Presented as part of the GTA Technology Summit 2017. This presentation is meant for leadership across all levels of government, and will focus on the strategic efforts agency leaders should be working towards as you think about your digital transformation efforts.
Thank you for joining me today to talk about the business case for content strategy within your organization. This presentation is meant for leadership across all levels of government, and will focus on the strategic efforts agency leaders should be working towards as you think about your digital transformation efforts.
Before I get started, let me introduce myself. My name is Kendra, and I work with the GeorgiaGov Interactive team at GTA, as the Director of Product. A title like that isn’t common in state government, so let me tell you what I mean by that. As Director of Product, I manage the roadmap for our enterprise web software. That means I keep the pulse of the whole system, plan maintenance, enhancements, training and support, etc.
More importantly, it means making sure the content management system we provide meets the needs of our agencies and their constituents. We just build the containers that display the content - the information - that each agency puts into it.
I’ve been working with this software - and with all the agencies who use it - for many years, in many different roles, so I’ve had the opportunity to get a pretty good view of agency needs, challenges, and priorities.
Speaking of priorities, what I’ve seen is that for most of you, your web content is NOT a top priority.
But as you talk through your goals, your mission, and your priorities, these are some of the recurring themes I see:
Provide services for residents Provide services for other agencies Improve public reputation about your agency / government Improve public sentiment about your commissioner / leader Reduce call volumes / save money
Each of these is more strongly tied to your web presence than you may realize - and it’s based on whether or not the information online is presented in a way that your audience can find it and understand it. When you don’t prioritize quality and accuracy in the information you put online, you’re sending a message that you don’t prioritize the very people you’re supposed to serve.
Now, if you discovered that you had gaps in your security, I know you would drop everything to fix it, before it makes the 6 o’clock news.
But your digital presence - that is, the information you push out to the world across your website, services, call centers, and social media - can make or break you, too. It’s the difference between serving your audience with the right services and information the first time, or sending them mixed signals and confusing answers because your channels aren’t managed.
It may not get the attention that a security breach does, but that doesn’t make it less important. A poorly managed information system is more of a slow, silent killer of your image.
Now, to take control of your agency’s image,
You need to have a consistent message. To have a consistent message, you need to meet your audience where they are.
You have to take control of your web content.
If the information on your website is poorly organized, poorly written, or out of date, your organization will still experience high call volume, visits to your offices, or - even worse - misinformed constituents.
If your channels each have different versions of the same information - if the call center, website, and social media managers are all reading from different scripts and providing conflicting information to constituents, you’re reflecting the disorganized interior of your agency out to the public.
I’m going to refer to your website a lot today, because today that’s still the main location where you can organize and present your key information.
But over time that digital ecosystem will only grow, and we will be focussing on a way to store that information in one place well, so you can distribute it across multiple channels in your ecosystem. Nikhil talked about this in more detail this morning. But if you don’t get a handle on the state of your web content now, it will be harder to mature that ecosystem over time.
So how do we take control of that information?
Today I’m going to focus on the more concrete steps towards building a mature ecosystem of information - how to prioritize your content strategy, and what we’re doing at GeorgiaGov interactive to actively help you toward that goal.
From where I sit, the steps towards this part of your digital transformation are: (review bullets)
The Department of Revenue started prioritizing their content using this approach about six months ago. So as we go, I’ll also tell you how that’s working out so far for them.
So first, I want to take a moment to paint the picture of where DOR was before making this strategic shift.
Way back, about two and a half years ago, the agency moved away from it’s old, legacy website, onto our GeorgiaGov platform. They needed to move quickly, so we worked with them to move all their content over basically as-is from the old website.
The IT Dept was the business owner – they had to make all the content changes before the move to our CMS. But we trained about 60 content managers from across the agency, so each department could maintain their own content.
By migrating to our platform, they quickly benefited from modern technology, (modern design, mobile friendly layouts, advanced search capabilities) and the ability to let non-technical people own their content - but because they didn’t update any of the content in the process, they were still serving constituents the same outdated information they had before.
DOR hired a Content Manager to help maintain the website as an IT support resource. But while she worked to educate the groups on best practices, she was not empowered to make any strategic changes across the site.
So with each siloed group taking care of their own content, and no one group really talking to another, the website became a bit of a free-for-all.
And with that “before” story of the DOR structure, let’s jump into the steps they took - and your agency can take …
To take control of their information. Ok, now know the information on our websites is key to informing our audience and meeting our goals.
That information needs to be accurate, it needs to be written in a way that people can understand it, and it needs to be easy to find.
If you want to reduce support center call volume, or improve your agency’s image with your audience, you need to put key constituent services front and center online, and remove the focus on internal structures.
There needs to be a priority placed on removing out-dated information from your site, and making sure current information is written in a way that’s easy to understand.
None of this will happen on its own. The strategic vision to make web content a priority needs to come from the top.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from years of talking to content managers, it’s that unless they have support and direction from their C-suite, they are hamstrung in their efforts to do their jobs well.
Once this approach is a stated priority, you can put structures in place to make it happen.
At the Department of Revenue, the catalyst to this change came because the commissioner couldn’t find information on their website. That’s when they realized that they needed to rethink how they treated their website if they wanted to see improvement.
The next step is making sure you’ve tasked the right people with seeing this vision through. We know the information on our websites is key to informing our audience and meeting our goals.
In your agency, who is in charge of maintaining that information? In other words:
Who have you put in charge of your agency’s image?
Ultimately, wherever your website lies in your hierarchy of priorities and organizational structure will determine whether or not you meet your goals.
In many agencies, it’s your: IT Department Administrative assistants Short term contractors Decentralized (some people within each department update their own)
Each of these has its own challenges - often an overworked administrative assistant is trying to update web pages based on other employees’ emailed instructions, in addition to all their other duties. They have no time to review or think through the strategy. In other agencies, it’s the IT department (who are more focused on the technology) who are also tasked with taking orders within the agency to update content. Again, they do this without a focus on strategy and long term maintenance. Even worse is a decentralized strategy where each department is responsible for maintaining their content in addition to their “regular jobs,” with no central content manager reviewing and approving content.
While each of these groups may be able to add value and insight to your website, very rarely are they able to focus on providing the real value your site needs. So they shouldn’t strategically own that task.
If no one is maintaining a central content strategy, based on data, and if no one has authority to make real decisions on how to improve your content strategy - your agency’s image - then your image will be disorganized, confusing, misinformed.
It’s how you end up with a camel when your audience is looking for a horse.
So this is key. Tasking someone to update your website because they are under allocated or because they’re “good with computers” probably will not get you the strategy and care you are looking for.
You are more likely to find the necessary skills within the Communications department or somewhere similar. Wherever you’re setting that central messaging.
This is also where you will want to centralize content ownership and maintenance - with the team who knows how to set the tone.
The Department of Revenue had someone in their IT department who was skilled at content strategy, but as I mentioned earlier, she was labeled as a website support contractor. In her position, she couldn’t make the changes needed, simply because of her placement and the perception of someone from IT making suggestions to other departments. So they moved the person with the skills they needed into a position where she could be more effective. At DOR, this under the Office of the Commissioner, reporting directly to the Deputy Commissioner.
This structure change signified their strategic direction. It signified its importance and alignment with the direction of the agency.
Now, even within your Communications department, you may find that you don’t have anyone right now who has enough time to focus on cleaning and pruning your content, or this isn’t their area of expertise. That’s okay, too. We’re can’t all be experts at everything.
If you don’t have someone - or a couple of people - who you can really trust with your image, hire someone.
You are looking for someone who can focus on content strategy - who can whip your web presence into shape, and then keep it in shape with regular content audits and an editorial calendar. Whether this means hiring new blood or reallocating existing talent depends on what you have and how much you can redirect existing resources, but don’t rule out either option until you’ve surveyed the landscape.
Now, especially if you’re reallocating existing resources, your next step is crucial.
You need to make sure they’re trained in content strategy.
You need someone who can think about the big picture of the life of your information, and base that strategy on data. This skillset isn’t common within state government, so this will probably require some of training.
A big reason for this is that the old model of building individual web pages and ranking success by pageviews is becoming outdated.
Google can provide answers without ever leaving the search engine, providing feature-rich search results based on the markup on chunks of information. But only if you craft content it can use.
Not every search result provides feature-rich answers. That depends on how you manage your canonical information.
Facebook, twitter, call centers, chatbots. Conversational interfaces that grab the information and skip the screen altogether - none of these need a page, they need chunks of well-labeled information.
And particularly in government - our goal is to get constituents the services they need so they can be on their way.
We’re not trying to sell advertising space on a web page, where time on site or pageviews equals dollars.
As long as we’re getting the right information out there quickly and efficiently, and we keep it current, we’ll have succeeded.
Looking ahead, we want to build towards having a single source of truth for each type of information you have, that all your channels can pull from.
Curated, labeled, well written, well managed. Let me show you what I mean.
So no matter where you or your audience goes, they get the right information the first time.
Their experience with your agency is seemless, and by extension, their experience with Georgia government is positive.
But again, we have to start by tuning and crafting what we have for our audiences. Doing all of this requires skills in content strategy.
So don’t throw your team in blindly. Be sure they’re armed with an understanding of the best practices in how to do the work. They should be able to review your analytics and make decisions based on that data - and you should be able to trust them to make the right decisions based on that data.
They should understand how word choices and tone impact user behavior, and how to tune metadata and structured content to extend the life and reach of your key information. To future-proof it.
This is a lot - and not everyone is skilled at all of these at once. Some people have skillsets that are more honed to just a couple of them, and others will be able to learn all these skills, but maybe only understand half of them starting out. That’s where training comes in.
There are many great books, websites, and online training classes focused on the elements of content strategy. But it can still be hard to know where to start.
And that’s where we can help with some tangible, hands-on training.
Our team has developed a free certification series of classes to train up your resources on the skills they need to be strategic thinkers when it comes to a holistic content strategy.
Like I mentioned earlier, the tools we offer are just containers for your information – if we can help build up all our partners, we can do more to extend those services.
Across the course series, the goal is to help content managers understand the big picture of web content, and how all the pieces come together.
They look at data and talk to departments to understand and craft personas of the groups they serve, Learn how to map a customer’s journey through your different touch-points, Practice re-writing content for the web, Dig into their analytics data to see where people are and what they’re looking for, Make their content accessible for all audiences, And perform content audits and clean-ups.
We had our first class graduate this spring, and we’ve already seen how that training has helped these content managers think more strategically about the information they’re putting online. Our next session is already booked from our waitlist for the first, so we plan to offer sessions more often in the coming months to be able to serve more agencies.
These trainings are a first step - content strategy still takes time to master - which is why we offer continuing content strategy support and consultation services to our agencies as well.
We also blog regularly about content strategy topics as a way to keep the concepts fresh in the minds of our agency partners.
So once you’ve hired or trained people you trust to lead your content strategy efforts, you have to empower them to do their job well.
The people you assign to clean up and prioritize your web content will need to devote a significant amount of time to the task at the outset, when the heavy lifting is being done. Even once the first round of cleanup is complete, those resources will need dedicated time regularly for maintenance and content validation. This is where direction from the top is critical - the only way your resources can prioritize content is if their managers make the space for them within their schedules.
The Department of Revenue empowered their content strategist by placing her in a division that reports directly to the Deputy Commissioner. Along with setting that priority, they provide her with the analytics, testing tools, and call center data she needs to make smart, data-driven decisions.
Content strategy is her primary job, so she can focus on tuning pages based on the data, and follow the results.
And to be clear, part of empowering them to do their job well is in empowering them to make content decisions. There may also be internal power struggles around the placement of information on your website, and this is where your content team needs to be able to make the final call on how the information is best presented, based on data, based on usability testing within the industry, and based on their training. Otherwise, you’re right back where you started with competing agendas playing out on your homepage.
At the Department of Revenue, the content strategist works with all the other divisions to help them with their content. When she finds one department that’s more cooperative than another, she can test ideas with that one group, and use the successes there to help nudge other divisions in the right direction.
Ultimately, if every content decision still has to be run by a committee that’s thinking politically instead of being data and user-focused, your information ecosystem won’t mature. Not only that, but if your content strategist aren’t empowered to make content strategy decisions, they won’t keep trying for long.
To do this well, you need a content strategist that you trust to make decisions about your image, and ...
You trust them to even tell leadership when a content suggestion is a bad idea.
So the Dept of Revenue has been moving in this direction for 6 months. How’s that working out for them?
I love DOR as a case study because they’re really relying on numbers to show results - it’s not all guesswork. They have multiple call centers, so they went into this with a goal of decreasing the number of calls to call centers. The assumption is that many people will start by looking for something online - they’d rather not call and wait on hold if they can get their question answers on the website. So if they can clean up some content, re-write some answers, and reduce call volume, that’s a huge win - and a huge cost savings.
As we dig into the Google Analytics to compare traffic from this year to the same period the previous year… We see that overall, they saw an increase in pageviews of over half a million more views this last six months, than they did the year prior.
While some divisions saw a decrease in total pageviews, the Motor Vehicles department - where DOR has been working their content strategy - saw a 8% increase for their landing page..
But even when we’re talking about 500,000 more pageviews, when you have millions of visits a month, that doesn’t look like much on a graph.
And analytics alone aren’t always telling - it’s hard to know what would account for a change. Maybe the population has just grown.
It’s hard to know what more visits means for informational and service-driven government websites. What if there are more pageviews because the information isn’t clear, and people are going to more pages searching for it? Do we even know if they found what they needed? So pageviews don’t necessarily translate to success.
That’s where we go back to the question - what’s their goal? What are we trying to achieve by tuning our data?
The goal was to decrease call volume, not necessarily to increase traffic. Less calls translates to real dollar savings.
So far, the Motor Vehicle call center has seen results.
Overall, the call center has seen a gradual decline in call volume since DOR started rewriting and fine tuning their content within the Motor Vehicle division.
They went from an average of over 2,500 calls a week in October, to closer to 2,000 calls a week in February.
That dip is more pronounced when you see how many less calls they’re getting about general topics - questions that are easily answered with a well written web page, or by strategically pointing customers who get a letter in the mail over to the website for more details.
They’re getting about HALF AS MANY general inquiry calls as they were before the their content strategy push.
In another more targeted example, they added a new page to tell people what they need to do to change their address on their car title...
...and calls about that dropped to next to nothing.
So they’re researching what people are searching for and calling about, and tuning their website in response.
They’re seeing a drop in calls, and it’s clear they’re eliminating confusion with taxpayers.
The thing they haven’t tested, but can hypothesize, is that if this information is available easily online, they’re also reducing a stressor for these taxpayers - and by extension, slowly improving the agency’s image in the process.
Over time I only expect their successes to grow in this area. We’re also excited to see how we can partner with DOR in other ways to improve their overall results over time, knowing they have that mature content support they need to get it done. I suspect they’ll be one of the first to be ready to join our conversational interface pilot, for one thing.
So who’s next?
Enough talk - actions speak louder than words. It’s time to make web content part of your agency’s vision and strategy, too. - not an afterthought.
Putting our Best Face Forward - The Business Case for Content Strategy
Putting Our Best Face Forward
The Business Case for Content Strategy
Director of Product
GeorgiaGov Interactive, GTA
4 Steps to Future-Proof Your Content
1. Add content management to your strategic vision
2. Ensure the right people are on the job.
3. Educate them on what’s needed.
4. Empower them to do their job well.
Department of Revenue
Content strategy skills your agency needs:
✔ Crafting your agency’s voice & tone
✔ Writing in plain-language
✔ Writing keywords, SEO-friendly titles, structured
✔ Ensuring information is up-to-date
✔ Tuning content based on analytics
Content Strategist Certification Program
Content Strategy Certification
● Develop Personas
● Map the Customer’s Journey
● Write for the Web
● Analyze Analytics
● Create Accessible Content
● Perform Content Audits
Content Strategy Certification - First Class!