Better content through analytics

At this week’s London Agile Content Meetup, Lana Gibson of the Government Digital Service (GDS) outlined how they use Google Analytics extensively to check and improve the user journey on the GOV.UK website. She said GDS treats this analytical data as the voice of their users – with GDS needing to interpret it and provide what we, as UK citizens, need.

Lana said they need to see what content is getting the most traffic, so that they can ensure that the most popular content is of top quality, and is prioritised within the site.

One of the key actions analytics have enabled them to do is improve the connections between different but related needs that were already on GOV.UK. She showed the example of the page views to the “Make a SORN” page. The number of views increased by 70,000 in a month due to them simply adding a link to this page from the car tax related links section. Previously, SORN information wasn’t mentioned on the car tax page.

She also said they treat searches on the GOV.UK website itself as an indication that users haven’t found what they’re looking for first time. As an example, she said by looking at search terms she discovered lots of people were searching for information about taking rest breaks at work, and that they’d omitted that from the page about an employee’s contract and working hours.

Another example she gave was they’d found, on many of the pages about passports, people were searching for “second passport”. This was by people wanting to apply for a second passport. GDS has identified this as a topic that should be added to the site.

Lana said they also optimise the pages based on the language their audience is using. They found having the most important keywords in the title or first sentence helped people find information quickly. GDS uses analytics, Google Trends and Google AdWords to help them understand what terminology people use. For example, she said they found out their page on annual leave needed a better title: users were actually searching for “holiday entitlement”.

Finally, she said they also use the data to determine what to leave out. If a department wants to add new content to the site, they can use analytics to help assess if there’s actually a need for this content.

Lana’s presentation has been summarised in two excellent blog posts on the GDS website. They are well worth reading:

Is your Technical Author a “Quant” or a “Pundit”?

The US Presidential elections have just ended, and the big winners were the “Quants” – the statisticians such as Nate Silver, who used statistical models of big data sets to accurately predict the electoral college vote results. In competition with the Quants were the “Pundits”. These were the commentators on politics, some of whom said they were using gut feel to make their predictions. Pretty much all of the Pundits failed to predict the results accurately.

It is our experience that there is a similar difference between different Technical Publications teams.

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Case Study: User Documentation at Red Gate Software

Our latest interview is between Ellis Pratt of Cherryleaf and Rachel Potts of Red Gate Software, concerning user assistance and documentation at Red Gate Software.

We discussed working in an Agile environment, providing a single support centre for all user information and how Web Analytics can help improve user documentation.

This is the full interview, and it lasts 30 minutes.

Part 1:

Link to Part 2

Link to Part 3

Link to Part 4

This interview will form part of Cherryleaf’s Learning Zone for technical writers. The Learning Zone has been our “skunkworks” project for 2010, which we’ve been mentioning for a while now.  All the initial content has been uploaded and reviewed, and we have additional content ready to be added. We’ve a few things to sort out before we can go live: User feedback/pre-release review (we’re looking for volunteers) and some shopping cart and folder security protection tasks.