Thursday 16 May 2013

Defining 'web-ready' content

The green light.
Photo by lovesonic on flickr,
and used under creative commons
You should not - cannot - blindly accept every request to publish. Web teams act as guardians and gatekeepers to ensure only high quality content that makes sense in the broader organisational context is published online.

For me, ‘web-ready’ means:   
  • If there are PR implications to publication of this information, it has been cleared with the relevant communications or press office lead, and appropriate arrangements for post-publication publicity have been made.
  • The website is the most appropriate place for this to be published (rather than, say, the intranet,  or a newsletter).
  • The content is yours to publish. Who wrote it, and who owns the copyright? Is it already available on another site you can link to? And if yours is an official website, such as that of a government organisation, an additional factor might be whether your organisation or department is obliged to publish this information. If not, why are you publishing it?
  • Any technical content (clinical or scientific, for example) has already been checked by the appropriate expert or authority.
  • Written to house style, with correct spelling, punctuation and grammar.
  • If it is a publication or designed document, it conforms to branding policies, and ‘gateway’ requirements if your organisation has them (a series of checks performed by your publications or communications team, that may result in the issuing of a unique code or publication number).
  • If it is a webpage, a suitable page template has been followed and a location for the content has been identified in the website structure.
  • The content is accessible – for example, all images have appropriate alt text.
  • Any supporting information, such as author details for metadata fields, has been supplied.
  • There is a plan in place for keeping the information reviewed and updated, where appropriate, and a contact for any queries that arise after publication.
These checks can become second nature over time, but every now and again it's worth reminding yourself - and the people supplying content - about what you should be checking for and why.

Saturday 11 May 2013

Who we are: who cares?

Paper jam (courtesy of nanny snowflake
and used under creative commons)
One of my colleagues, Mrs P, is currently campaigning against the ‘Who we are and what we do’ paragraph that seems to start every department’s intranet page.

We’ve got something similar on the website. It’s a waste of space because basically, most users don’t care about the history of the department, who was appointed when, or your strategy for waste disposal. That’s not how your service users are going to get their job done. And all that descriptive padding and self-congratulation just gets in the way of people finding the useful information.

Intranet navigation shouldn’t be department-based because, for example, not everyone knows instinctively that it is IT who fix networking issues with the photocopiers, but if you have run out of toner cartridges, you have to log a call with Facilities instead.

People shouldn’t need to know who to ask to get a job done.

It’s even more important on a public website. How is a member of the public going to know that they’ll find information about their asthma clinic under the Specialist Medicine department’s page?

In theory, no matter how the navigation is structured, you’d hope that search would help. If you search ‘photocopier’ or ‘asthma’, you’d expect to find your answer.

But often departments are so busy describing themselves in important-sounding management jargon, that the simple keywords for their services are missing entirely. Or they are hidden on the fourteenth sheet of a gaudily-designed and poorly-constructed Excel document named ‘Useful Information v2.0’, where they are mentioned in a couple of FAQs.

So Mrs P and her team are re-focusing the intranet content around Services (things people can help you do) and Tools (things you can do for yourself), and keeping department information down to a minimum.

Please look for this ego-fluffing guff on your website or intranet, and consider whether it adds any real value for your users. If not, it’s most satisfying to hit delete... and wait to see if anyone actually notices.