8 Sanity-Saving Questions for Federal Web Managers


This past week has, unfairly, been a week and a half. Sudden emergencies, moving deadlines, urgency not backed up by actual decisions–you name it. Here are some tips to avoid this kind of week.

Before you even log in to your agency’s content management system (CMS) to post something, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you need a web page? What is the goal for the page? (Please don’t let the answer be “read a bunch of stuff”.) What will your users be able to do on this page? If they can’t do anything with the information, maybe a web page is not your best solution.
  • Do you have all the information ready to go? Don’t say things like “bookmark this page!” or “check back for updates” — people are not going to do that. If you’re not ready for prime time, wait until you are. You have one chance; don’t miss it. Or do you want the phone calls and emails?
  • Is a web page the best choice? Or is this really a blog post, a Facebook entry, a tweet? Perhaps it’s an entry in a project management site. Web pages aren’t great at creating communities for feedback and conversations. Government websites are not Field of Dreams; if you build it, they won’t necessarily come.
  • Don’t duplicate content that lives elsewhere. Link to content that belongs to someone else, even if you have to keep checking the link. Don’t take ownership of content that doesn’t belong to you. You may miss important updates, or persistently highlight outdated information.
  • Don’t emphasize background. Distinguish between what the program manager cares about, and what your users care about. (It’s definitely not the same thing.) In case of a tie, the users win.
  • Check your analytics to make sure people are still finding pages and files useful. If someone hasn’t downloaded a PDF in six months, it’s no longer earning its keep. Vote it off the island.
  • Use plain language. Don’t assume people are going to understand your jargon. Watch your acronyms–they’re not consistent within agencies, much less across agencies.
  • Websites aren’t archives or billboards. We have a duty to push back if content is incomplete, unsuitable, or contradictory. You’re the users’ safety net; don’t abdicate your responsibility.

Katherine Spivey is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.


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Katherine Spivey

Two episodes last week of people rushing to get content up, only to take it down the next week. Next time they get it two weeks in staging before it goes live.