The new Foreign and Commonwealth website

As you all know, I have been involved in the development of the new Foreign and Commonwealth (FCO) website – www.fco.gov.uk – looking pretty lovely right now.

Many of you have asked me why I have not blogged the ‘launch’, or switch over, from the old to new site… well, because actually my role had little to do with it. Not that I am not proud of what has been achieved, rather it is not right for me to lay any claim to it at all!

I did do last minute frantic CMS work for a week; however, I was hired to ensure that the 220 posts around the world knew what we were doing, understood what they had to do and felt as if they were a part of this big change.

This does not warrant me doing a big HAZZAH!! when the new site goes live

It is not me being myopic, I just do not feel as if it is exactly my place.

However, the e-media team at the FCO have given blood, sweat and tears to make this happen, and they deserve the plaudits.

Go say something nice 🙂 there were many 1am moments in producing this site

Em

This is the last word on customer retention

As a champion of social media I am struggling with the moral dilemma of writing a new post based on the one-to-one conversations I have been having in light of my recent musings. How can I credit you all when you do not want to post your opinions in the comments? Only solution I see is to wrap up my own work and include highlights of what you have all taught me. Everything that you have sent to me has been really useful, thank you. Special thanks to Adam Burr from Logica who has been hugely educational and whom I shall quote extensively.

At the end of my post yesterday, I said that I would tie it all up for you: what I have done so far, benefits measurement and Press Office.

To start with the latter: you need to let them know what is happening, give them lines to take on what you have done with the website.

Benefits measurement: Ben ‘just wikipedia me’ Hammersley (yes I name-dropped, and?…) says that we should be fine with 404 stats. I agree to a point, however, if the technology is OK and we work it well that does not necessarily mean that we have reassured our stakeholders and readers whilst we play online pick-up-sticks. (More on this later).

My suggestion is that you put an error 404 capture on, just to see how you are doing and remedy all 404s as they come in. In addition, you run a customer review on the site, every three to six months. I would use a specialist company to do this. This would enable the e-media team to feel fully confident that the people they are delivering a service for – and the people they are delivering the service to… are happy. Not only feeling confident, they will be able to back it up with real user insight.

How did we get here…

Original post explained the following:

Exec sum – or similar

In researching this subject I spent many hours on the internet looking for the words: keeping your customers when changing url/retention of online customers. Surprisingly, I found nothing that gave any practical advice. Through contacts in Google, in the dark arts of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and in the National Archives, I have found that the answer is:

1. not simple or singular and

2. relies heavily on user input.

The two things that strike fear into the heart of all professional communicators.

In this blog, I have tried to simplify those principles that are imperative to the retention of customers. I have also attempted to provide an action point(ed) list of things to do to complete a diamond, bronze and tin version of customer retention – but would welcome all thoughts… please!

The rest is down to you, your comms team and marketeers.

This blog should also help you avoid time-consuming pitfalls.

Since then I have learned much and have changed my view. The 301 and 410 redirects will do it all for you, but as a business you should reassure your customers through old-fashioned comms. For this you need

  • some kind of reverse linking tool to see who is driving traffic to you
  • analyse that and ensure that the top 150 referrers are well looked after
  • put a page on the site that you can point people to
  • ensure that you are retaining your customers through measures

Now, Ben started an interesting (although offline) argument about the value of being this anal. Adam Burr put it most succinctly:

Why the URLs are changing

The existing URLs are, for the most part, not good at all. They are being changed because they are being improved! Anyone who has been on the fco website and clicked around for even 1 minute will have seen the ugly URLs I am referring to.

Why there should be comms

Because authoritative 3rd party sites such as blahblah.gov.uk are trusted by search engines. If these sites continue to have the old links then they are effectively asserting (with implied authority) that we do indeed have content at that URL. Ben is right that things will work, but an outdated link is still an outdated link. The nuances he is missing are…

  • Some of the outdated links will lead to the “page gone” holding page. This will refer people to site search and TNA, but this is not ideal. It would be better for 3rd party webmasters to provide a link to the next-most-helpful-page on either our website or someone else’s.
  • The 301 redirects shouldn’t be necessary in perpetuity. For one thing, they lead to a slower user experience, particularly if the user in question is in a part of the world that is distant from our servers and not well equipped from a bandwidth point of view. After all this is the FCO site! They also add to the load on the server as the mapping list will be large. It should be possible to monitor the number of 301s being issued and remove the redirects when the frequency of their use reduces to below a set level. The 410s can take up the slack.
  • And finally, it is inelegant and not “joined-up gov” or “partnership” to not inform the third party sites of the redesign and consequently leave the Internet littered with harder to type, harder to remember, non-up-to-date, soon to be obsolete and slower-performing links.

Aside

I accept that partly it depends on one’s philosophy to web URLs. When an organisation publishes a piece of content at a URL, are they really accepting responsibility to respond to requests for that URL in perpetuity? (I accept that PQs are a separate case as Law seems to mandate the answer – but what is the principle that dictates this for every other URL?) I think change is OK as long as there is a good reason and as long as it is properly managed, which is what we are planning to do!

He was not happy with that and continued:

“Gone off on one” a bit trying to understand whether URLs are some kind of perpetual obligation under accepted webmaster etiquette and bet practice

I found this essay which is interesting. It contains an interesting quote:

“Any URL that has ever been exposed to the Internet should live forever: Never let any URL die since doing so means that other sites that link to you will experience linkrot.”

But also quotes the World Wide Web Consortiums standard that a server may return a 410 in which case the requester should remove their link or a 301 in which case they should amend it. So clearly, there is some room for debate as to where the burden of responsibility actually lies or perhaps how it should be shared.

I think that the practical reality is that no-one wants to maintain forever all the 301 redirects for any page that they have ever had on their domain. I feel that there needs to be a statute of limitations whereby once honour has been satisfied they can be withdrawn.

I am afraid that I cannot be any more explicit than this – it is an interesting discussion (for anal people like me). Would be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Update on customer retention

After writing about how to retain customers, I was duly summoned by the FCO (my employers at the time) to put my theory into practice and go ahead to make it happen. I am half way through my fortnight of doing so, but thought it might be useful to update you all with how this translates in reality – with some incredibly brilliant help from Adam Burr from Logica.

Disclaimer: my boss, the wonderful Tracy Green (head of the e-media team in FCO) knows that I share this information, it is within the bounds of public sector knowledge share, and full accreditation is given where it is due.

The FCO web project is Prince 2 certified (I am assured there is a Prince 1 by the fabulous Dave Briggs, but cannot remember what it supposedly did) . Anyone who is either Prince 2 certified, or has worked on a Prince 2 project will realise that there is a requirement for minutising your work – which in this case is rather handy for blogging! My project manager, Darren Roberts from PA Consulting, insisted that I turned my musings into a set of deliverables over two weeks. This helped focus the mind…

In between writing the original blog post and the FCO asking me to make this real, I spoke to a contact in Logica, who could answer the technology questions for me – as it had become obvious that there was a relationship between technology and comms, and the money needed to be spent in one or other area. I learned so much and clarified the problems we were facing as follows:

1. Not annoying those who regularly use the site

2. Retaining the support and authority of key ‘linkers’

3. Checking that all Parliamentary Questions held at The House – containing answers referring to FCO web pages, would continue to point to the relevant information (pretty key)

4. Doing the decent thing with the thousands of people/companies reliant on regular updates from the FCO and associated sites

Adam read through my suggestions and proceeded to talk in a succession of numbers. After two meetings, several emails and a document, I think that I can explain what he suggests we do (from a technology/automated point of view). It is beautifully simple – so simple that I am sure it is the perfect answer.

Bear with me whilst I explain.

Glossary first, before I go on you need to know these two things:

Error 301: this code means that an old url which contains content that has moved, will be discreetly redirected to the new url – however, it sends some silent message to search engines that will ‘accelerate the correction on the search egine indices’ (quote Adam Burr). I suggest that you explore this further off your own bat if you need a full explanation.

Error 410: this a code that works better than a usual 404, because it explains that a page has moved permamently rather than being temporarily out of action. It also enables you to tailor redirects. Once again, this explanation could do with more research, do go off and look it up of your own accord.

Right, now you are ready for the beautifully simple automated solution.

We have identified two problems: Finding:

1. Content that has migrated to a new home on the beautiful new FCO website

2. Content that has not been migrated to a new home on the beautiful new FCO website

There are differing sets of reasons for why we need to ensure that all content is re-findable, but who cares? If we can solve the two redirects – we are winning.

So, the decision that we are musing over most seriously is for:

Problem 1: Content that has migrated – we put an error 301 ‘page moved’ notice on. This will help our readers, and the search engines.

Problem 2: Content that has been archived – we put an error 410 on, giving the reader a splash page with the opportunity to go to the new page and find updated information, go to the new website search page to hunt down what you need, or go to the old page that has been stored in The National Archives (this is a whole other story I am not so sure you readers will want to hear about, but if you do… yell)

How beautifully simple is that?

Now all that is required is a dissemination of the stakeholders, linkers and subscribers, and three tailored messages for each.

I will update you next week on how we handle the comms around this, and the other brilliant stuff that Adam Burr has un-earthed that might be even MORE useful!

Oh goody I thought of a social media bent on EA!!!

One of the problems that has to be managed and taken very seriously whenever an organisational change/review is rolling out – is comms. People are understandably nervous about the effect on their lives, livelihoods and career plans. Best way to reassure them? Conversation and information – right up the street of social media communication. Perfect – so long as all the other stuff is there to support it too: informed managers, stakeholder support, champions in the organisation and face to face ‘surgeries’ for explicit concerns or for information drives.

It is also a very easy tool to keep everyone informed of progress…

Hurrah!

Enterprise architecture (EA) – does it help?

I have been asked to put together some information on how the Home Office would benefit from enterprise architecture. This is far removed from social media, but communicating it need not be! To help me I am just bashing down some thoughts here – any input from any of you wise ones out there would be welcomed.

If you do not know what EA is there is a very good description on Wikipedia. Essentially, it is a root and branch review of all business processes, practice and strategy of an organisation, with a planned way forward that addresses weaknesses highlighted. Most people associate it with IT, this is essentially because it was ‘invented when IT people started thinking out of the box’ (thanks Paul Clarke) – and certainly the IT infrastructure forms a vital part of the review, and enables successful change (as a part of the building up stage of EA).

I think any organisation would benefit from putting itself under the microscope like this, whether to streamline work processes, save money, be more efficient – or simply check that you are doing what you said you would be doing when you started out; and government is no exception (even though departments do like to navel gaze at regular intervals).

In theory, EA should:

  • reduce business risk
  • boost staff morale
  • develop a more democratic working environment
  • end silo working
  • create core reference point for decision-making
  • ultimately save money

However, in order to do this it must:

  • have the buy-in of all management levels
  • be positioned at the heart of the organisation and not just directions from SCS/Board
  • be properly communicated with stakeholders and members of staff
  • have a simple consultation method that enables democratic conversation
  • be recognised as a technology enabled change programme and treated as such

Thoughts welcomed