Untangling our duplicate content

Senior digital product manager John Bourne looks at some of the problems in how we showcase our courses to prospective students 

At Bristol we spend a lot of time and effort gathering and publishing information about our courses. Most of this is done centrally through our online prospectus, but this information also appears in a variety of other places. 

The University of Bristol homepage with course finder

Duplicated content across our site causes maintenance problems for staff. More importantly it means prospective students don’t really know where to find the most useful information to meet their needs.

The vision for our digital student recruitment 

Our vision for our digital student recruitment efforts is for prospective students and their families to quickly and effortlessly see why they should choose the University of Bristol. They should get the information they need at the point which they need it. 

Also, the online prospectus itself needs to delight them, reflecting the quality of the University and the course they will go on. To achieve all this, we need to understand the prospective student journey and focus on how they want to consume this information. 

Take our MSC Molecular Neuroscience programme for example. We have our central prospectus page, which uses the same template as all our other programmes. We also have a page within the medical school section of our website, providing a similar overview of the course.  

There is the progamme catalogue, detailing specific unit information and an overview of the programme and its aims. There is an admission statement for the programme, explaining more about the application process, fees and entry requirements, much of which is found on the other pages. 

Several screenshots showing all duplicate content on the same subject matter
Our MSc Molecular Neuroscience programme and the variety of pages you can find the same information about it

There is a recurrent theme in each of these pages: they’re maintained by different departments within the University. Each is doing their best for the content they’re responsible for. But nobody is stepping back to see how they all fit across the wider prospective student journey. 

A key part of this journey is users finding out how to apply for a course after they’ve found the right oneOur new content team have begun to identify any application content on our site which is provided elsewhere by trusted sources such as UCAS or OFS 

Highlighting where this occurs will feed into a content strategy explaining what we should and should not publish. This will allow us to focus on what is specific to Bristol and leave generic application guidance to the experts.   

Establishing a content strategy 

We want to establish a content strategy so each subject matter expert can get the relevant information to prospective students at the right moment. We must break away from ‘just publishing it online for users to simply find it and read it’. 

Conversations with each department have highlighted the restrictions they’ve felt in the past for publishing content on single platform. For example, they don’t think the course pages can host the kind of information they wish to publish, so they’ve posted it elsewhere.  

I’m confident that a solid content strategy, strong understanding of user needs and business requirements, good relationship with stakeholders and open ways of working will lead to a fantastic new online prospectus. One that the whole university will benefit from and where prospective students can find the information they need with minimal fuss. 

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