I’m sticking up for the little guys

I was accused of misunderstanding something this week. I admit, I’ve probably misunderstood quite a lot in my 43 years but I don’t think I’m the one not getting this.

Over the last 18 months I’ve taken part in numerous webinars, some run by pretty famous people and organisations in the world of websites. I’ve attended workshops, seminars, lectures, you name it and the trend over that time has been that the little things shouldn’t get in the way of the top tasks and that local authority websites need pared right down so that people can find what they need, do what they need to do and leave, as quickly and efficiently as possible. Time is important to the public and our websites are wasting it apparently.

At one seminar we were told by one site’s developers that they’d fought to have all the news removed from the homepage because no one was looking at it but had run out of time before the launch. They were determined to continue the fight with their comms people and their councillors to have it reduced significantly.

Other teams have spoken of decimating the number of pages on their site to make it easier to maintain and to make it easier for people to find those top tasks.

Now, I’m all for plain language, removing the ‘pat on the back, aren’t we doing well’ content and the stuff that’s frankly out-of-date.

What I’m not sure about is removing the pages that maybe get one reader a month or a couple a fortnight because I’m guessing that if you add all of those views up you get a total more than some of your big hitters.

I’m sticking up for the little guys – the Settlement Checking Services page, the Children in Entertainment licence application, the Private water supplies page – I could go on.

You see, remove them to only cater for the majority and the majority ends up thinking everyone is just like them. If you have a good nosey round a comprehensive council website you suddenly realise what a diverse audience we cater for. I had no idea council’s did so much till I started work on our council website six years ago. If I worked anywhere in the council other than the website or customer services I would probably only know my own part of the business.

In fact I’m now looking at council services that I thought I’d never have to use but that’s a whole other blog. And that information is catering very much for a minority at the moment and if some statistic watchers had their way (not in our council thankfully) that information wouldn’t be there because it would be getting in the way of the Blue Badge application form.

Now back to the news on council sites. These days councils are losing their budgets for council magazines and newspapers and the local press, quite frankly, have it in for us. But all the research, and a huge chunk was done a couple of years ago by@LGComms, show that a well-informed public is happier about its council’s performance so in my opinion news is an important part of the website – it just needs written properly. Show Joe Public how that new policy/initiative will affect him, not how good an elected member thinks it will be for the council.

Writing good web content is a knack that only a few have but that is just part of the equation. A bit of marketing works but what really matters is clear navigation, a good A-Z, a great site search and whizzbang SEO are how people find what they’re looking for. Remove content and Mrs McGinty will never know we teach Gaelic in one of our nurseries.


  1. Pingback: I’m sticking up for the little guys | weeklyblogclub
  2. Janet E Davis · February 1, 2012

    I’ve been involved with the planning and production of a couple of reasonably large websites and find the idea of cutting out the information bizarre. I think some local authority websites I’ve used (my research has required me to use many) need the text editing (sometimes a lot), but I get frustrated by lack of information, never by too much. Maybe I’m peculiar…Maybe not – I remember friends and relatives sometimes complaining about finding a lack of info on local authority websites.

    • carolynemitchell · February 2, 2012

      Thanks Janet. I’m definitely with you in the editing out all the blah, blah, blah which is a constant uphill struggle but hey, it keeps me in a job!

  3. Louise · February 3, 2012

    I totally agree with you both. There’s far too much gumpf on many localgov websites, confusing volume with usefulness. It’s interesting to look at the new govuk site, a huge range of topics covered but not in a way that feels cluttered at all.

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  5. Andy Mabbett · April 17, 2012

    Amen! Over the last too-many-to-admit years I’ve added many dozens of such pages to local gov websites – because people were calling or emailing to ask for the info. Not in great numbers, but sufficiently often for it to be noticeable. Once the pages were added to the website, the calls and mails quickly tailed off. Remove the pages, and their number will go up again, once more tying up staff time. Madness.

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