Drinking From the Firehose of Government Information

They say, “Content is King.” And when you start working with government entities you realize that they are the Royalty of producing content. In some sense it is the nature of the beast – they have a lot to share and a lot of constituents. Faced with this reality it is even more essential to keep in mind best practices, especially when it comes to providing information on websites. Here are some principles we follow when developing content for the web.

Cut. Then cut again. And then cut one more time.
It seems that it is all too easy to add content when writing for the web. In some sense, you want to be complete and tell the audience everything you know about a topic. Because you know it all, it does not mean “they” need to know it all. And the other challenge is adding “bonus” words. These are the things we look to do first when slimming down content: Use simple sentences. Provide clear instruction. Remove bonus words.

Adopt a user-centered mindset.
One of the toughest challenges is thinking about what the users want. This can be solved by identifying your key audiences and their journeys (a topic covered in another blog post). Aside from not conducting user research, one of the biggest pitfalls people encounter when developing website content, is asking their colleagues what they would want on the site. This may be challenging to say, but most of the time, people want to add content. The oft refrain to the question is, “have you thought about this…” or “you might want to let them know that…”. This is human nature, people want to help, and adding suggestions is helpful. No one wants to spend the time to cut content (and cut again).

Chunk content to keep it simple.
One of the biggest challenges is thinking about grouping content or developing a simplified content architecture. It seems when it comes to the web – everyone wants everything to be on the front page (except for Google). Part of organizing and chunking content is an understanding of what your users are looking to do while on your site. The other part is having the discipline to avoid complexity – or, as we like to say, “valuing simplicity.” And understanding the reason why people are coming to your site, and the task they want to complete, is key to this. It requires you to temper the things you want to tell them and to focus on what they need so they have what they need to accomplish their task.

In the end, the reality is, people are time-starved, and no one reads everything on a website (or a blog post, if you are still with me). Shorter and simpler is always better. And the other reality is that it takes more time to keep things short and simple.



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