Quick & dirty ways to measure & test

I’m a massive data nerd. I love spreadsheets. I love experimenting. MASSIVE GEEK.

One of the aspects of digital that I enjoy is being able to see what is working (or not) and tweak things.

These are some of my quick and dirty ways to measure how things are going. Some are specific to particular tools, others apply across a variety of things.

1. Use different collectors in SurveyMonkey

We often use SurveyMonkey for surveys and I try to set up different collectors for different channels, e.g. social media, email to all students, our newsletter, website homepage, url on banner.

This means I can see which promotional channels are working well (so we can focus on those) and which are not (so we can abandon those or try to boost them).

2. Use custom campaigns in Google Analytics

Google Analytics allows you to add information to the end of urls so you can track them via Google Analytics. These are custom campaigns.

I’ve talked before about how I use information to help make decisions including examples of using custom campaigns to track our social media activity.

This works offline too. You can create a long link with the tracking information in it then use a link shortener like or your own tools to create shorter, more attractive links to put on printed materials.

3. Track links using tools like and other tools like Hootsuite’s shorten your links so they aren’t so long and rambly. They also allow you to track how many people have clicked them.

This is useful as it is, you can see how popular what you’re sharing is.

You can step it up a notch though and use it as a form of split-testing on social media. Try posting tweets on the same topic at different times of the day, with and without images, long and short text or any other combination of factors. If your aim is to get clickthroughs you can use to see which format(s) work best.

4. Make use of split-testing where available

If your tools allow for split-testing DO IT! I’ve used it a few times for our email newsletter to test sign-up forms, email bodies and subject lines.

Changing the subject line of our ‘vote now’ elections email resulted in twice as many votes at one point (though over time the gap between the two fell a little). You can see the tests I ran towards the end of my ‘data driven decision-making’ slide deck.


What else have I forgotten? What have you tried? Please let me know. Like I said, I’m a massive nerd for this sort of stuff


August 9th, 2014|Digital|1 Comment|

Creating user stories

I’m determined that our digital projects, starting with our new website, are user-focused. One new tool I’ve been learning about is the user story.

For us at Sussex Students’ Union our users primarily fall into two broad categories: students and our staff/officers/volunteers.

One of the aspects of agile management that has stuck with me is the idea of ‘user stories’.

What is a user story?

A user story are concise summaries of what users need/want from something such as a piece of software or website.

They are generally structured as ‘<someone> wants <something> so that <something else>’ or more technically, ‘<a user> wants <a feature> so that <value/benefit/result>.

These are created by working with the people familiar with the service you’re developing, commonly with decidedly low-tech index cards. They aim to get at the heart of what users need and why so everyone involved can prioritise these needs and understand what the problems are rather than racing straight to solutions.

Example user stories for a students’ union website

I played around with user stories today to get a feel for how we could use them for our website project.

I went old school to begin with by digging around in the stationery cupboard for index cards – who says digital people can only use computers?!

I started by looking at the most commonly viewed pages on our website as those are the aspects I plan to prioritise in our redevelopment. These are some of the examples I came up with:

  • Students want to vote in our elections because democracy (yeah still need to pin down the exact reason but ‘because democracy’ felt like an acceptable placeholder for now)
  • Potential employees want to apply for jobs so they can be considered as an employee
  • Students want to find out who their Student Rep is so they can contact them
  • Students who run clubs & societies want to book resources so they can run their sessions

One challenge is not squeezing too much into one story, I think we’ll need to do some editing to tease out the individual components of user needs and motivations.

I found coming up with the first two chunks of information (who and what) fairly easy. Being forced to think about different types of users was useful as it is tempting to  always just say ‘students’ whereas different students have different needs and goals.

Thinking about why people want to do things was interesting as previously I’ve rushed straight to ‘oh well it needs to have a membership system’ but thinking about why has useful implications for usability and content.

Next steps

Now I’m more familiar with creating user stories I’m planning to use them as part of my meetings with colleagues as part of the process to gather user needs.

That’s likely to come up with a fairly hefty list as I’ll be encouraging everyone to think ambitiously and innovatively rather than feeling constrained by what our website currently does. That means there’ll be  a lot of sifting, looking for similarities and overlaps in functionality and choosing priorities.

I’ll blog once I’ve tried creating user stories with my colleagues to let you know how it goes.

Useful links

What is the purpose of a website?

When starting any project I like to make sure everyone agrees what its purpose is. That might sound a bit obvious but very often I find we’re charging off towards a solution without actually all agreeing what the problem is. This is particularly tempting with digital things when you’ve seen some cool app or website and you want to play with it.

When planning our website redesign then I turned to my research partner, the internet, and went Googling for some wise words on what your website’s purpose could be. Turns out – nothing spectacularly useful for me in the first few search result pages.

There was loads of stuff about B2B websites and lead generation but nothing over-arching. That meant I actually had to think for myself, *eye-roll*. Actually I love this sort of thing but my inner lazy teenager was cross I couldn’t at least get a head start from the internet!

Four purposes for a website

Anyway, I think a website’s purpose can be some or all of the following:

  • Transactional –  people  want to do stuff online: buy things, join things, subscribe to things
  • Informational (not sure if that is grammatically correct but it fits my ‘-al’ format and I’m a sucker for consistency however forced in this context!) – people want to know something: opening times, what features you offer, who to contact
  • Conversational – people want to interact with you/other people, largely through user-generated content: post a review, comment on an article, post feedback
  • Promotional – this one is less user-focused and it’s when you want to publicise information about something: the great things you’ve done, why your product is better than everyone else’s,

What have I missed? Let me know in the comments, on Twitter or via

Next, the questions are what should the balance be? Which of these are (or could be) push or pull factors? How do these categories fit with internal expectations about what should be on the internet?


Preparing for a new website

I’m looking forward to overhauling the Sussex Students’ Union website so I’ve been gathering some useful links and resources to help prepare for this exciting project.

I thought I’d collate them here and ask the good people of the internet if they have any suggestions.

These are the things I’ve come across most recently but please do add your own suggestions in the comments or tweet them to me – @jowalters.

Oxfam’s radical approach to content for the Oxfam GB website

At a recent CharityComms event, Gez Russell, Editor of, talked about how they radically slimmed down and refocused their online content.

[slideshare id=30382948&doc=gezrussellv3-140124051731-phpapp02]


I really liked how they went back to basics rather than just trying to import their old content into a new layout.

8 Excellent Reasons to Redesign Your Website

This article, from HubSpot, is useful to check to see if you should redesign your website and use these key points as reminders of things your new site should do.

Start with why

A good point in this short piece by Euan Semple. stuff

I basically love everything the Government Digital Service (GDS) do. Like, want to print it out and staple it everywhere so everyone can see it, love it.

Their site has loooooads of inspiring and useful stuff like their design manualDigital by Default Service Standard, design principles and content guide.

They share information about how they created and continue to develop such as how they explored user needs.

Don’t Make Me Think

I’ve got next week off work and, so I’ve treated myself to a new book (as that is genuinely the sort thing I like to spend my spare time on). I’ve ordered Don’t Make Me Think: A common sense approach to web usability [affiliate link] following a recommendation from Matt Collins.


What else should I read or learn about?

Original image from

February 27th, 2014|Website redesign|0 Comments|

#ourSUday – a day of students’ union tweeting

On Thursday 30th January I’ll be coordinating a 24 hour tweeting project for students’ unions across the UK to showcase what they do.

The project, using the #ourSUday hashtag, aims to highlight the variety of things we do.

Students’ unions, associations and guilds across the UK will be tweeting a running commentary of our day to day activities. This is based on similar ‘tweetathons’ by councils, police forces and the UK housing sector.

I was originally planning to do this for the University of Sussex Students’ Union where I work to try to give an insight into what we do and how we operate. I realised it would be fairly easy to get other students’ unions involved to and that it would be a good way to show what we do across the sector.

Often people at our own universities aren’t aware of what students’ unions do (and sometimes, that they even exist!). I’m hoping that #ourSUday will help correct this.

On the day, I’m expecting tweets like this:

  • Officer team meet to discuss the proposed new cycle lanes #oursuday
  • A student has visited the Advice Centre to get their housing tenancy agreement checked to ensure it is fair #oursuday
  • Emily, Shop Supervisor, adds more hoodies to the shop’s display – they’ve been very popular recently! #oursuday
  • The evening team take over in our bar. They’re just some of the hundreds of students we employ #oursuday
  • The hockey team have just started warming up for their weekly fitness training session #oursuday
  • Another busy day in our Finance Office as they send out cheques for the stuff we’ve bought this week #oursuday

I plan to sift through and collect some of them using Storify.

You can search for #oursuday tweets via Twitter’s search function.

If you have any questions or your students’ union would like to take part please email

January 26th, 2014|Digital|0 Comments|

Data-driven decision-making

Ashamed of having to write ‘blogs sporadically at’ in a few profiles recently I am determined to blog more regularly about the thoughts floating around my head.

This is a somewhat cop-out blog post however as it is just pointing to a conference session I ran at Students’ Unions 2013 – a national conference for students’ union staff and officers.

I pitched several sessions (never shy about waffling on in front of a room of strangers who are bound by social norms to stay until the end then clap) and was asked to talk about how we can use data to help with communications decision-making. You can view slides from the presentation on SlideShare though my presentation style means they’re quite light on text and heavy on random images!

I will endeavour to write a more lengthy post including my thoughts on some of the topics I covered but for now just enjoy the colourful pictures and imagine how long it took me to find them all on Flickr…



July 3rd, 2013|Digital|1 Comment|

Clandon Wood – branching out into digital marketing

Clandon Wood is a 31 acre area of new native woodland, wildflower meadows, lake and wetland in Surrey due to open in May 2012. It will be planted and landscaped to attract wildlife, accommodate natural burials and provide new habitats for people to explore. They aim to appeal to nature lovers, school groups, people looking for natural burials and people who just want to enjoy the beautiful woodland.

As a relatively new project, Clandon Wood are keen to learn how they could use social media to attract and involve people. With lots of planning and action required to develop the site and their services, they are after some quick, easy and effective solutions that won’t take any more than 30 minutes per day.

These are some of my suggestions for them to consider. They’re super brief at the moment to give them some ideas about what they want to focus on…


Their temporary website is online now at and a new one is on the way.

It’ll need to contain relevant keywords to help people find it via search engines. These should cover all of the aspects of the project – burials, nature, woodland – as well as local keywords such as Clandon, Guildford and Surrey.

They should follow basic SEO principles such as getting links from relevant, quality sites and producing regular effective content. They might want to use a blog format to update visitors on the development of the site and day to day activities once it is up and running.

They can integrate Facebook & Twitter to their site, either through clickable icons or with embedded content featuring their latest posts.

They could make use of a free Adwords voucher which are available from time to time. This would allow them to experiment with Google’s paid search to see if they should continue to use it in the future to drive visitors to their website.


If they’re looking to build a community of like-minded and/or local people, Clandon Wood should consider setting up an email newsletter. This could be segmented to allow people to subscribe to different aspects of the business or follow the development of the site.


Clandon Wood are already on Twitter – @clandonwood – and chatting to people but a quick look over some Twitter basics might be useful to get to grips with how mentions work (where you put someone else’s username first in a message mostly to them to avoid clogging up people’s feed with conversations). They could also change the name on the profile from an individual staff member to the organisation’s name.

They can search for relevant people to follow based on the different areas of what they do. This could include local organisations, nature organisations and those related to death and burials. This will also help by finding useful and interesting information to retweet from others to add variety to their Twitter output.

They could set up searches for keywords on Twitter to find people talking about relevant topics and local issues. This can be easily done using software such as Tweetdeck. There are plenty of apps for smartphones too which allow you to keep an eye on things on the go and easily respond.


I’d suggest Clandon Wood set up a Facebook page which is the best format for businesses (rather than Facebook groups or personal profiles). This can be used to post updates and photos and gather people interested in what they’re doing.

I always recommend not auto-posting between Facebook and Twitter if possible as posting separately allows you to make the most of each format, e.g. posting photos directly to Facebook and keeping within Twitter’s character limit.

Other ideas

Clandon Wood could think about using Pinterest to share beautiful images of the woodland and collate images that are relevant to what they do. More and more brands are experimenting with Pinterest (and I personally spend faaaaar too much time looking at beautiful images there)

They can set up Google Alerts to keep an eye on people talking about them (with a [Clandon Woods] search) and other relevant search terms if they want to stay updated on other relevant topics too.

They should set up a Google Places entry to help people find them via location-based searching.

It sounds like video and photos could be used to showcase the location and services on offer.


In terms of a routine for Clandon Wood, this is what I’d suggest initially;


  • Check Facebook & Twitter for people requiring a response (and respond!)

A few times per week

  • Post interesting, relevant information to Facebook & Twitter
  • Keep an eye on Google Alerts and saved Twitter searches for mentions of Clandon Wood/related topics


  • Post a blog update

Final thoughts

Clandon Wood’s plan will depend on their objectives and the amount of time they have available to sustain their digital marketing activities.

Once their activities are more developed they can branch out (no woodland pun intended!) and measure the impact of their activities to test what is working best and where to focus their efforts.

January 24th, 2012|Digital|0 Comments|

Twitter + Choir = Awesome


I totally love this video by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra Chorus. They asked, via Twitter, for tips to keep warm in Calgary and turned them into a song.

A great way to promote themselves by doing something a bit different…

December 11th, 2011|Digital|0 Comments|