Gaining New Insight In The GAP

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Credit: Lightspring

Last year we launched the Georgia Analytics Program (GAP) to track the performance of the state’s websites and help agencies make data-driven decisions.

Now, many agencies can see where their websites fall short of state standards and where they need improvement. Never have website managers had more user data to help them make smart digital decisions.

To make sense of it all, DSGa launched a new service this year called the GAP Consultation. In the span of a few short weeks, we talk to agency stakeholders and pore over their site analytics to deliver a list of actions that are guaranteed to improve their GAP scores.

The first agency to invite us in for a consultation was the Georgia Department of Public Health. We learned as much as they did during this engagement, as you will see.

Mind The GAP

The Georgia Analytics Program is a shared initiative with the Governor’s Office of Budget and Planning that aims to enable state agencies to make data-driven decisions about their websites. It’s meant to be a tool agencies can use to improve the digital experience for both their agency and their audiences.

GAP sources its data from Siteimprove, an analytics platform included with GovHub. Siteimprove combines a number of factors to create an aggregate GAP score (also known within Siteimprove as a DCI score). Each participating agency’s GAP score is displayed on the Georgia Analytics dashboard.

So what goes into a GAP score? It’s the combined average of scores for Quality Assurance (QA), Accessibility, and Search Engine Optimization (SEO). GAP scores can fall anywhere between 0 and 100, with 100 being a perfect score. The benchmark for Georgia state agencies has been set at 80. Scores fluctuate as content changes, so maintaining or exceeding that benchmark is an ongoing challenge.

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As agencies become familiar with Siteimprove and their GAP score, the question becomes, what do we do with this information? How do we use these numbers to improve constituents’ experience with government websites?

The GAP Consult does just that. It’s meant to be the next step of the Georgia Analytics Program, using the available data to develop actionable insights agencies can address themselves.

Goals for the engagement include:

  • Increasing the agency’s GAP score by addressing what we consider low-hanging fruit: high impact, easily implementable content changes
  • Improving content quality and user experience
  • Working closely with the agency to develop a customized plan for future site improvements
  • And ideally, decreasing the burden on the agency by creating a more intuitive and successful experience for the audience that requires less intervention from staf

If the GAP Consult actions are completed successfully, more constituents will be able to access services and achieve their aims faster and more easily.

We kicked off our first GAP Consult in the first half of 2022, with one of the largest and most visible agencies, the Georgia Department of Health (DPH). As part of a truly cooperative undertaking, DSGa’s content team consulted with stakeholders at DPH on a plan for content improvements, while DPH helped us fine-tune the process for future GAP Consults.

The Process

We spent several months crafting the scope, process, and deliverables for the GAP Consult. We envisioned a high-level analysis that would take roughly six weeks to complete and used data that agencies could access and continue to monitor themselves. We envisioned the process to include a discovery, an analytics assessment, a collaborative consultation, and an action plan.

Working With DPH

Once we felt we had a solid offering in place, we began working with DPH on our first GAP Consult. Going through the process for the first time with an agency gave us the real-world experience we needed. Timing was adjusted, deliverables were altered. It was a unique opportunity for both DSGa and DPH to learn from each other.

DPH had just come out of the more urgent, chaotic phase of the pandemic. Their team finally had a moment to think about their content strategy — a luxury not afforded the last two years. In fact, they told us they hadn’t even finished their major content audit from the 2019 Drupal 8 migration when the pandemic hit. It was the perfect time for a reset.

During our discovery call, we found that DPH’s team was particularly savvy. They were familiar with Siteimprove and knew the ins and outs of their GAP score. They knew what content was most important to users, some of the shortfalls of their website’s user experience, and what their internal challenges were. DPH’s content team identified that:

  • Its website was unorganized, growing unwieldy as content was added quickly during Covid-19.
  • With experts from multiple departments creating content, it was difficult to ensure a uniform user experience.
  • Lack of a formal editorial guide or writing process meant inconsistent voice and content standards.
  • All content creators didn’t share the same user-centric mindset.

Digging Deeper

Armed with this useful background information, we began the analytics assessment. We took a deep dive into DPH’s GAP score and the factors that had the biggest impact on it. At just a hair above the benchmark of 80, the agency was doing well but had substantial room for improvement.

A large share of broken links and outdated files were hurting their QA score, along with hundreds of pages deemed too complex or difficult to read. While a higher reading level often comes with the territory of a site that covers public health, we identified content — mostly information aimed at the general public — that could be simplified or trimmed down.

We found that DPH could make accessibility improvements and gain points by ensuring alt text was provided for images and iFrames, proper link text was used, and headings were properly structured.

SEO, the site’s strongest performing area, was a bit more challenging. Both desktop and mobile load speeds were holding back DPH’s score. This was a technical issue their communications team could do little about, so we talked about what they could control: streamlining elements on site pages so nothing was hindering load times. We also advised that they assess pages with low word counts and determine whether they needed to expand the content, combine it with relevant information on other pages, or delete it entirely.

Beyond The GAP (Score)

Siteimprove provides a wealth of data beyond just top-line scores. By analyzing DPH’s content further, we found a few trends that gave us a fuller picture of their site’s performance. This involved:

  • Identifying both popular and underperforming content
  • Examining traffic sources and associated user behavior
  • Tracing common user paths and pin-pointing where drop-off happened
  • Assessing Covid-19 content (some of the most popular on the site) and determining how it could adapt as we move into a new phase of the pandemic

We discovered that users were required to navigate complex paths in order to accomplish key tasks. During one meeting with DPH, we walked through a sample user path, demonstrating the difficulty a user would have in a real-world scenario. We also found a plethora of landing pages, each crowded with information and multiple calls to action (CTAs) of equal weight. The site lacked clear informational hierarchy.

To ensure we were addressing all the issues DPH raised with us, we added items to our final report that address the special challenges of the sprawling agency. These include best practices for content audits, implementing an editorial guide, and establishing a writing process. To help align disparate departments on user experience and website strategy, we invited select staff to attend Digital Academy classes.

Our report developed into a game plan that was half executive summary of our findings and half to-do list. This gave DPH a clear path forward — one that everyone in the organization could follow.

What We Learned

In the weeks following the GAP Consult, DPH began executing the game plan. They improved on several key metrics, even pushing their accessibility score above the 80 benchmark.

In the post-engagement survey, DPH responded that they felt the information was presented in an understandable way, helped them find solutions to their challenges, and equipped them with a clear plan of action for their site’s issues.

[The engagement] was very informative and expanded on the issues we had already uncovered with our site. The team was very knowledgeable and all of the assessments were well organized and well structured. Very easy to understand and also to come up with a plan of action. — DPH

DSGa came away with a better idea of how to make future engagements more valuable for agencies. Starting with easily implementable quick wins that make a big impact on GAP score is a great way to get the ball rolling for larger changes within an agency’s digital ecosystem and even within the organization. Our advice was easier to follow because we structured it as a game plan with prioritized tasks.

We suspect that most agencies, like DPH, are already at least partially aware of what users are looking for, what challenges they face, and where their weaknesses lie. Our job isn’t always about giving an agency new information, but rather providing a plan of action to focus their efforts — a plan that can be distributed throughout the organization so that everyone is marching in the same direction.

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