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Reducing accessibility issues by over 80%

A university with distinct challenges in making education accessible to its many communities distributed across land and sea uses website search as a key part of its systematic approach to web accessibility.
Louise Fenn

Louise Fenn 30 Jan 2024

Highlands and Islands Site Search project

Highlands and Islands

UHI – 10 colleges and research institutions in Scotland’s Highlands and Islands, Moray, and Perthshire regions – serves 36,000 students, is 1st in postgraduate satisfaction in Scotland, 6th in undergraduate satisfaction in Scotland and 75% of research is considered world-leading or internationally excellent.


Higher Education



UHI’s commitment to inclusivity – to ensuring that everyone has access to education – is part of its DNA.

Access to education in its region – the rugged Northern part of Scotland including the Orkney, Shetland, and Western Isles – presented distinct challenges: remoteness, small community size, distance and difficulty of travel, limited study options at local colleges and patchy Internet coverage.

UHI was born in the 1990s as these local colleges partnered to form a new breed of tertiary institution, more than a college and more than a university – still closely connected to their communities’ needs, but able to deliver more together.

The evolution of UHI’s web presence has mirrored this journey: from separate, uniquely branded websites for each college, to a coherent, UHI-branded, centrally managed web presence presenting the breadth of UHI’s partnership offerings.

A key step in this evolution was the adoption of Squiz Search (Funnelback) – capable of crawling and indexing every partner website and presenting unified search results.

But UHI’s small web team quickly realized they could also use auditing tools – within Squiz' Optimization capability – to help improve website accessibility across the portfolio.

Using web search to improve content – as well as user experience

The content and accessibility auditing tools that ship with Squiz offered us tremendous added value", says Llewelyn Bailey, UHI Web Officer. Using them gives us crucial information we need to improve the experience for all our website users.

First, the team used its Content Auditor to identify duplicate and out-of-date content for pruning and identify issues with documents and attachments on the sites while the Accessibility Auditor provided benchmark reporting on WCAG compliance.

Working with Squiz, they also improved their search implementation.

With its colleges and research institutions spread across a sixth of the UK landmass, it was important users could both see the breadth of offerings across the university, but also drill down by location or study mode.

The Squiz Search capability allowed each institution with its own web presence to have its own search functionality and the Optimization capability enables individual content auditing reports – all whilst also providing cross-institution federated search.

Multi-faceted improvement

UHI’s attention to improving content and accessibility, as well as the search experience, was quickly rewarded.

First, the removal of duplicate pages that were confusing search engines greatly improved UHI’s visibility on the web.

Web pages load faster with the pruning of unnecessary markup in the code.

More accurate search results and UI enhancements improved users’ search experience.

Finally, compliance with WCAG standards steadily increased over time, and accessibility-related issue reports dropped by over 83%.

Maintaining and improving accessibility

Squiz Optimization tools remain central to the UHI web team’s ongoing governance over the university’s websites.

Tracking WCAG compliance over time with the accessibility audit dashboard indicates how accessibility is degrading or improving overall, and highlights quick wins and priorities for remediation.