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Changes to Departments and policy topics

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Product changes

We're shortly going to make some changes to Departments and policy topics so that it's easier for GOV.UK users to navigate from one part of the site to another:

  • the 'topics' link will be removed from the Departments and policy navigation altogether as we've found that click throughs are low compared with other headings
  • we're also removing the topics link from the footer of all pages for the same reason
  • we'll replace the word 'topics' with 'policy areas' elsewhere on GOV.UK to make it clearer to users what sort of content to expect if they click - this will affect organisation pages and filtered lists such as policies, publications and announcements

Long term browse changes

We're considering retiring topic pages altogether in favour of the more granular and curatable specialist browse pages.

Topics were introduced when central government departments transitioned to GOV.UK and were a great way to explore their content by broad subject areas. Now that there's much more agency info on GOV.UK, we're finding that these topics conflict with other parts of the site.

Our analytics shows that the majority of users arriving on topic pages leave almost immediately, either via search or by exiting GOV.UK altogether. Guidance featured on these pages is the exception and still performs relatively well, but specialist browse does a better job of surfacing this content.

User research

User research shows topics aren't well understood. We've also found that users subscribing to email alerts on a particular topic aren't receiving the info they're expecting. They're also looking for info at a more granular level than the topics provide. We think that offering alerts from specialist browse may fit the bill so we'll start exploring this soon.

There's still a lot of work to do on this and, if we make the switch, we need to work out an orderly transition of content from one browse structure to another.

In the meantime, please look out for the minor changes we're making and let us know any questions you may have.

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  1. Comment by Pete posted on

    Please avoid granular and curatable - I don't know what these mean, but have a suspicion they could be replaced by clearer expressions.

  2. Comment by Will Callaghan posted on

    Sorry Pete

    Granular - finer detail
    Curatable - allow publishers to arrange the content on the page how they like. In this case they'll be able to set up as many lists as they like, order them as they like, assign content items to whatever list they like.

  3. Comment by Gillian posted on

    I'm confused. What's the difference between a 'topic' and a 'policy area'?

    • Replies to Gillian>

      Comment by Will Callaghan posted on

      Hi Gillian. They're both ways to group content together. 'Policy area' is a more precise description of the content that's being grouped.

  4. Comment by Mike Bunyan posted on

    my experience with navigation suggests the reader rarely gets to bottom of page. So significant links like 'topics' is missed. pages have huge white space, in some respects this helps focus on main content which would apply to an article, but not for the more general search and discovery activities. on many pages you could utilise the left and right columns much better

  5. Comment by Genny Millinger posted on

    Some departments, like mine, have for many years published specialist guidance on particular topics, whose titles / numbers are familiar to professionals in particular and which in many cases are now very difficult to locate. For example, a while ago I tried (without success) to find Court of Protection Practice Directions, which used to be on the Court's website before migration to Gov.UK. A facility to search by topic or content is fine, but trying to squeeze technical publications into broad brush "topics" won't always work; if the topic is peculiar to the organisation's functions and also legally complex (for example, "easements" or "adverse possession"), presumably it won't generate sufficient traffic to qualify for a GDS topic area even if it is regularly consulted by the organisation's "customers". Could you not use some of the white space on the right hand side, near the top, for "Technical or professional guidance" (or something similar) so that customers requiring more technical guidance can find what they need more quickly?

  6. Comment by Mustufa posted on

    So what will be the difference between 'Policy area' and 'Policies'?

  7. Comment by Will Callaghan posted on

    Hi Mustufa, a 'policy' is a description of what the government is doing on a particular issue. 'Policy areas' group lots of policies together.

    As I've written above, policy areas are really delivering what users need so we're thinking of retiring them in favour of specialist browse. We'll keep everyone posted on this.

  8. Comment by Graham posted on

    Is 'topic' a type of chocolate bar?

    'Policy area' sounds like the kind of thing dreamt up by a think tank wonk. It doesn't sound very engaging.

    • Replies to Graham>

      Comment by Alan posted on

      Specific policies sit within policy areas, e.g. 'Securing borders and reducing immigration' would sit within the policy area (ex-topic) of 'Borders and Immigration'.

      I think 'policy area' is far more descriptive than 'topic'.

      Won't 'specialist browse' put off people who might be looking for more detailed information, but don't see themselves as specialists?

      • Replies to Alan>

        Comment by Will Callaghan posted on

        Hi Alan, we agree that the term 'specialist' is being less appropriate as time goes on. What we're talking about is a browse-able structure for the detailed content government needs to provide. We need to come up with a better term for this.

    • Replies to Graham>

      Comment by Will Callaghan posted on

      Yes topics are our favourite snack 🙂

      'Policy area' - we agree the term isn't great but it does suggest what the content is. If you have suggestions we'd love to hear them. Cheers Graham

      • Replies to Will Callaghan>

        Comment by Graham Lee posted on

        Hi Will,

        Policy isn't an area I'm involved with - and not sure about rationale for the pages, never mind the correct designation!

        My main concern is that it doesn't always seem right to link to policies from the 'specialist' guidance: for instance, pointing immigration advisers towards the policy on 'securing borders and reducing immigration' under the 'topic' (policy area, whatever) 'borders and immigration'. However, at the moment it's mandatory to link to policy info - with this PR spin - from the specialist guides.

        There may be some useful information in the corporate section for specialists - in terms of statistics, consultations, etc - but the spin-doctoring makes me feel very uneasy, and presumably there are good reasons why we don't link to these pages from the 'services and information' guides.



  9. Comment by Simon R posted on

    While the topic pages themselves may not be popular, topics do come in handy when filtering search results. This is particularly true for page publication types which aren't tagged to specific policies eg statistics, research, independent reports etc.

    Is there any plan to retain them for this purpose? The specialist browse categories don't really work in the same way.

  10. Comment by Will Callaghan posted on

    Hi Simon, that's useful feedback - thanks for posting. We don't have a plan for those drop down menus yet, other than labelling them as 'policy areas' rather than 'topics'. We'll have a chat within the team about your suggestion. Cheers