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University of Sunderland ups its digital presence

The university's web development team improved their website functionality with professional uptime monitoring

Posted by Charley Rogers | September 06, 2017 | Technology

The University of Sunderland’s web development team needed a way of ensuring that students from all over the world can access its websites in all time zones, and that site pages load quickly on mobiles without eating into students’ data plans. The web development team implemented RapidSpike’s professional website uptime monitoring to test web pages as they were being developed, and use RapidSpike alerts to maintain performance now that the new sites are live.

Addressing a global audience

The university’s website plays a fundamental role in attracting new students, while also informing key influencers such as school teachers, sixth form lecturers, employers and parents about its courses, facilities, campus life and alumni.

The university employs five people in its web design department who are responsible for developing and testing the site and managing the streaming and content management system, which enables the marketing team to update course content, news, images and videos.

The original website was designed almost a decade ago, before the smartphone became ubiquitous. Web Development Manager, Dean Hale, recognised that it was time to redevelop the website for a new audience of undergraduates who predominantly research places and services from their mobile phones. “The old site was nine years old and designed with PC-based browsing in mind,” explains Hale. “It was time for a refresh. The old site was not designed for mobile access. We are using more video content these days and required a higher performance website that could take advantage of new web technologies.”

The move to mobile-first

Hale emphasises the importance of the website for communicating with prospective students and influencers worldwide. The new website builds on the University of Sunderland’s strengths as a 21st Century global university that delivers ambitious and relevant research and tuition.

“Essentially, we needed to design three websites to serve the campuses in Sunderland, London and Hong Kong,” relates Hale. “Forty per cent of our web traffic comes from mobile devices. We needed to make the websites responsive, so that the pages render correctly on phones. We also needed to ensure that the pages load quickly on all devices and make each site easy to navigate.”

Hale demonstrates a clear understanding of his target audience when he comments, “Many of our prospective students are teenagers who are on pay as you go data plans with their mobile providers. If our site eats through a month’s worth of data loading the first couple of pages then they’re not going to come back.”

Managing web traffic

In addition to its enrolment of undergraduates every September, Sunderland University has quarterly intakes of postgraduate students studying for MBAs, Masters degrees and PhDs, and holds open days throughout the year for A-level students who are choosing courses. As a result, the website serves higher volumes of visitors during these periods, in addition to the expected traffic spikes in August following the announcement of A-level examination results.

During these periods it is even more crucial to ensure that the website is accessible to visitors from all over the world. By continuously monitoring the site’s uptime and setting alerts to notify them of any degradation in performance, the web development team is able to pre-empt any potential issues that might be caused by network failures or server outages.

In particular, the web development team need to monitor how the site handles overnight traffic, to ensure that the university’s website serves its international audience in different time zones. “This is no longer a 9-5 role,” emphasises Hale. “The website forms a crucial part of our marketing and revenue generation and it is vital that it provides a smooth experience for visitors from all over the world.”

Quality assurance

Demonstrating the team’s commitment to quality of service, Hale implemented performance monitoring software to ensure that the university’s sites can be accessed from all over the world.

“As a public sector organisation, we are always conscious of the need to evaluate the providers that we select and ensure that we are delivering value for money,” reports Hale.

Measuring results

RapidSpike’s web monitoring service has enabled Hale and his web development team to benchmark normal web site performance and then monitor the site’s uptime from all over the world, so that users have consistent access to the site regardless of where they are based.

The first service to be implemented after the Uptime Monitoring was RapidSpike’s Synthetic User Journey Monitoring: allowing his team to test the site, page by page as were developing it. The university is now also using User Journey Monitoring.

“The data it provides is valuable and genuinely impressive,” reports Hale. “RapidSpike Synthetic User Journey Monitoring will analyse how a real user would navigate our new site and let us know if there are any elements that will affect page load speeds and hence the user experience.”

Following the launch of the new site, the university of Sunderland has continued to use RapidSpike to monitor the site’s uptime. Dean Hale also plans to implement Real User Monitoring to discover how visitors interact with the new site: allowing his team to tweak the design where necessary to provide the best user experience for visitors who want to learn more about the courses and world-class research that University of Sunderland has to offer.

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