Bedford College is a successful Further Education College and the largest provider of education and training in the local area. The College has 14,000 students from 107 nationalities aged 14 to 84, and employs around 600 staff.
The College offers further education courses for 16-18s, adult education courses, higher education programmes, and short leisure classes, as well as training services to employers.
In addition, Bedford College has a number of commercial centres that provide services to the paying public, often as a part of the student's education experience. These are a restaurant, hair and beauty salon, a sports hall, and an arts centre.
Bedford College required a new fresh looking content managed website to replace a bespoke solution that was developed by a specialist web agency 3 years ago and subsequently maintained in-house.
The system was both difficult to use and unsuitable for their future requirements and needed bringing up-to-date with current and emerging trends in web design and the College's aspirations for the ongoing development of not only site content but also that of its architecture.
The website lacked the ability for easy and effective two-way communication with users an example being the use of editable online forms. In addition the navigation lacked clarity, visibility and consistency.
The College had already gathered detailed information regarding its varied audiences. Working with the College’s marketing and communications team we undertook the following:
- Creation of personas of users of the Bedford College website
- Outlining user journeys to understand what information they would want to find and how easy it was to locate and complete tasks
- Identifying key calls to action on each of these websites
- Re-grouping of information to create a standardised set of navigation labels that could be used across different micro sites, introducing as much consistency across these sites as possible
- Card sorting to help define the most appropriate information architecture and content structure
- The creation of interactive wireframes
- Full Creative Design services during which we provided the College with concept page designs and final iterations upon which to base the rest of the template page designs
The new website is modern, accessible and is fully content managed. The website, developed on the Alterian Content Manger CMS, offers a range of interactive features including a media player, fully searchable course database and an online course application form to reduce administration time.
A variety of micro sites for the Colleges commercial centres have also been developed and launched. In addition Bedford College needed the CMS to be integrated with their external student portal database - Tribal EBS, to allow visitors’ to search the database from within the new website and to see real time availability of training and events.
The new website was launched on June 1st 2009 with the following comments from Sarah Baxter - Director of Sales & Marketing:
“We selected Unified Solutions Limited because of their clear capability to do the job and because we were impressed with their approach to the design and navigation elements of the project. They pulled out all of the stops to work with us to ensure the project was completed on time. We are delighted with the outcome and I value the ongoing support from all at Unified.”
Since its initial launch, the College has been working towards a more standardised and consistent navigation and information architecture for its micro sites. Ultimately this will enhance the user experience for Bedford College students, helping them to quickly and easy find the information they need.
The numbers of visits have increased by 50% compared to the same period last year. A number of online marketing tactics have been employed, for example organic search traffic increased by 49% as a result of SEO activities. In addition, the length of time visitors spend on the site has doubled. The new web presence effectively demonstrates elements such as accessibility, design, content and marketing to make Bedford College the perfect choice for further education in the Bedford area.
In November 2009 the College won the silver medal for the best College website at the 2009 College Marketing Conference.
Patrick Ryan attended the award ceremony at the Hilton Hotel Coventry to collect the award on behalf of Unified Solutions.
The College Marketing Network's FE First Awards are now well established as the sector’s annual opportunity to celebrate marketing best practice. They showcase the excellent and imaginative work that is being achieved in further education colleges across the UK.
With the withdrawal of support for the Alterian CMC that powers the Bedford College websites, we worked through the options with the College and they selected Unified to migrate all of their web portfolio onto the Sitecore platform, where they can take advantage of the many customer engagement features to connect with their main target audiences.