Whether it’s a large state agency or a small town, all should practice good content governance on their websites.
Do any of these situations sound familiar?
It takes a long time to put new content on your site because of the many stakeholders and approvals it must go through.
Your homepage is cluttered because there isn’t a process for saying, “No, that content doesn’t belong there.”
You have a huge website and struggle to understand how the various parts are connected.
The website is a “side job” for a lot of people.
There are inconsistencies in tone and voice across the site.
When a need arises for the website, it isn’t clear how to move forward.
You have to use bland, stock images because you aren’t sure who might be upset by your choices.
There isn’t a concrete, defined process for generating, approving, and archiving content.
Your agency’s website can be your most powerful communication tool. But for far too many government programs, the website is a complex, confusing endeavor. And it all comes back to a single problem: a lack of a content governance process.
Content governance is a framework for creating and publishing content on your website, though it often carries over to all communications as well. It helps the organization understand how to establish the quality of content and make decisions about its strategic value.
Your agency needs a unique content governance plan. Once you have a plan in place, you’ll be able to quickly and effectively boost your agency’s mission. You’ll know how and when to create content, who needs to approve it (and when), and how your website will be kept up-to-date and useful for years to come. You’ll reduce risk and improve readability.
Kristina Halvorson’s Content Strategy for the Web outlines four steps governments should follow when planning content governance: Substance, Structure, Workflow and Governance. At each step, decisions are documented and at the end there is a repeatable process.
First, you need a crystal-clear understanding of what your organization does and how you want to communicate it to the world. This means answering questions such as:
A content guideline statement might be something like:
“We want [our government agency] to be known for its plain language that is focused on the success of our audiences. We don’t want to be perceived as legalistic or catering to any particular audience but to the whole city/county/state.”
A “Do Say/Don’t Say” list will help you focus on the users of your site, avoid recurring issues, and reinforce the general principles you want staff to remember. For example, an agency focused on human and social services or education may have a list such as this:
“Mother and Father”
(when specifically describing the biological parents)
It shows the parents as two people with a common interest and making an equal contribution.
“Child and the adults who care about them”
(when describing the child’s home situation)
|We want to be sure to include the full range of adults who care for the child, not just the biological “Mother” and “Father.” It can also include Grandparents, Guardians, Counselors, etc.|
|“You”||Writing in the second person conveys a focus on service orientation.|
|“A child with autism”||It is an example of “People First” language. The child is primary and their condition is secondary.|
“Mom and Dad” or “Kid”
|Too informal. It moves away from the agency’s authoritative position. Use “Mother and Father” instead.
|“You must” unless discussing a strictly legal matter||We are not providing legal advice. Say “can” or “should” instead. This indicates options or a potential direction.|
|“A disabled and autistic child”||This places the condition over the child in importance. Instead, use “People First” language like “a child with autism.”|
|“Underemployed”||This sounds judgmental. Instead use phrases like “When your income doesn’t meet the needs of your family.”|
|“Fraud” as a synonym for “Scam”||“Fraud” and “Scam” are two separate concepts. Our agency deals with scams.|
On the “Don’t Say” list, it is helpful to give guidance on what you should say instead. Now it’s time to move on to the next step.
What types of content do you have online? This can be a difficult question to answer, but the best way to figure this out is to create a Content Audit:
A Content Audit is a simple spreadsheet with (at least) these column headings:
Next, walk through the main pages of your site and complete a row for each.
An audit is useful in countless ways. By the time you’re done, you’ll have a strong understanding of a large portion of your website, which pages are performing well, and which need to be edited or removed.
As a transition, review the audit and pull from it the “types” of content you have, including:
Make a note if there are types that need unique approval processes. This will prepare you to move to building a workflow.
This is all about how your agency’s content gets created, approved and published. In this step, you’ll identify your roles (content creator, content approver, content publisher, etc.).
Looking over the content audit and any “types” you’ve identified, you’ll determine:
At this point, you’re able to return to your Content Audit and add the content “owner” to the list. You could also add items like “This is legally required” or “Edits to this page need executive review.”
By the time you arrive at this final step, you’ll know a lot more about your organization. And now you’re ready to make final decisions about how content decisions are made.
For this step you’ll:
At this point, your agency will understand:
While Content Governance is never “done,” once you’ve walked through these initial steps, you’ll focus on maintaining the work you’ve done so far and adjusting to any new circumstances. And now you’ll have a strong foundation underlying your content.
Content Governance is a lot of work, but the payoffs are enormous. For your agency, it will mean a faster turnaround time for publishing new content, a more consistent agency message, and a lower risk of costly content issues. But the real payoff is for your users who will be able to better understand who you are, to learn something new, and to complete the tasks they want to complete when they visit your site.