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Data Driven Content

At the health science university where I work, we focus on making decisions grounded in data we can collect along with any other insights we can gather. At least we do on the central tech team that supports every stakeholder group that authors their own pages. Several of our initiatives have included visitor data or in adding tools to collect more data. Thankfully, this approach has helped bring the right people together to make more broad updates to site design and features. However, it’s been a struggle to get stakeholder groups to adopt the same approach to how they manage their own pages.

When I first started my current job, I assumed I could jump in and convince these stakeholder groups to just go forth with my advice about editing content. Ha! It’s not like they didn’t believe me, but they honestly didn’t understand where I was coming from. I realized after several attempts that I had to come up with a way to bridge the gap in our perspectives and that they weren’t interested in becoming web experts. They only wanted their site to look good in as much as they understood what that meant.

I developed a survey tool that took my open ended questions and turned them into multiple choice options people in these groups could understand. I sent the survey to them before setting up a meeting, and it was amazingly effective. A question like “What kinds of things do you want visitors to do on your website?” had options like, “Read about our department”, “Get health care”, “Read our research”, “Attend a health event” and some open fields where they could type their own responses. Instead of sitting quietly and hoping an open ended question would return a useful answer, these structured responses help them give me answers I could use. I could go to their site, look at their survey responses, and analyze their content with these survey answers in mind.

I added several questions to the survey to get stakeholders to think about how they might analyze data to make decisions. One question was “How do you know your site is successful?” and responses included options like, “Lots of people visit the page”, “People come back to the page”, “People spend ___ amount of time on the page” and other measures that show up in analytics. These responses helped me talk to them about analytics and setting up regular reports to monitor their content.

The final piece that really helped was to get people to think as critically as they could about who made up their audience. I included a section where they could select who they thought was in their audience, and again, I gave them defined responses, like health care givers, current students or public officials. In addition, I asked them to estimate how many people there were in these audiences and what sources would help them estimate the total size of their audience. Few people were able to respond to this question, which was just as telling as giving me a number. However, we were able to discuss this further no matter what they said and have more productive conversations about audience.

This survey made it possible to get stakeholders to go beyond gut reactions and to make decisions with some critical analysis. They were able to talk about their sites with some awareness of how they could measure success. The answers they gave me allowed me to probe further and get more insight about how they ran their operations. Also, this paved the way to improve their site using other tools, like A/B testing, to make decisions with data instead of gut feelings.

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