Governance is more than a conversation about who gets a user account on your website. A web governance plan should help you use your website or digital platform as an effective communication machine. It should tell you why each part of your website exists and the steps your organization should take to deliver on that purpose. If your website plays a strategic role in how you communicate and engage with your audiences, you need web governance.
Launching with a Strong Content Strategy is Not Enough
An important step in the discovery work of any website redesign project is digging into the business goals, the user needs, and how people are using a website. This is valuable work that involves getting stakeholders together, performing user research, and analyzing current user behavior and website performance. But too often, this work is only used to feed into the redesign itself. It gets translated into a strategy, a design, and potential some content improvements, and finally a new website is launched.
But too often, when the website is launched, the vision and strategy for the website is forgotten. And the content and messaging can become dated or stray from the actual purpose of the website. In short, it’s not enough to launch with a good strategy, you need a way to act on it. Without a specific and realistic governance plan, a fantastic website can quickly devolve into something that doesn’t serve its purpose.
Governance is often the bridge between business goals and user needs. Sometimes there’s a mismatch between how your website is organized and how decisions get made. This could mean that people from different departments share responsibility for updating a single website, section, content type, or page. And because each organization is different, web governance is not one-size-fits-all.
That being said, here are some things you can do to make sure your governance plan helps you deliver on your content strategy goals.
8 Aspects of an Effective Web Governance Plan
Your governance plan should tell you the purpose and goals of each element of your web platform. That goes for each website, each section or content type, and each feature. The purpose should also come across in the metrics that you’re tracking and who is responsible for analyzing, updating, and approving changes. This should also help your organization figure out where new features, messaging, or information should fit into the user experience, or whether it belongs on your website at all.
If you’re using a content management system, you’ve probably already done the work of defining the individual content types and content components to organize your content. Using these in your web governance plan, assigning responsibility for who updates and maintains each content segment, can help people feel empowered to make improvements. This gives visibility to the overall system status, helps set expectations, and reduces anxiety on a usually already busy team.
Sometimes, in the discovery phase of a project, when we’re discussing the pain points of an existing website or app, it’s clear that the people in charge of running a website aren’t necessarily familiar with all the content they have or where to find it. If a website is truly external-facing, some sections might languish for months or years because we assume they’re working fine or that someone else has it covered. Governance should address this by establishing cycles for analyzing these corners of your website with some regularity.
Create Alternative Contribution Channels
While roles and permissions are fantastic tools for allowing people to create content directly within your content management platform, external tools could prompt other groups to contribute content when they have something to promote upstream. A tool like Trello or a simple Google Form allows many people to contribute content, which can then be used in any digital channel (social media, newsletters, the website) while leaving the curation and use of that content to a more centralized group.
Weave in Compliance
Often, content compliance (adhering to accessibility guidelines or your content style guide) is something that’s done reactively when someone notices a particular page or section of a website strays from the norm. Or there’s an education program in place, so that content editors can get accessibility training. And while these two things play a role in compliance, it’s even more effective to identify tools that content editors can use to check compliance as they go, like the editoria11y module for Drupal—listed as one of our team’s favourite
Identifying offline content collaboration tools (e.g. using a particular Google Docs template for creating drafts or using tools like PuppyPaste to clean up content before pasting it into your WYSIWYG editor) can also result in better standardization of content before it even lands on your website.
Divide and Conquer
It’s good to be creative about who takes responsibility for what. In an organization with a hundred websites or more, it’s hard for one central group to take stock of which websites exist, let alone be responsible for the success of each one. In this case, it might be useful to assign a champion for a grouping of websites, someone who can take responsibility for who gets to create a new site, be the point-person for compliance questions, and run segments of the content review process.
The whole point of governance is to keep your work purposeful. But if the burden of updating and analyzing your content is too high, you won’t do it. Looking at the time people actually have to analyze data, update content, or create fresh content is important. This is why it’s important to create your web governance plan early, before launching a website or rolling out new features.
To reduce the burden, you can reduce the amount of dynamic content and content curation required to keep the website fresh. You can also prioritize which content deserves the most attention, and address this more frequently. It’s helpful to schedule reminders and meetings to do the monthly, quarterly and yearly tasks identified, which will make it clear what is expected of each person involved in governance.
If disparate groups have a track record of not contributing or monitoring their content, make sure your governance plan addresses it. You can add new ways for them to contribute that don’t require so much effort. Or alternatively, change their role so that they are informed of content updates, but don’t have to take responsibility for making them.
Think Beyond a Single Website
Your governance plan can go beyond serving as a playbook for improving the content of a single website. It can also serve to question why certain features, websites, and content types are required in the first place. If you’re working in an environment where websites are spun up on a regular basis for one-off events, topics, or campaigns, it would be extremely valuable to create a centralized place where the purpose of each existing website is described. You could also include a set of criteria for creating a new website.
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