OMAC Buzz Words

17Tuesday saw the first meeting of OMAC – the Online Marketing and Communications project that will, over the coming months, address a wide variety of issues with our main external website. As Roy will explain in a post on Monday, part of this involves opening up the website to more contributors which means a whole world of terminology for users to learn.

A few of these came up in the first meeting so let’s go over them!


These are keywords attached to bits of information to aid navigation, categorisation of searching across a set of documents. We’ve been using tags on our website for several years and they’re pretty embedded into the site from videos and courses to news and events, everything is tagged. We also use tags to link parts of the site together. For example a department will list all news stories with a particular tag.

Andy Davies wrote a pretty comprehensive post about tags including an explanation of tag clouds and machine or triple tags.

Vanity URLs

I don’t think this term came up in this week’s OMAC meeting but it’s one of my biggest regrets from my time working at Edge Hill. Wikipedia defines Vanity URLs like this:

A vanity URL is a URL or domain name, created to point to something to which it is related and indicated in the name of the URL. In many cases this is done by a company to point to a specific product or advertising campaign microsite. In theory, vanity URLs are creatively linked to something making them easier to remember than a more random link.

In our case, the term more typically refers to a short web address. For department sites, it’s the address their site is accessible at, for example – while others may be created for a specific event or course and redirect deep into the site.

Read more about how our URLs are structured in this series of posts.

Creeping Personalisation

Another term I introduced to Edge Hill and cringe whenever I hear it, creeping personalisation refers to the practice of building up a profile of a user in a piecemeal way. It may be that to register users only need enter their name and an email address and as they start to use the site extra information is collected.

Mega Menus

I covered this pretty thoroughly last year. but it’s something we’re moving forward with testing.

Mega or “Fat” Footers

At the other end of the page is a trend towards having larger footers able to provide more structure to links within them, perhaps with more overtly useful information than the types of link currently present.

The web is full of buzz words and odd terminology but we’re always here to guide users around what they need to know.

More about OMAC soon!

Student Life

The latest batch of student bloggers have just started writing for Hi and this year a few new things are being introduced. Most notably they’re also making use of Twitter. It’s still early days but it’s a great insight into student life at Edge Hill. Over the coming months we’ll be making more use of this “student life” content not just in Hi but in parts of our corporate website, possibly embedding a Twitter widget:

If you use Twitter you can follow these students on @edgehill’s “Student Life” list.

Choice Part 2: A new platform

For years, most of the corporate website has been produced as static web pages using Dreamweaver. This has worked well – we’re able to ensure the design is tight, content correct and the site doesn’t grow to an unmanageable size.

To help manage content on the site, Web Services have produced a few key applications – news, eProspectus, job vacancies for example – and while they’ve worked great for each area, integration with the corporate site hasn’t gone much further than matching the template and manually linking between the static content and the dynamic applications.

With the Big Brief we’ve had the chance to build dynamic web applications into the core of the website. Instead of being an add on, our main website is dynamic and existing content is linked in. This allows pages on the site to fully embed content – for example we can have news and events on the homepage, or Faculty sites can list the courses they offer.

Symfony news roundupFor the corporate website we’ve extended our use of the symfony web framework. We’ve been using symfony for about 18 months, first for Education Partnership, then the Hi applicant website and the GO portal. I’ve posted before about some of the advantages it gives us, but it’s developed significantly over the last year and we’re starting to really see some of the benefits in terms of consistent coding standards, making use of plugins so that we’re not reinventing the wheel and allowing us to rapidly build new systems that integrate with the rest of the website.

Introducing symfony to the core of the corporate website is just the first step in making it more dynamic. We’re working on allowing visitors to the site to login to gain access to more personalised information, not just for staff and students, but for applicants, partners and other users of the site. The applications we’ve developed will allow dynamic content to be spread around the site – for example courses for a department, news feeds or relevant events.

In the next couple of posts we’ll be talking about some of the applications you’ll see on the site and then maybe, just maybe, I’ll talk some more about future plans!

UCISA Innovation and Communication Best Practice Guide

A couple of weeks ago UCISA published a guide featuring best practices in IT and Combined Services across the UK.

This new Guide has been created to provide examples of good communications practice in action. Although some communications good practice guidelines are already available, this Guide is the first to focus specifically on real examples of communication between IT/combined services and their users.

One of the examples is our very own Hi Applicant Community which is, of course, fantastic but there are loads of great ideas in there and I can see a few that could work really well at Edge Hill.

Honesty is the best policy…

Earlier this year we launched a website to allow our applicants to talk to each other and our current students. The idea behind it was to create a virtual community of applicants and to allow real students to answer questions about life at Edge Hill. The site is public but only applicants and/or students can contribute. The site we call ‘Hi’ has been a success for us. It’s given us a medium to update applicants with key information about joining us and for students to answer questions/queries directly. It’s not edited, not censored… it’s for applicants to use as they wish.

Last week we saw an example of it doing what it does best! A-level results day and students flocking to the site ready to secure their place and make new friends. Great we thought – result!

Yet with the positives came the negatives. A thread started about students being declined on-campus accommodation… and it didn’t sound good. Clearly we had some disappointed students on our hands and that concerned us.

We’ve made no secret of the fact our applications have risen phenomenally since we acquired University title in 2006. Infact it’s something we’re incredibly proud of but an increase in student numbers has meant whilst we can accommodate most requests we cannot guarantee on-campus accommodation for all first years (see the EHU2020 website for details on our plans for the future). Although applicants are informed of this it’s naturally disappointing news when they find out they haven’t got a place. So they turned to the site – the site we gave them to use as they wish – and shared their frustrations…

However negatives can be turned to positives. We’ve been thrilled to see the site being pro-actively. Firstly from our perspective it’s been great. We’ve been able to respond to individuals quickly and provide them with much needed advice and support. We had already arranged House Hunting Workshops on-campus but by using the site we could inform applicants about these and allow them to use the ‘secure’ off-campus accommodation finder to look for rooms. We’ve also seem some really positive and pro-active applicants too. One particular applicant found a seven bedroom house and started a new thread to get room mates! So people who had never even met before could sort something out together – exactly what a community site should encourage.

In July I gave a presentation at the IWMW entitled “Let the students do the talking…” so you may wonder if I still feel they should?! And my response would be ‘absolutely’. No Uni is without its problems… we can’t pretend everything about starting University will be seamless and effortless but we can ensure we offer our applicants excellent support and the best way to understand what they need is by listening to them!