We sat down with Marta Mlynarczyk, Senior UX Analyst at Aberdeenshire Council, and talked through the web challenges faced by a small team in a large organization.
Can you give us an introduction to your team and your role?
We act as a centralized publishing team for our main corporate website. We have some external websites but those aren’t under our direct responsibility – they’re managed by external teams.
There are only 2 of us on the team. That’s a bit of a challenge as the main website is huge. For only 2 people to manage it and get all the work done, while also focusing on improvements, can be quite tricky at times
Apart from publishing content, we’re also responsible for the usability of the website and its accessibility.
We don’t have any technical resources within our team, but we do work closely with our IT colleagues. So anything technical we need to do, we just work with them.
I’ve got a technical background so that helps, especially with understanding the more technical aspects of accessibility.
Each year we invite a university student to work with us on their placement, so usually, the team is just me and that person. It’s a great opportunity for them to gain experience though so it’s something we’re happy to offer.
That also comes with challenges though, because each year we then have to essentially start from scratch. It usually takes 3 months to train each new member.
Especially with accessibility, looking at it for the first time can be quite daunting. So having a platform that also helps with that learning process is really really good.
We’ve recently started working on redesigning our website. It’s been a major project for us based on a lot of customer feedback. We’re really proud of how it’s shaping up, and we’re really excited to start using Silktide to help with improvements.
What’s your day-to-day workload Do you focus solely on publishing content?
We usually get content written for us by content contributors across different teams here. Some we work very closely with, and they understand the angle we’re working with. So with those, it’s easier to have some alignment in terms of accessibility and the way content is written.
Some teams love to write content in a very technical way. This can be a challenge as the accessibility requirements state that content must be written in a clear way. So we try to encourage them to consider the end-user in their writing. It’s possible to have technical articles which are still clearly written, by removing jargon, for example.
So content is written, given to us, and we publish it.
Occasionally, they’ll ask us to write content for them on a given topic, and ask us how to approach it, but this happens less often.
We work with up to one hundred and fifty content publishers. In our old setup, they all had access to the site with editor privileges. They could publish their own content. But we took that facility away so that we could take control over the quality of their content. There was initially some apprehension but it’s worked out well.
What were the main challenges/problems your organization faced that led to you thinking you needed help with a platform like Silktide?
There was a wide range of challenges. We’ve had experience with other tools so have been able to make a reasonable comparison.
Accessibility was always one of our highest priorities, even before the legislation kicked in. Going back a few years, we were using tools that only tested up to WCAG 2.0. Other tools weren’t really scanning for issues properly and weren’t picking up accessibility problems which we subsequently discovered.
Content quality is another challenge because of the size of the site. We struggled with outdated content that hadn’t been updated for years.
And even though I’ve worked on the website for around 10 years, I still come across pages that I’d never seen before. It’s huge.
So making the presentation and the tone of voice consistent across the whole site was a challenge as well. So Silktide’s custom policies, for example, help us find outdated terms and phrases. Or we even use it to flag content that doesn’t match our content guidelines.
We have a huge internal document on those based on the Gov.uk style guide, which covers how content should be written.
Budget was also important to us.
How did you find Silktide?
When we approached you we were with another provider. While the price was similar, their functionality was totally different, a very poor feature set.
We looked at one of the others who we did like, but the budget was far too high.
When we found Silktide we were very happy with how polished the platform was. It is far more appealing to use and flags up more accessibility issues. The broken links reporting is accurate – previously we had many false positives with other tools.
We also struggled with how we would prioritize making fixes. If I’m being honest, we spent a lot of time firefighting issues daily, so we’d not made as much progress as we hoped.
Silktide automatically prioritizes tasks for you so it makes it really easy to concentrate on the things which will give the most results quickly.
What about accessibility? You said were working on it before using various tools. Were you using things like Wave and other browser plugins?
Yes, so we knew that depending on what tools we used, different accessibility issues would be flagged up. So we always tried to use at least a few to try and catch everything.
We’ve also had manual testing completed by some specialists in the past because obviously automated test won’t capture everything.
But one thing that Silktide does that our previous platform didn’t was that issues within code we clearly explained. We didn’t understand if we were fixing them in the right way.
So whenever we made changes, we then had to wait a week to find out if those changes had impacted other areas of the site, or whether they were actually fixed.
So regular scanning is really important, especially the ad-hoc immediate scans after making changes.
What was the accessibility knowledge like across the organization. To take a specific example, were your content teams providing you with alternative text for images?
No. I think most of them don’t know that this is a requirement. We did some internal comms last year with accessibility guidance, especially on PDFs (because different teams and services produce these, and we don’t edit these for them).
We gave similar guidelines for web-based content. So a year ago, I would say that most of them wouldn’t even have known what alt text even was. But now there is more awareness and some appetite to get better at accessibility.
But a lot of the PDFs we receive are not yet fully accessible, so there is a way to go there. We rely on Silktide to flag issues in PDFs to help us with this.
Would you say that your process for finding quality issues, broken links, and accessibility problems was difficult before you had Silktide?
Oh yes. Especially with our last platform. It was missing so many things, it was not user-friendly. Even just being shown what to fix and how to fix it was really difficult for my student because the descriptions were so technical.
It was hard to find the issues she was qualified to fix.
Accessibility and general content quality were hard to keep up with and keep track of. And also prioritizing all these things.
How did you hear about Silktide?
We’ve been with Silktide since the end of February (6 months). We first heard about you as we were approached by someone who’d told us about the Socitm partnership you’d set up, and through the Silktide Index.
We were already in a contract and had a while to wait, but when the renewal came up, we knew that we’d need to explore other options for a more reliable, nicer product.
We did use the index a lot before we bought Silktide to check on our rankings. We have a lot more in the platform than the Index is based on, as that’s only looking at the first 125 pages. But we do look at other councils to see how they’re doing, and to look at high-scoring sites for inspiration.
We also look at the other councils in our geographic areas. Also, as we were looking at redesigning the site it was good to take note of what other council sites were doing well.
What were the most important reasons for choosing Silktide?
The functionality that’s offered, certainly against the price we’re paying, is great. Accessibility up to 2.1 was also required. Having all our pages scanned was important, as well as custom policies.
Actually, policies were an absolute must and we didn’t have that.
The look and feel of the dashboard is great. You can just log in and see your progress, and see how to prioritize issues. Having something like that really helps our students learn accessibility while using the platform.
All the tutorials you have in the platform are really good for them as well.
Have you been testing your mobile sites?
Previously, we did all mobile testing ourselves. We didn’t have anything to automate it. So yes, it’s really handy that we can automate some of the testing and not do it ourselves.
It’s so easy to forget sometimes about mobile testing because we’re all working on desktops. But of course most people these days are on their phones, at least 60% according to our statistics.
Has your productivity increased?
Yes, I think so. We’re still in the early stages of the project so haven’t really started working on it yet. But even just coming up with a list of priorities is so easy with Silktide, because it’s already been done automatically. So that’s saved us some time before we even got started.
I think Silktide will save us a lot of time, especially once we’ve linked it to our CMS.
My previous experience with these sorts of platforms is that they all sound so amazing during the demo, but then when to get to actually using it you find things that aren’t quite how you expect.
But I have to say, with Silktide, I haven’t found anything like that.
What’s your advice to others considering Silktide?
Just go for it. It’s got everything you need in one tool. It even includes things like speed testing. A lot of these tools don’t come with features like that.
Just having a whole review of your website in one place is so useful. I couldn’t imagine not having Silktide to help us with our website.
Silktide is a very comprehensive tool that is very easy to use. There’s no technical nonsense, or where there is, you still have user-friendly descriptions for the issues. Visually, it’s very appealing and so easy to use because of it.
It just makes your life easier.