Who is your Government web site for anyway?

Let me tell you a story about something that happened on Australia Day which summarized a couple of the issues I’ve found when working with Government and the web.

On Australia Day, I read several online articles about Australians who had been given gongs, in recognition of great work done for the community, industry or Australiankind. All positive stuff and heartwarming to read.

I then did what many people do when reading about the long list of Australians given awards … I wondered if any of them were people I knew or worked with. So I headed over to the Government web site which lists the awards.

And that’s where the issues started to raise their heads. (As an aside: this isn’t a direct criticism of the determined footsoldiers running this web site – they’re often guided by misdirection. What my experience did do was just highlight for me issues that I see in Government web sites again, and again, and again.)

I went to the web site – on Australia Day – to read the list, but it wasn’t there.  It was going to be added to the site ‘in the near future’.

Issue #1: your content needs to reflect your audience and their needs – both they what and, importantly, when they want it.

I’ve worked with some departments who’ve uploaded content when THEY were ready. That’s not the point. People will visit you once then, if they can’t find what they’re looking for, go away and never return.

The other thing I found on this web site was terminology telling how HOW to access information if and when it was made available. All very process-focussed – but still not answering my informational need.  There were lines and lines about how it might work.

Issue #2: don’t talk about process – especially when people are told they can’t have what they want.

People aren’t interested in process – the idea of ‘click here’, ‘visit this section later’ etc. They want content – then they’ve moved on.

So did I go back to find out the answers to my questions? No. As a consumer I’d moved on by then and, when a colleague raised these awards, but first thought – and comment – was how hard the web site was to use.  January 27 was no longer Australia Day, so I’d moved on.

That’s how people respond to web sites that don’t help them. They move on, filing away mentally that your web site is hard work.  And, sadly based on my experience of working with many Government Departments, in Government that can happen a lot.

Issue #3: the thing people are interested in is what your web site can provide, not that you have a web site.

This is 2022. Australian web sites began 30 years ago, and they’re now an expected part of business. We – as your audience – don’t visit your web site because it’s your web site. We go there because it contains the answer we need, the solution to our problem or to get the contact name or number to have a conversation.

I still hear this when working with Government departments in my workshops. The key audience is sometimes mistakenly thought of as “The Minister”. (Again, this isn’t a shot at the footsoldiers who clearly don’t agree. This is about the hierarchy.) But that type of response produces pretty brag books that don’t engage – and in turn chip away at the veneer of the department’s (or Minister’s) reputation.

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