you gotta fight….for the right – to write content
Sunday, February 14, 2016
Darren Caveney in Alan Ferguson, Central Bedfordshire Council, comms, comms2point0, digital, local government, pr, web sites, website, you gotta fight….for the right – to write content

Everyone wants their website to look great, right? But we often see organisations forget about the content. Not so at one local authority which has invested in improving the content it shares with its customers.

By Alan Ferguson

Why a Beastie Boys song came into my head to kick start a blog is beyond me….Ok. Focus. No more 80’s rap tune references – not even a bit of Run DMC.

I’m Alan Ferguson, Web Manager for Central Bedfordshire Council and I am going to talk about why I’m so passionate about great website content and why you should be too!

We have been working on a new website for a while now ( just gone live).

We have gone for the Full Monty:

We explained this approach to our senior management team. They got the design bit - everyone loves the thought of a pretty design and fresh colours. Win.

They nodded at the AA bit - 0.1% of us actually know what being AA compliant means – the other 99.9% think it’s a breakdown service. An even easier win.

They were a bit dubious about the content bit.

After all, services know best. How could we possibly rewrite their content? What do we know about licensing, applying for housing or planning?

To be honest – not a lot.

And boy have we milked that to the hilt.

We convinced our senior managers that there was no point in creating an amazing looking website, if we had the same mixed bag of content.

Over 100 people wrote content for the current site. Some pages have different paragraphs written by different people. Each paragraph factually correct – stick it together and it makes no sense.

Tackling content

We convinced them to give the content rewrite a shot. We employed dedicated content specialists who’d never set foot in our building before, one had worked in local government, one hadn’t.

We went and visited service experts, armed with our web stats and research showing what language customers use on the on the website.

We played dumb. Asked questions. Queried acronyms.

We left. We stripped content back. We broke it down into bite-sized chunks.

We reviewed with services to make sure it was factually correct and then we did something kerrrrrazy – tested with our customers.

Customer testing

We regularly bring small groups of customers in to do paper based user testing sessions.  Did you know from UX experience that if you test with just five customers you’ll find about 80% of the usability problems? Any more than that and they repeat the same thing.

We take this feedback, talk to the service areas and agree on the final copy.

It has worked. We now have approval for a new model of content management – I never through I would see this day! Services are (mostly) happy that we are taking the job away from them.

Now, I have to make sure we keep up the good work, with the help of a new Web Content Officer (shameless plus – we’re recruiting now!)

We’ve got a bit wrong along the way, but no one died – it’s web content after all. If it’s broken, we fix it. That’s now what we are doing with our BETA site.

Keep fighting for great content!

If you have been fighting the devolved content management model for years, I hope this gives you fresh optimism. It is a fight I can only beg you to continue.

We are more than happy to give more tips and advice on how we tackled it, so drop myself or Karen Aspinall an email.

Alan Ferguson ( – Web Manager

Karen Aspinall ( - Head of Communication Channels & Campaigns

Alan Ferguson is web manager at Central Bedfordshire Council

image via the New York Public Library Digital Collection

Article originally appeared on comms2point0 free online resource for creative comms people (
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