A Content and User Experience Strategy for local government

Updating my original content strategy first written in 2013. Still a work in progress, still subject to change and additions

The Content Onion

In structuring the content of service pages, the page's purpose and intended outcome must come to the fore – so for example, returning to the example of the school term dates page, consider again what the user need might be. Finding out what the dates of the school terms are for the current and forthcoming academic years are the obvious purposes of the page, but think more closely – is there a high chance that most people coming to that page have come in order to find out the dates of the next school holiday or half term break? Any page on the site to justify its existence will by definition have a fair amount of content on it, but in considering what the most important to the customer or mostly likely nugget of information might be, put that information at the top of the page clearly visible. If the website visitor is interested in the detail of the page they’ll go on to read it anyway – if they’re not interested in that detail, then they’ll likely not bother anyway and just be cross with you for confusing them or wasting their time. The author of the page then needs to structure the text according to a content template: 

  1. The key fact – captured in a single sentence, what is the single most important fact this page has been created to convey – bus lane enforcement is now active in the city centre
  2. The summary – one or two paragraphs expanding on that fact – the reason bus lanes exist at all, how much getting caught contravening in an enforcement zone will cost, and the fact that the enforcement area will be expanded over time
  3. The call to action – a prominent link inviting the user to do the most appropriate thing as a result of arriving on this page – pay or challenge your bus lane fine
  4. The main content – the substantial detail the visitor to the page has come to find out; details of the fact of the policy to carry out enforcement being one which be being gradually expanded around the city, guidance on how to recognise bus-only areas and a note that difference precise restrictions apply in different places (so a reminder to be careful to look at the signs), a reminder that it is drivers’ responsibility to make sure they’re not about to drive into a bus lane, information about how enforcement is happening, and links to further information. 
  5. Further information – background detail on the underlying policy behind the implementation of enforcement, benefits to the council and to the citizen expected to result from the policy, and other additional details about bus lanes and their enforcement. 

Aspects 1-4 above belong together on the same page, in that order; content fitting into point 5 belongs on a separate page, or a series of separate pages – and indeed those pages themselves if possible should in turn themselves structured according to that principle of progressively revealing more detail on the page. 

The templating for the web Content Management System should be such that it's easy to follow this structure in a consistent way.

Content for a page should not be shoe-horned inappropriately into this structure; the structure is most appropriate for service pages which will be accompanied by a form. For example some content may not have an obvious call to action arising from it, or other content may not have a single important key fact or be appropriately summarised in one or two paragraphs – but when preparing content for the site always use this structure as a starting point, and be prepared to be challenged where it doesn’t follow it. 

This may seem an obvious statement, but there should neither be too little nor too much content on the page for the audience and intended outcome; the average reader should feel like they have gained information from visiting the page, whilst at the same time the page should not contain so much information that they just run away immediately . 

The philosophy underpinning the above structural principle is a form of progressive enhancement, and is tied into to a mobile first strategy.