edu set to their homepage. I could be totally wrong about that but there is no way to test direct traffic. Search engines rank high over all, especially Google since we use that for internal site searches. Student voice is an interesting one, in the last few months the Dean of Students has been sending out surveys and they all forward back to wayne.edu, forcing a lot of traffic to our homepage.

Top Browsers

browsers

Internet Explorer is still a large majority of our traffic. Although the computers in the libraries all have Firefox, some students still click on that blue E out of habit (I have just sat in the library and watched behaviors before).

internet-explorer

Out of the Internet Explorer visits, here’s how it breaks down. These visit percentages are out of the 70.5% IE usage, not out of the total visits. Unfortunately IE6 still accounts for ~20% of our total traffic.

Operating Systems

operating-systems

Windows is still the clear winner in the OS category although Macintosh has been gaining. It is interesting to note that the iPhone and iPod account for almost 0.7% of our web traffic, more than double the Linux traffic. Adding up all the mobile devices it accounts for ~1% total traffic, it might not seem like a lot now but that number has been growing fast!

Overall nothing super surprising with the numbers, they are general stats so nothing to in depth with campaigns or targeted paths. The two large trends I wanted to point out where the decrease but still not present IE6 usage and the upward trend of mobile browsing.

"Schools & Colleges" vs "Academic Programs"

We don’t usually tell the community when we are doing A/B testing so the results don’t get skewed. One recent one has been running for the past few weeks and it looks like its not going to end up with a conclusive result so we are stopping the test right now.

“Schools & Colleges” vs “Academic Programs”

We are ever changing and refining the navigation for wayne.edu and over the past year of so many more universities have been changing their wording from “Schools & Colleges” to “Academic Programs”. That got us wondering, we thought academic programs had a more concise description of what is on the page behind the link. So we decided to try it out.

wayne.edu navigation transportation

Technical Results

May 21 – June 15, 2009 (3 weeks)
126,433 Page Visitors
20,644 Conversions
16.33% Conversion Rate

wayne.edu navigation results

Why was there no clear winner?

Two reason’s why I think no winner was found. The first is an issue on our end, we displayed the test for everyone, internal and external computers. Typically on campus staff/faculty have wayne.edu set as their homepage, they know the site and what they need to get to. Regardless what the link is called they will click it, this throws off the results since they are not our primary audience and they are not actually thinking about the click they are making.

The second is that someone looking for our list of programs has really only one route to get to it from wayne.edu and that is this link. It might take someone longer to figure out “Schools & Colleges” will give them a list of our programs but they still got there. They are adapting to our wording instead of ignoring our wording and using another method to find the information they need. I even wonder if we changed it to “What we offer” we would still get people clicking on it because they have a specific task in mind already.

We ended up just keeping Schools & Colleges for now

The thought is since there was no real winner although we love academic programs better we cannot justify the change. The university community has been voicestrous about any changes to wayne.edu and we want to make sure we have some real numbers to backup a navigation change.

Frankly the homepage navigation is not where we want it to be at all. It’s these types of tests that get us in the right direction on purpose instead of on a whim.

We are going to run another test on an unknown date for an unknown time with the lessons we learned from this test. Sorry we can’t tell you more but I am sure we will write about it afterward.

Wayne.edu photos now archived on flickr

flickr-set

If you follow us on Flickr you might have noticed we have begun to archive all the photos from wayne.edu into a set called “Homepage Photos“.

We update the images every two weeks and will be keeping the archive going on Flickr. We are also going to start loading in titles and descriptions for the photos that we have information about.

Wayne State Flickr Group

In addition we have also reclaimed administrator access to the Wayne State University Flickr group and will begin submitting photos to it. We also encourage anyone else at the university to join and begin sharing your WSU photos!

More about our photo initiatives coming soon.

Publicizing our extended web presence

Social Networks on wayne.eduFor the past year we have been present on quite a few social networks. We started out with Twitter last year then moved to Facebook and beyond. We made it a point to not promote our presence on these sites and see how fast they grew organically.

Recently I have been going around campus talking with various groups and administration about new communication tools and how was are using them to reach further and more personal than ever before. These tools are key to that new communication strategy.

Why we decided to put them on the homepage

We decided to link to them from the homepage for two reasons.

  1. After a year we had a pretty constant growth rate and we wanted to start sharing this space with people who have not stumbled upon us yet.
  2. Second is that we now have an extended network of students who just started blogging for the university. We have not officially announced them yet but soon enough we will, we snuck them in on the homepage RSS button if you want to get a preview.

We didn’t want to give the buttons too much attention since they are not one of the primary goals of the homepage. We placed them in the bottom right corner and grayed them out. We also put a “What are these?” help link for someone who is not already familiar with these icons.

Go ahead and check them out and start following if you find us interesting. If you don’t like how we are promoting our extended web presence let us know why, we would love to hear about it.

Tweaking the homepage for usability's sake

You probably have not noticed but we made a slight change to the flash panel on wayne.edu. In the top drawer we place success stories from around campus. But before you get to the stories it was designed to display a branding image.

Why this made sense then

It made sense when we first launched because it had to portray a “new outlook” of Wayne State. After being stuck promoting events the last 5 years the main focus of the homepage was to show how vibrant and enjoyable campus is.

Why it was time to make a change

It is time to make the change now that the site has been up for a few months, students have come back to campus and are now accustom to the new homepage. We did a few tests and we found that the stories behind the More Information area were not getting as many views/clicks as we wanted. These were the real success stories that change minds and hearts and we needed to bring these to the forefront.

We tested different options

The best way to get these stories in front of users eyes is to remove a layer of the branding images so we started by just removing the branding images all together and put the most recent three stories up front. This got us the clicks we wanted but came at the cost of less people going to the More Information area and completely threw out our impacting images.

Our second test was to keep the first layer of impacting images but when someone clicks on a category within More Information it would go directly to the most recent story and not to another branding image. This would allow the user to not only get right to the most recent story but it also allowed them to easily click through the five categories to see if there was anything by image and not rely on the title.

What we decided on

We decided to keep the second test running. This offered the best results, it still allowed us to bring the impacting images front and center and allowed users to get to the success stories with fewer barriers. It has yielded a +10% increase in views of the newest stories.

Final Thoughts

Keep your users at the forefront of all design and information decisions. Although we did not get any complaints about the success stories being difficult to find we knew we could get more pertinent information to users instead of them just looking at pretty pictures all day. A users time is their most valuable asset and for them to spend any time on yoru site at all you should be flattered, don’t make them waste that time with barriers to information.

Inside the Wayne State University Homepage Redesign

It has been two months since the launch of the new wayne.edu and I wanted to take some time to give an inside look at the process, goals and results of the project.

The Wayne State homepage was getting to be a dinosaur. It was over six years old, which is at least three life times in web years. Our redesign process started 9 months ago, we pulled together a committee of people from around campus to get input and make decisions.

The goal of the committee was to determine the pros and cons of the current web site and some recommendations for longer terms goals for the homepage. We also sent a survey to current students with hopes to gather all the input we could about what was working and what needed to be fixed.

This is what we came up with.

Site Goals

  • Increasing the screen real estate used
  • More Wayne State branding and less “Event Driven” content
  • Gain more control when user search from the homepage
  • Quicker access to the administrative sites at the university

With these parameters in mind we came up with some wire frames and started testing them with the committee. We quickly discovered what worked and what did not, a few rounds later we had a solid direction. We then tested the design with everyone we could find, staff, faculty, current students and even high school students. From their input we made even further modifications.

Comparison of Old v. New homepage

Graphically the new site takes up more real estate, it also uses the softer color pallet and has more negative space to call attention to news and event items.

Run Down of Homepage Changes

Header, We opted for the the full width header with the horizontal Wayne State wording. We used our Stone Sans typeface instead of the wordmark because the student input showed it gave a more personalized feel.

Quick Search, Since we do not have the Google search appliance and certain pages do not come up at the top of the public Google search we added a quick search ability. For example if you start typing “summer” a drop down will show up with the Spring/Summer registration site and you can get right to it without having to go to the results page.

My WSU Tools, The primary audience for the homepage is prospective students but we understand that current students/faculty/staff have the site set as their homepage and use it every day. Pipeline was the most clicked link on the old homepage and instead of creating another barrier for our internal audience we added a quick login screen so they can get to the administrative areas of the university without having to go through an extra login page.

Navigation, We kept the same left column navigation so the user was not too disorientated because ~80% of the visitors to the homepage are returning visitors. A suggestion from the committee was to separate the Faculty and Staff menu items because they have different needs. We ended up separating these two menu items. We will be completely re navigating the site on the next homepage version.

Accomplishments Area, A Main branding area filled with student success stories, interesting programs, alumni stories, community and promotions for schools/colleges. Overall it is a feel good place for anyone interested in the university to pull them in and keep them interested.The idea is to give prospective students a feel of the university and programs they could be involved in.

WSU Impact, Things that impact WSU and the community which need homepage presence.

News and Events, No more descriptions, we found them to distract from the news/event titles.

Featured Events, Used for upcoming events that are open to the public, what the three panel did on the old homepage, it will randomly choose one at refresh and a user can choose to move to a different event at their own pace.

Break Down of Child Page Changes

Header, Cleaned up the header, the new child page header and menu match the homepage header and menu, this was not the case before.

Main Content, There is now a right hand impacting photo on each page with quick links on the left hand side. The purpose of the links are to get a user right to where they need to go.

Related Information, We added targeted information to each child page depending on the audience. Typically it is the events calendar, announcements and related links. All three pull in information from around campus related to the audience of the page.

School and Colleges Page, To bring more unification to the schools and colleges instead of just listing them with links we added a listing of all the degrees offered from each school/college. Having these degrees listed by Undergraduate and Graduate status helps students jump right to the program information without them having to go to the school/college web site and try to find their information all over again. Check it out the Schools and Colleges page for the example.

Results

Overall the initial feedback after the launch has been positive. We added a link to the bottom of the homepage which simply says “Like the new wayne.edu?” This goes to a feedback form where the comment box is all that is required. Even with the site launching during the summer semester we received over 150 comments. We read every one and responded if they left their contact information.

If you have not already checkout the new wayne.edu.

Also checkout the site on eduStyle.net to nominate it or rate it against other university web sites.

I will be following up with another post to go in depth about the statistics.

Site Updates: Admissions, Parents and Campus Map

The admissions homepage grows every semester, new programs being promoted and others ending. For most prospective students this is the first or second (wayne.edu or a print piece being first) impression of the university. Making the page engaging is key since getting them to the site is half way to applying. Including a random student profile and a large portion dedicated to upcoming deadlines is key to keeping prospective students on the page longer and grouping the same type of information.

admissions-old.jpg admissions-new.jpg

Information for the parents section of the admissions site has been expanded to separate the information into Just Started parents and Already Admitted groups. Both groups have different needs and could not be served equally on the same page.

parents.gif

In addition to information expansion the campus is expanding too. An update to the Campus Map includes the South University Village and its parking structure. Both currently under construction but will be open soon. We also added a more detailed map for the Macomb extension center to help with directions and details about getting around the large Macomb campus.

macomb-map.gif