It’s a marathon not a sprint

In the year of the London Olympics I felt it only appropriate that I begin my blog with an athletics based cliché. The marathon I refer to though is not one that involves donning a pair of unnecessarily short shorts, running/walking/crawling for 26 miles, developing enormous blisters and producing gallons of sweat. Hopefully there will be no blood or tears either, although I can make no guarantees on that.

No, the marathon I’m referring to is far more challenging. A content review of the Devon County Council website. I think it’s probably fair to say that for sometime we as an organisation have been guilty of content creation and subsequent abandonment.

The website currently contains approximately 12500 pages. Now, I’m not able to put an exact figure (or even a rough one for that matter) on the number of these pages that need reviewing, updating or just simply improving but if I had to guess I’d say that it’s somewhere in the region of A LOT. We do also have a number of microsites within our domain although for the most part I leave the development and maintenance of these to my colleagues. It’s the technical and complicated stuff. Enough said.

My role in the Web Team at DCC focuses mostly on the core of our content found at and as such I have acquired a responsibility for kicking off the content review.


So where do we start?

Recently we implemented a new homepage for our site which is a huge improvement on what was there previously. That particular project could possibly have been described as a sprint – maybe the 200m. It was a quick win and the powers that be were pleased with it.

Scratch beneath the surface though and not much more has changed. Actually, nothing has changed. We have 11 principle areas on the website, similar to those found on almost all local authority sites. Each of these areas has a top level navigation page and I’m going to start my review here.

So what is my aim for the review of these initial pages? In short – to make them more useful, useable and used. We need to make it easier for our site users to find what they’re looking for and once they have found it ensure that it is accessible and engaging.

Now, I’m not trying to make out that I’m doing anything out of the ordinary here. After all, Web Teams are supposed to keep their sites up to date but this is a huge challenge for me and one that I’m pretty excited about being involved in. A few years ago I didn’t understand the question when I was asked which web browser I wanted as my default. I just thought the internet was the internet! What I did understand was that some websites are better than others. What I understand right now is that content is key. It may only be the tip of the iceberg but if the content is no good then what’s the point in worrying about what’s going on under the surface.

I recently commented that I was finding it hard to imagine a time where there might be a light at the end of the tunnel but I was reminded that every step, something as small as re-writing a single page (especially one that we know is popular with our users), is positive progress. I think this is going to be something really important to remember. There’s not going to be a quick or easy way to get the results we want. Focusing on the goals of our content and really thinking about who our target audience is should help us to achieve the results we want.

2 thoughts on “It’s a marathon not a sprint

  1. Matt Louis

    We are in the same process and feel your pain!

    The way we approached it was to initially take the most visited 300 pages and review them against set criteria.

    Are they written in Plain English?
    Do they meet our design standards?
    Are they up-to-date?
    Do the links work?

    Then we have taken our findings and used them as both a big stick and an incentive to improve quality on the site.

    So far seems to be working and we found that by showing examples of how it should be done has really helped…. Just a couple of thousand pages to go……Whooo!!!! 🙂

    1. Patrick Jones Post author

      Hi Matt

      Thanks very much for your comments. I think the ‘leading by example’ approach you’ve taken sounds great. Definitely given me something to think about and try to develop this end!



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