Since GOV.UK launched we've been grappling with something: how should we treat content that doesn't affect many people but could affect anyone?
It wasn’t a huge deal at first, since we generally handed off to third-party sites for details. We knew we had to work it out at some point, but there were always more urgent things to take up our time.
In the next few months, though, a lot of those third-party sites will cease to exist. And their content will be coming onto GOV.UK. So we’ll be linking to us.
For any 1 rule there might be 10 exceptions that apply in certain circumstances. If we have 1 page for the content that affects everyone and 10 pages of content that only affects a small number of people we end up with 11 pages of content about a very similar subject area.
How does that look in search results?
Say, for example, you're an employer. You have 5 members of staff and you find out that 1 of them is changing gender.
What do you need to tell HM Revenue & Customs? How does it affect payroll? Or their pension? And when? As an employer, you need to know this stuff.
You're not a specialist (a tax advisor or whatever), you definitely need to know the rules and GOV.UK is the obvious place for you to find those rules.
From the perspective of the user, it should be easy. You search on Google, you find the right page, you visit it and find out what you need to know.
Then you leave the site and have a nice life. Job done.
But from the perspective of the people trying to work out the best way to allow you to have this experience, this poses a significant challenge.
If we don't do it right, we've created a jungle. The general user has to machete their way through all the stuff that doesn't apply to them to find what they need to know. This is precisely the experience we don't want for users of GOV.UK.
Simpler, clearer, faster, right?
We have around 300 arm’s length body (ALB) websites transitioning onto GOV.UK this year. And the HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) site.
That's a lot of content. A healthy portion of it will be 'niche'.
All this content, if it applies to a general audience, will sit on the Services and information section of the site. We're currently working on transitioning UK Visas and Immigration (formerly UKBA) content onto GOV.UK. We're setting up a multi-disciplinary team to look at the low-demand items in this content, see how they do, and work out how we can do it better.
In order to ensure the best possible solution we'll be looking at:
- user testing
- analytics - so we can see how the content is performing and how users are engaging with it
- design changes
- format changes
- new approaches to naming conventions
- new approaches to site architecture (we currently have a flat site, more or less)
We’ll go with whatever works best for the user. Anything is possible and if you have ideas for how we could best treat this kind of content, please leave a comment.
We'll be sharing results of our research and updating you on the progress in future posts.