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What should you put on a government corporate website?

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We're about to simplify the content we provide via the Department of Health corporate website.

Possible navigation for a simplified corporate website
Navigation bar for a simplified corporate website

The website won't look that different once we've done it.  But we will have made some pretty big changes to the way we generate and manage our corporate content. And in the process, we will make our content offer much simpler.

This isn't a redesign project, or big IT project - we'll just be making better use of what we already have.

Our starting point is a very big and quite complicated corporate website. It's the legacy of gradual evolution, and years and years of publishing. The site gets a decent slice of traffic (15m visits last year), and we know that we're publishing valuable stuff that people need. But it's inefficient to manage, and the levels of user satisfaction are too low. I think it could be simpler. Fewer, more satisfied, visitors to our corporate pages will probably indicate that we're doing a better job of reaching and influencing our target audiences with our content.

When you start to look at what the corporate site actually does, you quickly realise that it doesn't need to be big, and it doesn't need to be complicated. The corporate website should do a straightforward job - providing information, over time, with methods of distributing it in ways that suit our users. It doesn't provide any transactional services, and we usually do our digital engagement elsewhere.

We've narrowed down the content we need to provide on our corporate pages to 4 things:

  • About: some basic content describing the work of the Department.
  • News: date-stamped news stories, organised by theme, delivering primary source messages about the work of the Department, supported by press notices, speeches and statements, and with links to related content.
  • Publications: date-stamped summaries of official publications with links to the full documents to download.
  • Policy: really just an alternative way to present news stories and publications, but grouped together by policy theme (the NHS, public health and social care at the top level)

That's it. Everything we can think of that we might want to publish on our corporate pages could be one of these 4 things.

Of course, our wider web presence does need to do more than this. We need to publish bulletins, manage communities, host blogs, and run listening exercises. But we can do these things elsewhere, keeping our corporate pages for things you'd expect to find on a corporate website, and doing it better.

When we need to do something particular, like Winterwatch or the NHS listening exercise, then the corporate website probably isn't the best place to do it. So we're finding better ways to do it, outside the narrow parameters of our corporate pages. Sometimes this will still be within the official DH web presence, but sometimes it won't be.

In simplifying the website, we will also be tidying up and clearing out. We'll be turning a site that currently acts as a big repository of stuff, into more of a showcase for our current work. If we do it well, we'll create extra capacity to put more of our digital effort into the things that matter most to the Department. And it should take us closer to some of the thinking around digital by default and the single website for government. We'll be removing complexity, working more efficiently, and putting the end user at the centre of every decision we take about our digital content.

The corporate bit of a web presence is often the least sexy bit. And I've probably been guilty in the past of neglecting it in favour of more interesting engagement activity. But we know that lots of people come to our website to get the stuff they need to get; to download a publication or read the latest press release, so we need to get it right. Simplifying the content offer should enable us to spend more time on the sexy bits, confident in the knowledge that the corporate bits are giving our users what they need.

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  1. Comment by Julia Chandler posted on

    Very interesting Stephen, and not a million miles from work we are doing to streamline and simplify the navigation on the DFID site. One question though, where in your new headings would you put data files - you know the slightly random set of material we now publish around spend, salaries, energy use etc? Do you count these as publications, or would you have the material as a part of the "about" section?

    • Replies to Julia Chandler>

      Comment by Stephen Hale posted on

      Good question - they could be news stories or publications. Either way, we can aggregate similar content on a "transparency" landing page, which we can promote form our about section. 

  2. Comment by Pmarkham posted on

    Hi Stephen, that's a very interesting bit of work. Did you face any difficulty internally when proposing to reduce the site content - for instance with content owners?

  3. Comment by Andrew Stein posted on

    The current and proposed websites provide no useful information for most of the public. They are written by people like us for people like us. Im an NHS cons and work for a CCG. The people need a medical tripadviser type thing so they can find out if I am any good. Biy job? Maybe but possible. Andy