https://gds.blog.gov.uk/2012/11/07/have-i-got-government-news-for-you/

Have I got government news for you?

Government is a major news source. As central government departments begin the transition to GOV.UK they’ll be publishing their news in a single place, and we have a fantastic opportunity to improve the user experience of this high profile content. Here’s how we plan to start doing that.

Our lead story

The first departments move over to GOV.UK on November 15th, to a part of the website we refer to as Inside Government. It’s the beginning of a shared platform for all government publishing activity, which includes news, speeches, statements by ministers and other forms of announcement.

In presenting this content on GOV.UK we are retaining the best of the current model used across departments’ websites, and introducing a number of innovations that will appeal to existing as well as new and lapsed audiences.

In terms of features at launch, you will see:

  • a section called announcements, where news pages will be grouped with other high profile content, such as speeches, statements to parliament, answers to parliamentary questions and rebuttals
  • news content will be associated to topics and policies, so that the relevance and value of that content is clearer in context
  • on organisation homepages, we’ll enable the featuring of all kinds of content alongside news
  • in our format and style guidance, we’ll encourage organisations to use this channel as an opportunity to increase the ‘signal to noise’ ratio and reserve ‘featuring’ for fewer, higher quality items
How news will look on the new pages

Over to our research correspondent

Large percentages of the world’s internet users go online for news content everyday. Here in the UK, 52% of UK internet users regularly go online for news and government departments have responded by stepping up the volume and prominence of news content on their sites that’s designed to be consumed directly by a news-seeking public.

News content is easily the most regularly updated content on a government website (often as many as 5 items a day). ‘News’ features prominently in most top nav bars and news content gets pride of place on the main grids or carousels of homepages.

To inform the features that will support departments’ news on GOV.UK, we’ve been avidly analysing the usage and user needs for the news on existing government websites and what we found was fascinating.

Given its importance, throughput and high visibility, we expected that the majority of traffic on department’s sites would be to the news content. When the Inside Government team looked at the data, we found that that isn’t the case. Some organisations were getting as little as 2% of their site traffic to the news, and few were getting much more than a third of their users going to the news.

Why is it that so few users of government sites are going to the content that departments value so highly? How might we make news on GOV.UK more useful and engaging?

We ran a user survey on 12 government sites (10 departments and two agencies) between 25 June – 25 July 2012 and received 606 responses.

60% of respondents said they used government news for professional purposes, while 40% had a personal interest. More than half of respondents (56%) visited government sites daily or weekly for news. Respondents were asked how many government websites they visited for news. Just under half (49%) said they visited between 1 – 5 sites, 35% said they only ever visited one, while 16% said they visited more than five.

Asked why they visit government websites for news content, 54% said that the sites were one of a range of sources they used for news about the government, and 24% said it was because the information was not available elsewhere. For 40% visiting a government news site was about getting the government’s unmediated voice.

Finally, we asked what they would change about the news on government websites. Half of respondents suggested simple improvements to content filtering and search functionality, 35% wanted clearer featuring of key content and 22% wanted simpler page layouts. A quarter of respondents stated that no enhancements were required.

Our survey suggests that there’s a hardcore of users who like the government’s online news. But based on the stats, the majority of users aren’t seeing the relevance and are bypassing the news pages and going to other things. They’re almost certainly missing out, because the content is also about the things they do come to read.

How you’ll be able to filter announcements from across government

And finally…

Publishing news on their corporate websites is one way government departments manage media relations activity. But as an increasingly important component in that enterprise, we want the transition to GOV.UK to mark a step change in the performance of news content.

We are very excited about working with departments on that challenge. We will pay close attention to the metrics for the news format on GOV.UK, conduct regular user testing, collate feedback and turn this input into regular product iterations.

We will learn from others who are recognised as doing well in this space, such as the White House, as well as paying close attention to other new initiatives, like the work Made by Many has been doing with ITV.

This is one of the exciting areas of government digital publishing in which we think we can make some quick and significant improvements, starting with the release on the 15th. There’s more to come, and we share the details of that on Inside Inside Government tumblr over the coming weeks and months.

17 comments

  1. SimonD

    Does your analysis go into what those visitors interested in news go on to do with it, once they’ve got it? If 60% use it for ‘professional purposes’, how many of those are (let’s say) journalists? If the [insert name of national newspaper] political editor goes online to collect a news item, then writes a story based upon it for tomorrow’s edition… is that one ‘hit’, or X hundred thousand?

    Reply
    • Ross Ferguson

      Hi Simon – we didn’t ask that as a quantitative question in the survey. We did in some interviews with journalists, and colleagues working in department’s press offices provided insights. The short answer is that some people just read, some share and some repurpose, as you’d expect. Only 40 survey responses were from journalists, from which you could cautiously infer that media professionals aren’t currently a major audience. Indeed, departmental colleagues tell us that most of their content is published for direct consumption by public audiences, with most of the briefing of journalists being done over the phone, email and in person. We intend to do follow up testing of what we release with media professionals.

      Reply
      • SimonD

        Your statement that ‘most of the content is published for direct consumption by public audiences’ is pretty huge. Are we saying that ‘press’ office output is no longer intended for ‘press’? In which case – it’s time to take content creation away from that team, and rename it ‘media handling’.

        I’ve been saying for over a decade that the days of the ‘press office’ were numbered. Is this finally the moment?

        Reply
        • Ross Ferguson

          No, press teams still have an important role to play in responding to enquiries from the media on many aspects of the work departments do. Sometimes that contact will be online but, as I say in the post, much of the contact is over the phone, email and in person. I don’t know any colleagues in press teams who have time on their hands, they are still very much in demand.

          Reply
  2. Graham Lee

    Hi Ross,

    You mention “statements to parliament and “answers to parliamentary questions”.

    These are already published on the Hansard website. Why would you want to publish them twice?

    Speeches generally get very low traffic, even by the standards of government news pages. Is this vanity publishing? Can you just excerpt the key points, in the spirit of the ‘simpler, clearer, faster’ ethos of the site?

    Index page looks rather intimidating – with 767 results! – and looks like a library catalogue.

    Will users really search for news about topics like ‘big society’ (a politically loaded term), or by a long list of departments or agencies, reflecting the Byzantine structure of government?

    Wouldn’t it be better to allow users to sign up for news updates by subjects that interest them, or to customise their home page?

    Interesting that ‘keywords’ search field is at the right-hand side of the page – wouldn’t the search box be easier to use?

    I only raise this as I don’t think a similar filter page didn’t seem to work very well for the so-called ‘specialist’ information.

    Thanks, Graham

    Reply
    • Ross Ferguson

      Hi Graham

      Thanks for these queries:

      - Some departments currently publish parliamentary material on their sites, and they articulated a user need that encouraged us to continue doing that on GOV.UK. We do have a intention to link through or bring in a feed of that material from source in the not too distant future.

      - I disagree that publishing speeches is vanity; I view it as valuable transparency, a record of who in the government said what, where and when. In most cases, the dependable source for a speech transcript or recording is a department’s site and GOV.UK will begin to fulfil that role.

      - Inside Government will house a wealth of content. As the volume grows, we will keep a close eye on feedback and analytics concerning user experience and we will optimise as we go.

      - We expect users to come in to news mainly from searches, they will also come in from social media. Some will browse in from the GOV.UK homepage or the homepage of organisations on Inside Government, and we will see how much browsing is done via relatedness cues. Expect many a post on these journeys as we collect the data.

      - Users will be able to take a feed from launch, and subscribe to email or utilise the API not long after. It will fascinating to see who picks up on these.

      - You’re right about the filter page on detailed guidance. We’ll log feedback like this about the filter pages, and consider it alongside lab and remote testing. If we find something isn’t working as it should or is superfluous, then we can make the change quickly. But let’s see what happens when users get hold of it.

      Reply
      • Graham Lee

        If the filter page didn’t work for ‘detailed’ guidance, do you have any reason to think it would work for news items?

        For instance, the index page assumes that users will be aware of which department is responsible for a particular issue, whereas we know that this often isn’t the case.

        I’m not convinced that there’s a significant public appetite for speeches, but it would be interesting to see how they perform on the new site.

        It’s senseless to reproduce content that’s already available on the Parliament website, but it may be helpful to make the information easier to access via some kind of feed.

        Reply
        • Ross Ferguson

          On the filter pages, I want to see how these perform when users are taking time to browse, rather than looking for the ‘quick do’ associated with detailed guidance. And, back in beta testing, we practically took away department as a means of navigation and users were confused by that; for the time being many of the Inside Government users will want to navigate by organisation.

          Reply
  3. dazbert

    52% of people do go online looking for news but they tend to go to a truste sourc such as the BBC for editorial opinion. Does it really add to the govmt offering to have a news channel that could be seen as a biased channel.

    Is there not a danger of this area becomming a dumping ground for deparments?

    Reply
    • Ross Ferguson

      Hi dazbert – we are not setting ourselves the target of creating a channel in the sense of BBC News. Neil Williams put it succinctly over on http://inside-inside-gov.tumblr.com/day/2012/11/01, when he said, ‘We are a source, not a media organisation. We announce things.’ This about an aggregated feed of announcements, filterable by organisation or subject matter.

      Reply
  4. Tim

    Interesting stuff. Which departments are the first to move across?

    Reply
    • Ross Ferguson

      This will be announced (ahem) shortly.

      Reply
  5. Team FlatmateRooms

    Congratulations on the new gov.uk site. It looks great. We just updated a bunch of old direct gov links, URLs look much better too. Thanks for not breaking the old ones. The information architecture, accessibility and usability is exquisite. Good work, keep it going.

    Reply
  6. Liz

    Great post. Just wondering, have you made a distinction between ‘news’ and ‘press releases’?

    Where a Dept currently publishes both and sees them as different, will this distinction still exist?

    Reply
    • Ross Ferguson

      Hi Liz

      Thanks – we haven’t created a separate format for press releases, but departments can choose to enable ‘Notes to editors’ on the news format that is provided.

      Reply
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