We spoke with Nicole Stimson, Senior Websites Officer at South Cambridgeshire District Council, about rebuilding their website, training editors, and ensuring accessibility.

South Cambridgeshire District Council sits at the heart of one of the most economically successful and fast-growing areas in the UK. At South Cambridgeshire District Council, we are in the process of digitally transforming our organization by increasing our digital offering with the aspiration for customers to self-serve 24/7 without needing to phone our Contact Centre or back-office staff.

My role is Senior Websites Officer, part of the Communications and Communities team that sits within the Transformation service. My main responsibility is to continue developing our websites and online services, ensuring they adhere to the latest guidelines such as accessibility whilst also ensuring we are keeping up to date with the latest technological trends where possible.

As part of my day-to-day role I support and train around 65 editors across the organization, all of whom work in a variety of roles across the various services we have here at South Cambs. Given our website editors have other responsibilities, it is recognized these editors cannot always keep on top of the content we have published on the website and do not always have the time to ensure the reading age is that of a 9-year-old. Therefore, a project has been started here at the District Council to re-write this content and where possible, make it timeless, reducing the need to continuously update the website and keep on top of hundreds and hundreds of content pages.

One of my main focuses at the moment is to redesign and re-write our website(s) as it is recognized, through using Silktide, that our website content and reading age are not currently compliant with the Government Design Principles whereby it is suggested that the reading age should be for those of a 9-year-old. We are working with an external supplier to redesign our website and are heavily reliant on the information provided by Silktide given the newly launched Analytics functionality.

Over the course of the last few months, we have been using Silktide Analytics to understand and pinpoint the common issues encountered on our website, such as scroll rates. Using Silktide Analytics, we have identified that most of our users do not typically get further than halfway down our page, therefore, using this data we have put together some design principles that set out the maximum page length for content pages and what to do, should a user have a long amount of content/advice to publish online.

Silktide analytics has been extremely useful in demonstrating to colleagues of all levels around the organization, the importance of simple, easy-to-understand content because of the visuals which Silktide provides.

The website team has taken screenshots of this data for a sample of pages from each service area and once we have successfully re-written and published the new content on our website, we will look to revisit Silktide in 6 months and benchmark the new analytics against where we once were. This will then be presented to our management team to hopefully, demonstrate the positive impact the new content is having on our customers, and hopefully, in turn, we will see a reduction in phone calls because people are able to find their information on the website.

Heat maps and analytics

Having used Silktide successfully for 2 years we made the decision to move to an alternative provider at a time when we were embarking on a new website build, largely because at that time the other provider offered heat-mapping of pages showing content interactions via clicks and scrolling, these facilities were felt to be vital in enabling us to better understand how our users were interacting with our content before we made decisions about which parts of it to migrate, and how to restructure our new site.

Once Silktide was in a position to offer us the same tools, we made the easy decision to swap back. The primary reason for returning to Silktide is the user interface which is straightforward and user friendly for technical and non-technical users alike. The alternative provider offered a good suite of tools but via an interface that was far from intuitive or easy for the non-specialist to interact with, meaning it couldn’t be effectively shared with colleagues across the organization.

Once we returned to Silktide I was much more easily able to share reports of page usage directly with departmental heads and their teams so they could see for themselves exactly which parts of their pages their users were engaging with. These colleagues needed only brief introductions to the interface in order to use the software for themselves and investigate the reports generated by the Silktide software. This, in turn, gave them valuable insights into which material their audiences were engaging with, and what could be more usefully re-written, or presented entirely differently moving forward.

Rebuilding and relaunching the website

The value to me of having Silktide installed is reassurance and confidence in the accessibility of the pages we are building. At whatever part of the process we find ourselves re-building a section of the site or further developing the site’s functionality, I can get instant checks completed on new pages to ensure we have not created a challenge in any area of accessibility, or overlooked even the tiniest of details which might make a page less usable for any segment of our audiences.

Better still, because the reports run regularly, I can rely on Silktide to keep us on top of quality issues like broken links, spelling or grammar errors, GDPR data integrity, and many similar things that concern those of us running complex institutional websites. I can share those reports directly with the editors across the College and they can see first-hand what needs to be addressed, meaning the maintenance burden does not all fall entirely on our team.

I am very pleased that we have launched our new website with an 81% accessibility rating, and that I can immediately see what we need to tackle, presented to me in a prioritized list, in order to push that rating higher still.

The investment in Silktide

If you are considering Silktide my advice would be to ask for a demo and see what the tools and interface are like to use. Have a go at using it for yourself so you can determine how clear and intuitive you find the reports and the recommendations. To my mind this has always been Silktide’s strongest asset, the interface is user-friendly whatever your level of understanding, and the steps to dig deeper into issues and start to discover what you need to do in order to resolve them are well presented, allowing you to grow your understanding as you use the software. My experience with Silktide Support has always been excellent, quick to respond, friendly helpful, and able to resolve my questions effectively.

For peace of mind in regards to accessibility Silktide is worth the investment, the fact that I can also spread the workload of managing the regular maintenance by sharing the tool so readily with other users eases the impact on our team and helps those contributors to gain a better understanding of how best to present their content and develop their pages, all of which helps the audiences get a better web experience on our site.”

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