An interview at City Hall

Content is king

22 July 2015

The content team is responsible for migrating content from this version of our website to the new one. The current site has about 48,000 pieces of content, much of it no longer relevant or widely viewed, which isn't great for our users. Content editor Graeme Claridge gives us some insight into how he assesses the value of content, and improves the content that we do decide to migrate.

Champions of content

'Content is king'; it's a phrase familiar to most of us who've ever worked in the digital or media sector.

A little research reveals the expression was first used back in 1996, in an essay predicting how the Internet would develop with the dawn of the new century. The author was a certain Bill Gates, a man whose PC predictions had a habit of attracting the industry’s attention (well, this was the Nineties).

In many ways, Gates was right. Our appetite for online entertainment and information has only been enhanced by Google, whose guidelines and algorithms have placed even more emphasis on fresh, interesting and popular content.

Content through collaboration

So if content is king, does that mean we content editors get to play kingmaker? Are we lurking in the shadows, Rasputin-like, sealing a website’s fate as we decide which candidates for consumption shall make it online, and which shall perish?

Perhaps disappointingly, the answer’s a resounding no. Quite apart from the myriad other factors that contribute to a website’s quality, good content is not shaped in isolation. We work closely with City Hall policy teams to evaluate the quality of the content we currently have, and to improve that which we decide to take across to the all-new London.gov.uk.

Here's how it all unfolds...

Data analysis

We begin by carefully analysis each team's existing content. Specifically, we look at how their webpages have performed; how many visitors are they receiving over a month? A quarter? How do these stats compare to the section and website average?

We also look at how frequently their webpages have been updated. If they haven’t been updated for some time that could mean the content’s out-of-date – or no longer relevant at all. Finally, we rely on the policy teams to let us know if any of their content is statutory i.e. information we must publish to comply with regulations or laws.

Removing content

Next, we work with policy teams to learn more about what they want to achieve from their web presence. This helps us to understand who the audiences are for each policy area, and weigh up whether the content meets their needs.

Together, this information gives us a clearer picture of how useful and engaging our content is for users, and informs our conversations with policy teams about whether their pages have a home on the new website.

It also proves invaluable in alleviating any anxiety policy teams may have about removing content. If the stats don't show much engagement, then it makes it easier to rationalise why we're removing that page.

Structurally sound?

Our attention then turns to the team's section structure. How best can we group this content? As ever, our task is to try and think like our users might when visiting the website.

We weigh up which content naturally fits together. We analyse whether the team’s content on the current website is too dispersed or unwieldy, leading to an overwhelming and unfocused user journey – and how we can rectify this. And we consider terminology; who’s the audience for this content, and how would they refer to it?

In some cases this can mean quite a dramatic restructuring exercise, and can require something of a sea change in policy teams’ thinking about their content. Similarly, it may be the team hasn’t given much consideration to their structure - or information architecture (IA) - for some while; either way, this can be a prolonged – though of course vital - process.

Review; rework; repeat

With everything now in place, we can get on with the task at hand: namely, improving the content. Typically, the policy team will appoint someone to coordinate copy edits from their side. This person will work with subject matter experts (SMEs) to ensure the content is up-to-date. They may also look to remove old attachments, and generally tidy up any broken links, typos and the like.

Once this stage is complete, the content editor will take their turn at reviewing the copy. Now that the content is current, our concern is how we’re communicating that information to our audiences. We’ll review how the page is ordered, ensuring it’s ‘frontloaded’ so the most important information is at the top of the page. We’ll also look to see whether improvements can be made to the formatting, perhaps through better use of subheadings, or by breaking up long paragraphs with bullet points.

Another major concern is language. We can all sometimes fall into the trap of writing in a vocabulary familiar to us, but which may seem bureaucratic to users; or worse, is hard to understand. We content editors will be on the lookout for such examples, applying ‘plain English’ alternatives where possible.

We’ll also consider page length, ensuring that there’s no superfluous information included, or sections that could be communicated more succinctly. Once this process is complete, the page will go to ‘sign-off’ by the policy team. If achieved, it’s considered ready to be published. And then? Then it’s on to the next page…

Want to know more about our website revamp? Read other blog posts in this series:

Putting users before politics - a sneak peak at our new website

Rethinking London.gov.uk - putting Londoners first