Courses are written, lecturers recruited, halls prepared, but is your website ready for clearing?

09 Aug 2018

One the most important days in the academic calendar is soon approaching, A-Level Results Day. Whilst many students will be celebrating their results and getting into their chosen institution, there will be numerous students who will have been entered into the clearing process.

In 2017, 59,950[1] applicants found places through clearing, a record breaking 9.1% of all UK University applications. With this number of applications being processed, Digital Managers within the sector must ensure their website is ready to meet the demands of the day.

So how are University and Higher Education websites doing?

Sitemorse’s INDEX assesses websites and ranks them within their sector once per quarter. The INDEX rank for each site is determined by its User Experience, Search Optimisation and Governance Risk & Compliance. The top 125 pages of each site are assessed and receive scores based on factors such as function, accessibility, code quality and loading speed, which in turn make up the site’s overall score. One of the sectors Sitemorse runs an INDEX for is UK Universities and Higher Education.

In the Q3 UK Universities and Higher Education INDEX, there were 349 sites included with 342 sites successfully tested and, across these sites, 895,905 URLs. In total, 3% of URLs in this INDEX failed functional tests meaning that they did not return a 200 success http status code or redirected to another site.

From today, Thursday 9th August 2018, the results of Q3 are available for this sector.

The top site this quarter was Coventry College, scoring 7.2 out of a possible 10. Overall, the results are mixed. The site which had previously ranked 1st (London South Bank University) for the preceding four quarters has fallen to 6th. However, four of the new top five sites secured their place with an improved score versus Q2. We did saw some significant improvements with Royal College of Music gaining the most places, up 250 places to finish in 29th position overall.

Summary of Results of Q3 2018 INDEX

In terms of scores, the INDEX-wide range increased this quarter. The lowest overall score in Q2 was 1.9 and in Q3 this had dropped to 1.7. In contrast, the highest overall score was 7.0 in Q2 and was up to 7.2 in Q3. This demonstrates that standards at the top are in improving but that there is still some way to go, with many sites still performing well below where they should be.

Whilst Coventry College are in first place, there is still room for them to improve, as they were one of six websites that failed high priority WCAG A & AA tests on every page. This is reflected in their Accessibility score which was 0/10. But due to their site complying well in other areas such as Function/Links (9/10) and Performance (10/10) they still achieved a high overall score.  To find out more on how the INDEX scores are calculated, please visit

These findings are worrying with the first deadline of the EU public sector accessibility directive (European standard EN 301 549 V1.1.2 (2015-04)) coming into force on 23 September 2018. This states that all public sector websites must comply with WCAG 2.0. The first deadline requires both office files published by public sector bodies after this date and any new public sector sites to be accessible.

For the full results, please visit

What does this mean for clearing?

Standards are not where they could or should be. Over 26,500 URLs failed functional tests this quarter. These URLs could be essential pages which may contain information with the potential to impact a student’s decision on results day. This could have serious detrimental long-term effects, particularly as the recruitment of students is now such a key part of a University’s financial viability.

On a positive note, no site received a score of less than 5 for Performance and all sites was above the average response time of 0.7 seconds. Therefore, sites are responding well on average and user experience should not be compromised from this point of view. The significant increase in traffic on results day will, however, have the potential to impact this significantly. Sites will need to have sufficient infrastructure in place to avoid any detrimental effects on performance.

So how do sites start their journey to compliance?

To ensure compliance, an organisation needs an overview of its assets. You need to know what you have before you can address any issues. Sitemorse can provide this amongst other things as part of a subscription.

Once owners have this detail the journey can start. The journey to compliance needs to be done in a way which focuses on making corrections in an understandable, manageable, measurable and achievable way.

We know that digital teams want to see improvements rather than just reports – they want the changes to be noticeable.

This is where Sitemorse reports differ. We use ‘Priorities’, enabling digital teams to deal with corrections in a practical and pragmatic way.

This removes the long and detailed reports that digital teams often find overwhelming and unmotivating. The important issues which need addressing frequently get lost in such reports.

The priorities enable teams to drive clear and measurable improvements by providing a manageable number of tasks to complete. Automated testing like ours should always be combined with manual testing of elements that need human judgement. Sitemorse helps to reduce those manual tasks to more manageable levels.

This is just one way that Sitemorse helps organisations drive improved user experience, ensuring that content is always optimised and compliance requirements are met.

We enable organisations a continuous improvement journey that is measurable and quantifiable which moves away from counter-productive, endless reporting and towards using intelligence to deliver a great online user experience. This focus on action over monitoring enables you to optimise your performance continually and ensures that you can adhere to both internal standards and external regulation.

To find out more about how Sitemorse can help your organisation on its journey to compliance or for more information on the INDEX, please contact