I joined the Web Services team in 2022 as Web Content Designer. My background was in marketing, so I’ve managed websites and written content throughout my career. In previous roles, content creation was just one of my responsibilities, shared amongst others in the marketing mix. I have enjoyed the change towards focusing on the more specialised skill of content design.
Stepping into the role has allowed me to draw on my communications experience and helped me to channel it towards creating effective content that meets the needs of our users. Since joining the team, I have attended ContentEd conference in Edinburgh, and joined a few content design and user experience (UX) related communities. One thing I find interesting is the number of professionals making the switch from marketing and communications backgrounds to content design, much like me. In 2022 LinkedIn placed content designer at number 9 in their Most in-demand jobs in the UK: LinkedIn Jobs on the Rise list.
The profession of content design has its roots in technical writing and communication design, and it has evolved with the rise of digital media and online communication. In the early days of the internet, web designers often created content as an afterthought, focusing mainly on the visual design and functionality of websites. However, as the importance of user-centred design and content strategy became more recognised, the role of content designer emerged as a distinct and crucial part of the digital design process. In 2010, Sarah Winters created and led the GOV.UK content design team for the Government Digital Service. The team was tasked with turning over four hundred diverse and complicated government websites into a single site focused on user needs. Sarah and her team’s work on GOV.UK is often held up as a leading example of content design.
For the last five years, Web Services have been undertaking the mammoth task of migrating more than 40,000 pages from our previous content management system (CMS) Terminalfour (T4) to our new platform Drupal. It has been a good opportunity to analyse the content that existed on the old website and identify any improvements that could be made. Previously, content was often published in silos. This frequently led to duplication, inaccuracies, and style inconsistencies. One of the aims of the new website was to de-silo content, give it structure, and use the power of search and taxonomies to maximise its visibility. Like GOV.UK, we have strived to build a site based on user needs; this was been reflected in our approach to user testing and techniques such as design sprints.
A typical migration begins with an audit of the existing content, and a kick-off meeting with the client. I work closely with staff across the University to understand their business needs and how these need to inform their web content.
Once the content audit is complete, I create a content migration plan that outlines the steps needed to migrate each piece of content. The plan includes information about how to organise and structure the content in the new CMS, how to format it in line with accessibility standards, and how to optimise it for search.
Collaboration with stakeholders and subject experts is vital throughout the process – from defining content requirements, drafting, review and approval.
Post-publish, we’ll often make further adjustments to the content or design to optimise its performance. We use Siteimprove to regularly crawl our website to detect issues that affect content quality, accessibility, and search engine optimisation. This means that if a particular piece of content isn’t performing as well as it should, we are able to step in and make improvements straight away. Our Support team do an exceptional job keeping on top of broken links and out of date content to ensure the users are only accessing relevant and useful resources.
Now that the content migration project has been completed it opens up opportunities for the site and what we do next in Web Services. Working against the clock to migrate content before the T4 contact expired came with constraints. We are now in the position where the content is all safely on Drupal, and the shackles are off, so to speak. This offers us the space to reflect on the work we have done so far, whilst being aware that there are always improvements to be made.
The bigger picture
When I spoke at the External Relations conference in November 2022, I touched on the things we as a team would like to do more of when the migration was over. We said that spending more time on the ‘bigger picture’ projects was a definite aim for us. These will hopefully be projects that tie in with the bigger strategic aims of the University and support its strategy.
Collaboration was another area that was highlighted. We want to continue to improve the way we work together as the Web Services team and with our colleagues in External Relations. Collaboration doesn’t just happen though, it needs a focus and purpose – and it’s better if it’s fun!
Personalisation of content is one more opportunity. Personalising content to make it more relevant to the user can be an effective way to improve its engagement. Using data-driven insights such as Siteimprove to understand our user’s behaviour and preferences, we can then tailor the content to meet those needs.
Make time for research
We also want to find the time to do more in depth research and analysis to better deliver content that meets our users’ needs. I’ve mentioned a lot about putting the user first and prioritising their needs but day to day business can often get in the way. We know our users well, but we can never rest on our laurels and rely on assumptions.
Photo by Aman Upadhyay on Unsplash
Hi Graeme – thanks so much for this insightful and informative post. It’s a great articulation of how the team works to put people at the heart of how we plan, create and share content. Your article is also a perfect example of how good content can help by sharing advice, guidance and knowledge. That’s what the university is all about.
Now the migration project is over – I’m really keen to discuss how we can start to ‘think big’ and use research to know our audiences even better, experiment, move and adapt! Looking forward to working with you on this…