No news is good news

I have previously in this blog suggested that, on the whole, universities do not understand what use to make of their websites. Most of these are poorly designed, are excessively busy, confuse the visitor with complex navigation, and contain information unlikely to be of even passing interest to the average reader. The latter category most particularly includes so-called ‘news’ items.

It is evidently believed in many universities that the latest achievements of faculty and forthcoming events are hugely exciting and eagerly awaited by all.  Often they dominate the university’s home page, not least because they are frequently accompanied by excessively large photographs, as in this case. Some universities give so much space to news, announcements and events that almost no room is left for the real links that most visitors are likely to want.

So here is a message for those who determine the content of university websites: though this may be hard to accept, in reality nobody is interested in your news. I suspect that often these items are published as a form of recognition for those colleagues mentioned in them, but that is a misguided use of valuable online real estate. It is perfectly appropriate to have, somewhere in the links, a path to university news items, but they should not themselves be displayed on the home page. The latter should be clean, with plenty of white space, and with logical and easy to follow navigation links.

Most universities still do not seem to understand what use they can and should make of the internet. But a start would be to avoid excessive self-promotion; it doesn’t work as a PR tool, and it satisfies no other objectives.

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11 Comments on “No news is good news”

  1. Vince Says:

    Still, you can’t exactly have the sex drugs and scandal. Which is what most of us actually want with accompanying candid snaps of Prof’ Soandso doing the walk of shame at 6 am.

    But you are of course correct, self indulgent is the only description of uni’ sponsored web pages.

  2. J R Berg Says:

    Could not agree more. As a PhD student at Leeds (one of your fine examples), I cringe whenever I am told that ‘you can find it on the website.’ – NO I CAN’T.

  3. Lesley Says:

    What amazes me about website development for Universities is that often the design is by consultants who decide that websites are for PR not to be of practical use. As someone who tried to have some input into the new one at my University I was continually ignored by the consultants who felt that they knew better – oh well what would I know I was only an academic with 25 years of experience and who designed websites and elearning to be practical and user friendly. To me that would be the related problem – using consultants who dod not have enough knowledge of the systems, want to provide a solution they used elsewhere and who do not ask the staff and students what they need as other stakeholders.

    I do like Vince’s idea that a more tabloid approach to outing scandals might draw the crowds more but would it be user friendly??

    • Vince Says:

      Yeah, I’d a bit of a think on it since I get the ‘Beside the Corrib’, the yearly Who’s Who of I don’t care from NUI, Galway. And always wonder where the rest of it is. Where is the newsy bit that cause people to form community. Basically, why are they reinventing the wheel when they have what facebook and twitter would kill.
      If you were to nail a description of ALL communications from a university. ‘NO FUN’ would cover it.
      They simply don’t see themselves as a community, a whole community. They only see the aspect of building the cathedral stone upon stone.

  4. cormac Says:

    I agree with all the above, I have always thought that most users will be looking for a particular staff member, academic course or department. That said, i quite like our new college site, any comments?
    http://www.wit.ie/

  5. gail Says:

    While i agree that some (many) homepages are a bit useless, I think this post about news misses several key points.

    The first is that most users don’t enter through an org’s homepage anyway – they come from Google and other sources and ‘deep link’ into the site. Optimising content for search engines and working out a decent navigation are two key things that will help users find you and the content they need.

    By the time users get to the homepage (which they may do, out of curiosity) there should definitely be some percentage of non-static content there, to show that the place has a pulse.

    News – even if it doesn’t reach the standard of ‘news’ as defined by journalists – serves to show that the org is happenin’ place that takes pride in celebrating its students and academics’ achievements. nothin’ wrong with this, I reckon.

    Writing up news and announcements into short articles provides a very useful landing page for social media efforts. I always include useful links and info in my articles and direct my FB and Twitter posts there. Social media now routinely measures in the top 5-6 of our referrer sources in Google Analytics.

    I’ve been designing Higher Ed websites for 15+ years, and my homepages are usually about 40-50% rotating content. I do agree with the author’s plea for good white space and excellent navigation site-wide — but don’t throw the news out. Make it interesting, useful and relevant and it will serve you well.


    • Actually, I wonder whether your assumption about how people navigate is necessarily right. I’ve looked at some of the hit statistics of some home pages (where I could get this information), and what it told me that much larger numbers than we might imagine first experience a university website through its home p[age. Some do indeed get right into the inner areas of the site via Google, but quite a few don’t. And for those, what they experience is often wildly confusing.

  6. Norman Gray Says:

    Above, 1000 words; here, picture: http://www.xkcd.com/773/


  7. Including news can be useful for the important overseas market. There is robust evidence to suggest that our international audience really do like the ‘pr stuff’ in order to assess a university’s worth. Check out http://www.pku.edu.cn/ – while admittedly chinese websites are strange to our eyes – note the entire home page is given over to news.


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