Over the last couple of months we’ve run search engine optimisation and analytics workshop sessions for content designers in government departments and agencies.
We work with them to challenge assumptions about user needs by looking at how people are actually using GOV.UK content, and show them how to use data to prove that their work is improving the user experience.
There are hundreds of people in agencies and departments who publish content to GOV.UK, and they all need to know how to find user needs and ensure that their content is meeting them.
We’re developing a culture where changes to GOV.UK are informed by user data, and monitored to determine whether the user experience improves. So, instead of cyclical, internally driven arguments about what and how to publish - which can result in poor content - we can work from hard evidence and prove the results with clear success measurements.
For example, we recently measured the effect of the new organisation template, and this graph shows how searches for ‘widows pension’ dropped when one of our content designers included this term on the relevant pages:
To start with, our analysis doesn’t require data at all. We search for the topic we’re writing about in Google to see what already exists. Then we search or navigate around GOV.UK with our need in mind to think about how people might be using our content. Once you’ve got a theory about how people are using your content, it’s easy to use data to confirm or challenge assumptions. This approach allows you to understand the actual needs of the user instead of being forced to publish blind.
The workshops cover how to use both Google and GOV.UK search data to find out about user needs. We also set everyone up with a dashboard for their content that reveals how people search for it in Google, top pages, and what they don’t find and have to search for on GOV.UK. We set attendees up with an email alert that acts as a weekly nudge - the aggregate voice of the user coming into their inbox to say ‘’Oi, this is what I need’’ in the form of search terms and top pages.
One of the perceptions about analytics that we most wanted to change was that data is really difficult to use effectively. There are some tricky access and login tasks, but once these are completed people generally find insights about their users easily.
For example, Neelam Hussain from the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) team found that people were searching for ‘qts’ (Qualified Teacher Status) on GOV.UK because they weren’t finding it. By featuring this on the NCTL home page, she was able to give people what they were looking for, which she proved with an increase in traffic and a decrease in searches. Brij Thakrar, our resident trainer plays a big part in making the data simple, meaningful and friendly, which was no small task given the short amount of time he had to become the answerer of a million questions about content analytics.
We want content designers across government to make quick analytics checks to inform their day-to-day work. Analytics will soon be a common language used in web teams across government to remove some of the time and effort needed to debate what users actually need by providing proof instead of relying on opinion.
We've now included SEO and analytics in our three day 'Learning content design for GOV.UK’ training course. If you’re in a government department or agency you can sign up for this course here.