I recently published a website at work and a month or two later checked in to see how it was going. Comparing the analytics to the same time last year was very pleasing. Visits to the main page, and some others, had quadrupled, and visits to other pages were up by a healthy amount as well.
So what changed to get these results?
Without going into specifics the website was for particular cohort of external visitors wanting to find information about studying. The main downfall of the previous website was that to get to it you had to click on the link to the office that managed the applications, not the task of what people wanted to do, or what they might be searching for.
Therefore it wasn’t immediately obvious to users as they browsed from the homepage, and they were missing out on natural search engine results as well.
Also, because the information that the users might be looking for was within this Office’s website, it was a bit buried.
In addition, once you got there it wasn’t really clear what the process was a future student might need to undertake to find a study area, see if they were eligible, and how to apply.
To kick things off with this group, we got together and I presented an issues and suggestions document. I described the issues as I’d found them, and researched, and offered solutions to make it more user-friendly and easier to navigate.
I then got the okay to create a new draft website, and after a few revisions, got content sign-off. That all makes it sound easier and quicker than it was. I was expecting some pushback but everyone thought that what I suggested made sense.
For the website itself, I created a completely new site in a draft area on the web server. That way it’s much easier for stakeholders to visualise how the information architecture has changed. I had to answer some questions of how the new navigation to get to this website would work, and what links would change on the website of the Office concerned and did that via screengrabs and text updates in Word.
It’s a common theme for when I’m doing web updates for many groups that there is still a sense that web content is structured around an organisational structure because that’s how we see ourselves as employees within an organisation. We often want to make our department have a profile, and use the name of that department whenever possible. This is rife in government organisations too.
It’s not just me who experiences this. My mentor (although he doesn’t know it), Paul Boag, talks and writes about this a lot. One of his latest posts talks about The Guardian newspaper updating their website and says that your organisation has to adapt to the user. So true.
As I say to colleagues that don’t quite get it yet. Think about if you’re new to an organisation. Do you know the internal organisational structure? Will you know to search for a department’s name to find the information you want, or will you search for the topic you want?
The stats prove it. The web stats I produced after my web update prove that focusing on the user is working. It would be good to see if that translates into more applications for study, but that’s another thing.