Your online content (both text and media) is a representation of your city and the services it delivers. During a website redesign, content isn’t just migrated over once- it’s an ongoing process of analyzing, refining, updating, and even deleting. Here’s some steps to start building great content on your site.
1. Understand User Needs
Start with understanding your users’ online needs. By conducting an online resident survey, you can assess the devices and types of internet access used in different parts of your city, evaluate user needs to prioritize content development on your site, and understand where your city has strong and weak connections to users of its website.
2. Conduct a Content Audit
Conducting a content audit provides a quantitative understanding of how various webpages on your site are performing. It can help you determine which pages need to be pruned or consolidated on your site, which pages need to be rewritten, which pages are the most heavily trafficked, identify any gaps, etc.
In general, your content audit process should:
- Collect all URLs on your site.
- Gather KPIs and other information for each page. We suggest using both our City Analytics Dashboard, a free tool that runs on Google Analytics, and URL profiler, a third-party tool that will gather various metrics, including:
- Bounce rate: the percentage of people who landed on a page and left right away (i.e. a one page session)
- Exit rate: the percentage of people who left your site from a specific page. Exits may have viewed more than one page in a session (i.e. they navigated through your site to a particular page)
- Unique visitors
- Word count
- Sentence count
- Reading level
- Number of visits
- Determine whether pages are meeting broader goals of a city website. Analyze your content based on its metrics. Assign a specific action to each URL– such as “keep”, “remove”, “update”, “simplify”, etc. For example:
- If a page hasn’t been accessed in the last year, and isn’t legally required information, it should be removed.
- Pages that have duplicate information and purposes should be consolidated into one page.
- Look at the user journey for your most viewed pages. Is it easy to navigate to this page? Can the information architecture be simplified so that a user can get there in less than three clicks. Mark these as “simplify”.
3. Develop a Content Strategy
Your content strategy should consist of key values that can guide decisions you make about your web’s content. This should include:
- Goals for your content
- Identifying a point person (or department) that will see individual pages
- Regular intervals for going over your web content’s analytics with the appropriate staff
- A plan for regularly updating your content
- Methods for conducting ongoing user research to test how users behave with the site’s content and features
- Strategies to collect on-going feedback from users about your website
- Criteria for when content can be archived or deleted
A key part of your content strategy should involve building a strong writing culture and supporting your staff to be confident web writers. This means holding training sessions and empowering them best practices around writing for the web.
One way to do this is by holding content writing workshops. During these sessions, you can go over your web analytics, and practice writing in a way that’s consistent with your style guide.
You should try to identify representative from the departments of your high trafficked pages to serve as the deparment’s designated writer and attend the content workshops.
Writing for the Web
The technical aspects of your website are just one component of your site. At its core, a good city website means that information is accurate and easy to understand. In general, writing for the web means:
- Using short sentences
- Keeping paragraphs short
- Avoiding jargon and writing in plain English
- Having lots of paragraph breaks
- Using subheadings
For new content writers, we suggest checking out:
- “Don’t Make Me Think: Common Sense to Web Usability” by Steve Krug
- The Book Apart series
- Nicely Said: Writing for the Web with Style and Purpose by Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee
4. Create Internal Content Tools
Understanding your users and equipping your content writers with the appropriate tools is essential to delivering top quality content. The U.K.’s Government Digital Service has published some helpful background research on how users read, which helps inform the policies and decisions of their content style guide. Some helpful internal tools for your team might include:
Style guide: A style guide sets the overall voice and tone for your content. It helps your writers understand how to communicate in a consistent and effective way.
Reading level tools: Tools like Readability-score.com can give writers real-time feedback on the clarity and reading level of their content. In general, pages should strive for a 6-8th grade reading level.
Spotlight: Provo, UT
As part of the City’s website redesign, the Mayor worked closely with the team to identify department leads to attend content writing sessions. For ten months, Provo’s representatives from each department attended bi-weekly writing workshops. During these meetings, representatives kept individual blogs to build their web writing confidence, learned best practices for streamlined user experience, and practiced using web analytics to inform content decisions for their sites.