Content Strategy + Planning for Government An Interview with Peter Lee, Creative Director of GeorgiaGov
Can the government do content strategy right? If Peter Lee's efforts are any indication, the answer is a resounding "yes." Peter helmed the recent relaunch of GeorgiaGov, a state government portal that many people visit. Each month, the website gets about 1.3 million page views . This relaunch covered every kind of "re" you can imagine—replatform, redesign, and reimagine content. That relaunch is also garnering accolades, such as a special innovation award from Center for Digital Government.
Peter kindly took some time to talk with me about his approach to content strategy.
Before this relaunch, you and your team were not responsible for content on GeorgiaGov. Could you tell us why you decided to take control of content?
The old GeorgiaGov simply linked to other state agency websites—kind of like the old Yahoo directory approach—and a lot of people couldn’t find the information they needed. We wanted to make search an integral part of the site, but we didn’t have any control over the content on other agency sites. To have influence over search results and create a better user experience, we had to have all the content within our content management system so we could control keywords, synonyms, and other important criteria.
Your content strategy focused heavily on important topics and a blog. Could you tell us more about the thinking behind your approach?
Popular topics was an idea based on the old "80-20" rule—try to meet 80% of our users’ needs with 20% of the content. A lot of our users come to GeorgiaGov looking for the same information—child support, jobs, Medicaid. So we came up with the idea of presenting each of these topics in the same format, and all on one page: what people need to know, frequently asked questions, associated services and agencies, and contact information. (See screenshot below.)
The blog’s purpose is twofold: To keep citizens informed of what’s happening in state government with some dynamic content on the front page, and to create content that will be searchable later. We try to focus on services that people might not know about and put important events and announcements in context.
That's a smart way to provide content people want AND interest them in content they need. Let's talk about planning behind the scenes. How did you convince stakeholders to give up some control?
Most stakeholders were more than happy to help us with the content. Each popular topic has several links back to their website, which helps with their search engine rankings and traffic, and ultimately, we all want constituents to get the information quickly without having to pick up the phone and call someone.
Ah, yes. A win-win situation. You also made some changes to tools and technology behind the scenes. Could you tell us about those changes?
Actually, the change in content management systems happened first, before our content strategy and design. Changing the CMS gave us a good opportunity to redesign GeorgiaGov by allowing us to do more with the site. We had been with Vignette (now OpenText) for about 10 years and had unsuccessfully tried to upgrade that product twice. We were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in development costs, licensing and hosting. By moving to Drupal, an open-source content management system, we were able to get a more robust, stable CMS at a fraction of the cost (We estimate saving about $5 million over the next five years.)
We also changed analytics tools. We had been using Adobe’s SiteCatalyst for several years—again with licensing and development costs in the six figures—but switched to Google Analytics, which gave us what we needed for free.
As a taxpayer, I love hearing that GeorgiaGov used public funds so wisely. Besides cost savings and awards, what other positive results are you seeing?
Our search results use find as you type (see screenshot below) in which users can get popular topics while they enter search terms.
Initial stats are showing that the feature has diverted a lot of traffic away from our search results, which means that they’re finding what they need before they even hit the Search button.
GeorgiaGov also is designed responsively, which means the layout of the site changes based on what device you’re using. We host about 50 other state agency websites on Drupal, and several have already expressed interest in having their themes become responsive, so we have plenty of work to do. Drupal, of course, is so much easier to use. We’re working with several other state agencies to build their websites in Drupal.
Well, congratulations on starting a trend to make state government content easier to find, use, and understand. I hope it doesn't stop anytime soon.
Now, let's look at what you can take away from Peter's experience.
If you think you face too many obstacles to develop and implement content strategy, think about GeorgiaGov.
- Explain the benefits to your many content stakeholders.
- Consider whether you can save costs by changing your tools and technology.
- Provide the content you already know people want and promote the content they might need.
- Organize and structure the content so it's easy for people to consume and easy for your technology to use in advanced features.
When you apply these lessons to your website and your stakeholders see the results, don't be surprised if they beg you for more.