Website re-architecting

Digital Services Georgia

In 2016 and 2017, my team revamped our digital presence.

In this study, I'll cover how we handled content and organization. Check out the visual restyling case study to learn about the visual changes.

A collage of several pieces of the website redesign and re-architecting.

Problem

Digital Services Georgia — known as GeorgiaGov Interactive at the start of the project — provides design, development, and consultation to state agencies and elected officials.

But our website was a confusing mess.

When I started working there, it took me an embarrassingly long time to understand what we even did. And I know I’m not alone.

‍Better websites. Awesome! I like websites to be… better…

Sure, government is confusing by nature, right? But there’s no reason we had to fall into that trap. As the team promoting user-first design, it was time to walk the walk.

Starting at the end

So the end goal was to make the site easier to understand. Cool, easy peasy.

The Digital Services Georgia website exists primarily for one audience: our agency partners. As in, the content managers and web teams at other Georgia state agencies. Other web teams and professionals follow us, but…

If we’re not communicating with our agencies, we’re not doing our jobs.

Agency content managers would come to our website to:

  • Open a support request
  • Find and register for training and events
  • Get self-help for a specific question

The first one was straight forward. Believe me, no one ever had a problem telling us something went wrong.

But our events and training weren’t very obvious, even though in-person interactions are always the best way to help, teach, and evangelize. And self-directed learning … yeah, you could probably find what you need eventually, but only after hovering over every menu item, then giving up and heading to search. (I watched people do it. It was painful.)

Solidifying our users with personas

Throughout the project, we worked to better understand our agency partners with personas. I started with an initial draft of 5 personas from our content specialist, then:

  • Prepared a survey for our content managers
  • Evaluated findings from the survey and an additional focus group
  • Sorted through site analytics to see what people care about
  • Consulted with coworkers who interact most with the content managers
  • Took note of support requests and attendance at trainings and events
‍Tables and spreadsheets and notes… Oh my!

Over the course of developing the personas, I also gained more first-hand experience with our agency partners. I started teaching a content specialist workshop and answering support requests. By the time I finalized the layout and sent them off to print, we were confident that these personas accurately described our users.

In the end, I finalized 7 personas: 4 content managers, 1 in crisis, 2 agency directors.

Reorganizing the site

With shifting roles on the team and a couple separate user studies, persona development took longer than expected. Even still, the process helped me better understand our users. While we love working with Driven Debbie’s, most of our partners are Admin Adele’s who get their password from a sticky note every time the site needs a new PDF. How do we help them?

And here’s where I really had fun.

I came into the project partway; Our content specialist had already rewritten a good chunk of content, taking us a big step in the right direction. But it still wasn’t organized intuitively.

What would you find in “About Us” that’s different from “Our Services” and “Our Work”?
If you need training, do you go to “Support” or “Events”?
And what’s with all the “Our”s??
Yeah, I don’t know either.

I worked with our director and marketing specialist to reorganize some existing pages. We simplified our top-level labeling for quick scannability, and pulled out important pages that were previously hidden.

No, your monitor hasn’t glitched out. That is, in fact, a whole new set of colors, fonts, and branding. Check out my visual restyling case study to see how it happened.

Inside these larger sections, we continued to reorganize and restructure pages as it made sense to us. All the while, I turned pages of text into structured landing pages, rethought how we presented training materials, and added a glossary and other needed information.

GOVTalks is our semi-annual half-day conference. It's one of the best ways we connect with agency partners, so it especially deserves a well-structured page.

Where we weren’t sure of wording or placement, we tested it with the people who use the site.

Which is better? 1… or 2…?

At a certain point, our internal discussion started to feel like an eye exam. Do we call it “Toolkit” or “Web Toolkit” or “Service Toolkit” or… wait for it… “Tools”? You’re telling me these are different, but really they look the same!

Time to take it to the people.

We got in touch with some content managers — from our frequent visitors to a few who couldn’t find us if they tried — for a little A/B testing. I asked them to perform 10 common tasks, based on site analytics and various interactions with our audience. First, we walked through all 10 tasks on the existing version of the site. Then, the same tasks on the unpublished, re-architected version.

After completing the tests, I took our notes and recorded sessions, ranked the success of each task for each person, and compiled the results to see what worked.

‍Usability testing revealed where our changes worked and where we had more to do.

Once I had my notes in order, we fixed up the few remaining problems, then it was go time!

Reassessing over time

We launched the new site organization along with the new visual style. From before to after launch:

  • Unique pageviews have increased nearly 50%
  • Registration for our “GOVTalks” conference and our certification course have reached all-time highs

Yay us!

Of course, a website is never finished…

After launching the shiny new website, we didn’t leave it be. We’ll always add new blog posts and event information, but that’s expected. Beyond that, I like to dig around and find room for improvement.

For example, our training information. Remember, training and self-help are two big reasons people come to the site.

Even after usability testing and a few organizational methods, I was never happy with how we presented our training materials. For starters, they were a hodge-podge of old PDFs, video tutorials, and wiki pages. And as we moved to create more wiki pages for an easier support process, our content was duplicated in two disconnected locations.

Beyond our own internal issues, we’d split up the manuals to assume content managers would think the same as us. Not good.

‍Despite our efforts, the new training section wasn’t much different from the old — several pages of various manuals and videos. Hard to find what you need, easy to get lost in menus.

I consulted with the team and landed on a solution to please all: ditch the PDFs 🙌, move all training to the wiki, and link to everything from a single page on our website. In case someone doesn’t see what they need, I added a callout to contact us and additional information for newbies.

‍Boom bam done.

It’s this kind of mindful attention that keeps our website at its best. I see so many websites that were redesigned in 2012 and haven’t been touched since. Until this project, our site was one of them! I enjoy not letting that happen again.

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