Excellent Results for Postgraduate Website Testing

We posted an article earlier this year about user testing that the Corporate Web Development team undertook on the Postgraduate (PG) website. Our testing was completed a few months after go live, last October.

Since then, as part of the final stages of the PG website project, there has been a range of extensive evaluations run and co-ordinated by the Postgraduate Marketing Team.

From clarity tests of the content, use of Google Analytics, interviews, remote user testing by our PG target audience – even an externally-run expert review.

There was also a chance to review the new website against our competitors – well it would be rude not to…and anyway we had a clear content strategy to test:

“The new Postgraduate website will have audience driven, engaging content that inspires ambitious high-flying global students to make us their confident choice for PG study”

Headline results

Overall – the new website has performed excellently, with some outstanding feedback alongside some further ideas for development.

Which is great, since the PG website project has paved the way for all our Go Mobile work!

It’s important to note once a website has been launched and tested – that’s not the end. Actually it’s just the beginning; of making further improvements, developments, finding solutions to issues and continually trying to do the best thing for our users.

Read on to find out how we did…

First impressions

The word cloud below shows first impressions of the PG site. The most popular words that users used to describe the site included: easy, modern, simple, clear, professional, clean and cool.

 Word cloud showing first impressions of the PG website

Website content

“Everything is very clear, the words actually stand out because the design of the site is very lean and clean cut…There are no useless pieces of information.”

User tester

  • Ranked 1st or 2nd in comparison to competitor PG content according to Clarity Grader, a website content analysis tool
  • An improvement in quality and consistency of content
  • Users found the content clear, detailed, straightforward and organised and with good comprehension
  • Test participants commented on the quality of course entries they found. Users specifically found the following useful:
    • modules
    • course delivery and duration
    • facilities
    • employment infographics and related courses

some future developments

  • New content quality and consistency measures are being developed
  • Continued focus on the use of terminology, ensuring the content is accessible by our key audiences
  • Further development of supplementary information, scheduled by a web editorial calendar
  • Develop stronger links between supplementary information and course information


“Wow, this one’s layout is different, I like it, it’s colourful, it’s not boring”

User tester

  • The design was well received in all testing
  • Gives a great first impression to users
  • Newcastle compares favourably in comparison to our competitors

some future developments

  • User experience testing helped to influence our Go Mobile template design
  • Further development of the PG homepage and the flow of information
  • Developments to the course search call to action and visibility on the homepage

Course search/funding search

“This is amazing. I came here the last time and I don’t believe I could find things so easily. This actually shows that the website has improved and this is actually a very good filtering that the website has added to its system”

User tester

  • Newcastle’s content performed well in comparison to competitor sites. One user stated they “strongly favoured the course navigation and content over Manchester”
  • New course search was well received and proved to be the most used method of finding a course in comparison to the A-Z list
  • The advanced search filters are being well used
  • Tab layout of the course information on desktop was well received
  • The new step-by-step guide was well received and recognised as providing useful information

Some future developments

  • Further development of search filters to ensure accurate and precise results
  • Development of additional tools to sort search results, eg by relevance, A-Z
  • Streamlining of the course and funding search functionality across all devices

Calls to action

  • Good to have recognisable calls to action
  • Footer calls to action are used well
  • Improvement in number of sessions resulting in the creation of a new (applicant) account

Some future developments

  • Renaming of some calls to action for consistency
  • Revising of placement of some calls to action
  • More visible course start dates and application deadline where they exist


  • Users reported on the ease of navigation through the website
  • Use of tabs on course profile pages are well received on desktop

some future developments

  • Development of mobile menus: main menu; secondary menu; and tabbed menus
  • Consistent application of hyperlinks – already addressed as part of ongoing development
  • Review of the breadcrumbs design and functionality


So, has the new PG website been a measurable success? I would argue a resounding YES!

All the testing, evaluation and competitor analysis shows this is largely the case. Phew.

Back to the original plan then:

“The new Postgraduate website will have audience driven, engaging content that inspires ambitious high-flying global students to make us their confident choice for PG study”

Audience driven – Check. All content has been created, developed and designed with the user’s needs in mind.

Engaging content – Check. We’ve used new technology and design to enhance the user experience where appropriate; a mobile responsive design, new course search, infographics and videos to supplement course pages.

Ambitious high-flying global students – Time will tell. It’s hard to test or measure whether applicants are deciding to apply due to our marvellous new website. There are after all numerous other factors to influence an applicant – but still, shouldn’t we have an inspirational strategy to work to?

Find out more

If you’d like to learn more about the results of the PG user testing, and watch videos of the testing watch the Prezi online.

Read about our earlier user testing of the PG Website.

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Improving User Journeys on the Postgraduate Website

The postgraduate (PG) website redevelopment initially began with a focus on improving the content and developing a strategy for content management. Mostly, this was to enable a more coherent user journey through the website – to improve the experience as a whole and encourage applications.

A consistent user experience

As the project got underway it became more and more obvious from our user research that we really needed the website to be optimised for mobile too.

To create a truly consistent experience, users of the website should be able to get the same experience and information no matter what device they use to view the site.
While we were trying to work out how we were going to do that, there was still some debate in the web development world about if you should or could just offer a separate mobile site. Immediately we decided that approach wasn’t helpful at all.

Project creep

The Postgraduate website goes mobile

The Postgraduate website goes mobile

Just imagine a user looking at the PG website on a desktop computer. Later they decide to go back and check some information using their phone.

What would their experience be like if we gave them a separate site? With a different structure and content? That really wouldn’t be helpful. Or coherent. Or easy to maintain.

So the work grew from a massive project of improving all the PG content and creating a PG content strategy, to also incorporating the ‘small’ technical demand of a mobile responsive website!

In 2010 Ethan Marcotte coined the term responsive design to describe a flexible, grid-based layout for a website that behaves differently depending on the device used to view it.

… It was a busy year.

Inspiring results

Now we have a really great, mobile responsive website with much improved content that we’re not only proud of, but has inspired the University’s Go Mobile project. Just a quick look at how our users are responding already (we launched at the end of October) shows, for mobile users:

  • average time spent on site has increased by a massive 240%. It was less than four minutes, now it is nearly 12
  • we’ve increased the number of pages viewed by nearly 22%

Watch this space

There were so many elements to the PG project that they merit separate blog posts, so in the coming months we’ll be sharing about how we:

  • wrote content for mobile devices (and improved the desktop reading experience)
  • created a tone of voice – and why
  • prioritized content layout for mobile optimization
  • kept sane (only kidding)

In the meantime you can visit the new PG website and discover the new features by taking a look at our PG case study presentation (PDF: 849KB) from the NU Digital event.

We’d love to hear your views about the new PG website, so feel free to leave a comment.

Update: 16 Nov 2015

Since this article was published, we’ve completed some user testing on the PG website. Check out our blog post about the great user testing results (hint: they love it).

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