Results for category "Content"

6 Articles

Keep Content Under Control

Many website suffer from a lack of attention. But at times – during a redesign, with a new staff person, or after an agency leader happens to visit the outdated site – the endless possibilities for online content inspire big ideas.

Beware. It’s important to keep your content under control. You need your website to be both manageable and sustainable.

At one point during the Snohomish Health District website redesign, staff envisioned growing the website from 42 pages to more than 130. Knowledgeable and passionate staff wanted to educate the public in all sorts of important areas. Our content was about to get totally out of control.

3 Steps to Content Control

1. Focus on the actual people you serve, not “the public.”  Visitors come to your website one person at a time, each with individual goals and needs.  “The public” is too broad a group to satisfy and serve effectively. Do some thinking – and some user research – to really define your top users and what they want from you. Create your content to serve those needs first. For the Health District, our top users were food workers and restaurant owners, septic contractors, and worried parents or health care providers. Answering their questions became a priority.

2. Stick with what you do.  Your content should be local and specific to your services. Let your community partners or private business talk about what they do. At the Health District, it was tempting to have a web page describing each disease du jour. But our job was to track and report on local risks, local prevention efforts, and local case counts.  A link to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention provides the best, most updated information on the disease of the day.

If you are a city, domestic violence and weather patterns affect your citizens – but let the experts address those topics in detail. You talk about police response or snow routes, and provide links to other resources.

3. Keep content concise. Staff may want to answer every question and provide great detail in their areas of expertise. This is rarely a successful strategy for web writing. The rule of thumb for the web is to draft your content, then cut out half the words. Take a breather before you go back to the content with your top users in mind. Imagine them reading your web page on a mobile device.

Answer people’s key questions. Cut the fluff.

By keeping content under control, you make your website more readable for your users, more sustainable for staff, and more efficient for everyone. Don’t contribute to the global glut of information. Create content that matters. Content that you can maintain.

Keep it simple.

Website Design, In Order

First Things FirstPeople first. Content next. Design & development after those two. Repeat as needed.

That’s the order to follow if you want your website or app to be intuitive, easy, and satisfying for the people who use it – your customers, citizens, clients, etc.

If you start with designing features and functions first, you can become committed to things your customers don’t care about. If you wait to fit the content people want into your established page or visual design, you may have to fit round pegs into square holes.

Of course, you can go back and try to fit the customer’s needs and the content they want into your design later.  But it will take extra time, and will rarely be as elegant as a project that puts people first to begin with.

Imagine designing a building before you know who will occupy it and what they will do there. A preschool is different than a bank is different than a church.  Yes, you can convert a facility made to pump fuel – a gas station – into a place for feeding people.  But your customers will know the difference, and the retrofit won’t be easy or cheap.

“We didn’t build this with you in mind.” That is the message sent by websites and technology that is hard to navigate, difficult to learn, and scattered with features that seem to have no order (because they were tacked on later, after people’s needs were clear).

If that’s the message you want your website to send, then go ahead and design it before you consider people and the content they need. Otherwise, I recommend starting with a user-centered design process. Your results will show the difference.

Know the Purpose of Your Website

question mark imageWhat is the primary purpose of your government website? It’s good question to answer or revisit as you begin a redesign or review of your website content. Once your staff agree why you are creating website content, it is easier to define what belongs online and how to present it.

Purpose starts with your end users

Ultimately, I believe the purpose of a government website is to serve the needs of individual members of the public who visit – to help your citizen activists, your business people, your occasional visitors accomplish what they want to do.

Government websites should identify an overarching purpose, and also be clear about the purpose of each page of the site. Knowing why your content exists will help you develop – and limit – content so that it is most valued and efficient for your end users.

But you have city, strategic, and business goals, too. Your website needs to balance your internal goals with the needs of your end users.

Design for your website’s purpose

If your purpose is to help people do their government business online, your site might emphasize online payment and form options.

If your purpose is to foster civic engagement, you need to first be clear about what people care about, and how they want to interact. Make meeting information easy to access, post current opportunities for public comment on your Home page and relevant topic pages (not everyone lands on the Home page), use social media for two-way interaction.

Perhaps you want to promote economic development? Make it easy for prospective businesses to find the information and permits they need – and make it clear what other agencies are involved. Whatever you do to promote business, make it sustainable. An outdated list of “available properties” does not make your city attractive.

You government website isn’t

When you know your website’s primary purpose, you can de-emphasize secondary goals. Your website isn’t:

The online equivalent of an organizational chart. Information about every department and its structure may be valuable, but it is not what most people come to you for.

The only repository of public records. Of course, many government documents do belong online. Archives of council minutes and other public documents make information easy for the public to access, saving staff time in filling records requests. But don’t scan original documents so the signature is online just to make it official – that is both unnecessary and turns your text into an image – a very unfriendly way to present online information (accessible to people with disabilities, not immediately translatable into other languages, less clear text to read in general).

The only source of information on your topic. Be careful to focus on what you do and what you know as a government agency. Link to other organizations when they are the authority. People visiting your website have the World Wide Web at their fingertips – let search engines help them answer the rest of their questions.

Be sure to know what your website is. Having a sense of purpose provides both motivation and direction – in websites and in life.



Content is King

Last week I attended an Information Architecture & User Experience Meetup on content strategy in Seattle. It’s a big commitment of time to get downtown on a rainy evening, but it’s part of my commitment to professional development.

When I was accepted into the user-centered design program at the University of Washington, I wasn’t sure just where my communications experience and interests fit in. So I dove into exploring the field of user experience design (UX). I attended events hosted by the Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI), Content Strategy Meetups, User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA) presentations, Society for Technical Communications networking, World Information Architecture Day, and various WordPress meetups.

I have found that my “people” – the ones whose skills and geeky tendencies fit mine – are content strategists and information architects. I have always been a customer advocate who believes that content is king.

I am also a UX designer with many years of experience in the fields of usability, content strategy, and information design – I just didn’t call it those things at the time.

One of the slides at last week Information Architecture Meetup showed a stuffed squirrel amidst a disassembled jigsaw puzzle. The squirrel wore a crown. The presenter, Misty Weaver, explained that the art of piecing content together into a cohesive whole requires extreme focus and mastery – and in her case, loud music.

Like Misty, I love making content fit together. I also love finding the pieces that just don’t fit, so we can cut content down to what is most important for each web page and website to provide.

She described a content audit identifying:

  • What content you have on your website
  • Where is it?
  • Is it any good?

My favorite slide of the night said simply: “The internet is full. Please stop.”

My UX niche is in big picture thinking and understanding what each agency and website has to offer that is unique and valuable to your visitors. The right content, well-organized, is a powerful thing.

It’s my passion.

I always come home from a professional meeting with a few new Twitter feeds to follow, blogs to read, and insights into the user experience design process.

Takeaways from last week include:

Misty Weaver’s Meaning and Measure blog, where you can learn more about content strategy and the value of content audits.

Yes, I can help you with that.

A New Website Is Never Done

By Kristin Kinnamon

Redesigning and launching a new website is a huge undertaking. I know from personal experience the inclination to sit back and think about something else for a few weeks, months, or (hopefully not) years after a launch. There are other important issues to deal with, after all, than just your agency website.

But I preach that a new website is never “done.” Besides the first days and weeks after launch of putting out fires (such as making sure Google and visitors can find your new pages), a new website needs consistent – if not constant – care and feeding.

CivicPlus, which specializes in developing government websites, likens a new website to investing in a fancy new firetruck. You don’t just leave it parked in the station. You train staff to use it, you take it out and put it through its paces, you give it regular maintenance so it provides reliable public service for years to come.

If you think of your website redesign as a project that is “done,” you risk wasting taxpayer dollars. Your investment of time and resources into the new site will degrade far more quickly than just the technology itself.

What Happens With New Websites?

New websites tend to grow and transform as content is added, technology changes, and unexpected needs arise. This is natural, and a well-thought out and well-built site with standards and policies in place is ready for change.

If you aren’t keeping up with change, however, you risk:

Content stagnation. Staff never updates – or reads – their pages. The content ceases to answer current customer questions. It has the 2012 annual report. The public comment period that just opened is not there. Links stop working.

Content creep. Carefully crafted information and headlines get overwhelmed by newer content that might not be integrated or properly prioritized. New content might not follow your web standards.

Visitor frustration. Your shiny new site has reset expectations – higher. If you aren’t paying attention to customer interactions and feedback, you risk a backlash.

Untold stories. You had reasons and goals for your website redesign – and so did your agency leadership. Measuring how your website is meeting its goals gives you a chance to share your success stories.

Maintaining your website investment

Ongoing training. If you have a dispersed team doing web content, get them together to learn from each other, or for a webinar, or for onsite or offsite training. If it’s just you, set aside time each month to learn more about your content management system or web best practices.

Annual content audit. Many subjects are covered on your website, and many people are responsible for them (plus their regular jobs). Get your web team or subject matter experts together once a year and make them read their pages. People can do this at their own desks, but I find it best to set aside time and computers to have everyone in the same room. This fosters conversations and commitment to the process. And you can fix things on the spot.

Analytics. Whether you have Google Analytics or a custom tool with your content management system, or other access to your system data – use it! Go beyond visitor counts and bounce rates. I remember digging into the Community Transit analytics and noticing that many of the visitors to the Snohomish County transit agency were in Seattle, one county away. Guess those commuter bus riders looked up their bus information while they were at work.

Bottom line: Back to your users

Hopefully, you thought a lot about your “end users” before you redesigned your website. Analytics don’t tell you “why” one page or link is more popular than another, but if you know your users, sometimes you can guess.

You probably made a lot of assumptions about your users when designing your new site – what people wanted to accomplish, what words they might use to search, what “calls to action” would work best.

After launching, you should test your assumptions, measure your success, re-assess your content, and never stop learning from your customers/visitors/users.

More on the topic of maintaining new websites:

“Consider the Firetruck,” CivicPlus blog

“The Web is Not a Project,” Siteimprove blog


Government Websites & Usability

Usability Matters Most for Government

  1. You provide services and information that people rely upon. Government websites have a responsibility to be accurate and effective.
  2. Government websites are like a monopoly. People have to go through your site to get permits, pay taxes, or access government services. If a commercial website is not user-friendly, the customer simply goes somewhere else to buy.
  3. Save taxpayer money. Answer people’s questions before they call or come in. Collect payments more efficiently. Accept applications electronically.
  4. Maintain your investment. You’ve spent taxpayer money to update and improve your site. Make sure the public continues to get its money’s worth by maintaining content, and testing and improving usability.
  5. Increase compliance with rules and regulations by producing information that is easily understood and acted upon.
  6. Encourage public involvement. Meetings, minutes, surveys, social media discussions– you’ll get more input and engagement when people can find and easily read your information online.
  7. Accessible design. Deliver information that can be accessed by a variety of technologies (phone, tablet, desktop), in many settings (loud, bright, distracting), by all citizens (seniors, people with disabilities using assistive technology).
  8. The federal government does it (or at least tries to). Federal agencies are mandated to improve usability by the Plain Writing Act, the E-Government Act, Section 508 standards that ensure access and inclusion for people with disabilities, and other policies.

More Support for Government Usability