Content creation and migration

Anyone who’s ever re-built a large website will share with you the pain of migration. They’ll tell you it takes longer than you think it will, that what you’re trying to move seems to expand at a faster rate than you’re able to lift and shift. They’ll probably admit that something always gets left behind. Migration is not a task that anyone enters into lightly.

So what if you plan not to migrate in the sense of a move of pages from old to new websites, but to create all new content instead? The task is just as imposing but with a different set of challenges.

That’s the way we’re looking at content for as we head toward a new version of the site. That we first of all need to understand better the purpose of any content, get to know its performance and then plan its future.

This begins with taking the next step with our content inventory. As mentioned in a previous post our current site has more than 25,000 pages. That’s a huge amount of content to try and understand what to do with, especially as we need to maintain it while we’re rebuilding it.

So, the team has been tackling maintenance and migration in shifts. We’ve divided into two groups who, for a fortnight at a time, focus either on that maintenance of the current content or on understanding and planning for what happens to that content as we move. It’s a somewhat experimental way of handling the tasks within the capacity, borrowing some language and pace from Agile methodologies, iterating the process as we go and find more about what works and what doesn’t.

The first two runs at migration work have seen the two groups doing discovery work on the content. There’s been lots of conversations with services about the purpose of the content from an organisational view, a strategic view and of course from a customer’s view.

This insight into why the customer needs each piece of content, and what they want from it, has been particularly interesting to understand. It’s been the hardest for lots of services to articulate, not because they don’t think or know their customer, but because the established way of looking at things is from the insight out. They’re just not practiced in turning that view around.

It’s led to the creation of user stories (another borrowed Agile tool) and starting to see which bits of our current content can go, which can be consolidated, which need to stay.

In the next phase of migration we’ll be starting to create the new content in the new site. We want to improve the quality of content on the site but with a team of us working on building it we also need to be mindful of consistency. To help with this we’ve created a few resources.

These form part of our Global Experience Language, but at it’s most operational level: a design manual.

For this we’ve created our content ethos (part of a set which set out clearly our approach to the form which create our website), a content standard and a style guide. We’ve not re-invented the wheel but taken good practice from existing resources such as the Government Digital Service design manual and LocalGov Digital’s content standard.

View or download our content ethos here – Content ethos (Word)

The content standard builds on the ethos to set out clearly our approach and reflects the sort of conversations we’re having with services about their information. You can view or download our content standard here – Content Standard (Word)

The style guide is a practical tool, a reference that the Digital Content Officers can use to help with consistency and keeping language clear. We’ve taken a lot from Government Digital Service on this, from the research they have done on customer-centric language. You can view or download our style guide here – Style Guide and content creation guidance (Word)

Content creation for the new website gets underway in earnest in the next few weeks and we’ll be testing these tools in the process of doing so, as well as from what comes out of usability testing what we build. But this is our starting point – the first operational guides in Nottinghamshire County Council’s design manual.

Posted by Sarah Lay, Senior Digital Officer

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