Set Up Your Website for Success: How to Create a Performance Framework

If you’re like most public sector web peeps, you put a lot of thought, effort, and time into producing the best web content…

Content that is accessible, easy to understand, and useful.

But you might not have much time to think about two straightforward questions:

  • Is my content really helping my website's visitors?
  • Is my content helping my organization meet its objectives?

In other words, you might be so busy getting content out there, that you don’t have a lot of time to think about the actual performance of your content

Not to worry! In this guide I’m going to show you some simple steps that are followed by leaders in public sector web performance…

Steps that you can follow to track the performance of your web content, to ensure it’s meeting the needs of visitors and moving your organization closer to its objectives.

Here's what we’ll be covering:

Let’s get this party started (right)...

Why Should You Track the Performance of Your Web Content?

So you’ve got a website that provides a service to the public (and/or some content on social media)...

Tell me if these questions have ever popped into your head:

  • How do I know if my content is useful to visitors?
  • How do I know how useful it is?
  • Are visitors getting what they need?
  • How can I tell if the changes I’m making are improving things?

That’s where a performance framework comes in – it can help you answer ALL of those questions. 

The following points are probably obvious to you, but humour me for a minute 😉 

Top Three Reasons to Track the Performance of Your Web Content

keep calm and start optimizing

1. Optimize Your ContentAs the management guru Peter Drucker said, “What gets measured gets managed”. With a performance framework you’ll know which content and/or site elements need improvement, and which of those you should prioritize for optimization.

2. Meet your audience’s needsCreating a performance framework involves thinking about what your visitors want from your content. Only when you’ve thought through what your visitors want, and reflected that in your content, will you be closer to meeting your audience’s needs.

meet your audiences need

3. Improve Audience SatisfactionThe obvious corollary of points #1 and #2 is this: when your site is optimized and it’s meeting audience/visitor needs, you’ll have high visitor satisfaction.

And without a performance framework that shows you what things to track and how to track them, you might not even know what your visitors think about your site. If I may be sappy for a moment: wouldn’t it feel nice to know that your work is making a difference?

How a Performance Framework Works (In a Nutshell)

So let’s quickly summarize how to create a performance framework.

But first, here’s my definition of what a performance framework is, in the context of web content:

"Performance Framework"

A structured process for monitoring and evaluating the performance of web content, toward satisfying audience needs and achieving organizational objectives.

There are two key parts of my definition:

  • A “structured process”. There are a ton of ad hoc tactics that can be used to improve a website when the sh*t hits the fan (e.g. a newspaper writes an unflattering article about a government website), but ad hoc tactics won’t continuously and systematically improve a site
  • Audience needs and organizational objectives are the point of all of this. Government websites exist for a single reason: to serve the public. A performance framework is firmly centred on the questions “Are we serving the public well?” (audience needs) and “Is our web content helping us meet our mandate?” (organizational objectives)

Here’s a (somewhat condescending) quote from legendary engineer, statistician, and management consultant W. Edwards Deming summarizing this sentiment:


With the definitional stuff out of the way, now we can get into the steps to create a performance framework.

Note: I’ve created these steps by integrating various existing frameworks. Two frameworks in particular are excellent:

U.K. Government Digital Service Performance Framework

The GDS’s performance framework is used for all of their “transactional” services (e.g. applying for a license) and starts with user needs.

The U.K. government is a leader in digital performance measurement, and they publish many of their manuals online – such as their service manual for digital services and guide to performance measurement. (They also have a blog!)

The GDS also uses this framework when it runs workshops to help U.K. government content owners to create their own performance framework.

In creating the steps outlined in this guide, I’ve also relied on a GDS blog post that describes how the GDS helped the UK Parliament website set up a performance framework.

Avinash Kaushik's Digital Marketing and Measurement Model

Avinash is probably the highest-profile web analytics consultant in the world, and for good reason - he’s published some great frameworks on his blog Occam’s Razor that have stood the test of time.

His main framework is the Digital Marketing and Measurement Model, which follows these steps: (1) identify business objectives; (2) identify website goals for each objective; (3) identify key performance indicators; (4) identify targets; and (5) identify valuable segments for analysis.

Flowing from those frameworks, here are the steps for creating your own performance framework (which I describe in detail below).

Answer these questions, in the order below, to gather the information you need to create a performance framework:

11 Questions to Create Your Performance Framework

1. What’s the purpose of my digital presence?

7. What is my target?

2. What are the goals of my content?

8. What are my data sources?

3. Who is my audience, and what are my audience’s needs?

9. Who is responsible for collecting data?

4. Which audience needs and content goals overlap?

10. What actions will I take next?

5. What indicators will I use?

11. What obstacles could impede my actions?

6. What is my baseline?

And below is my fancy diagram capturing all of this. As you can see, I’ve shamelessly stolen borrowed from the U.K. GDS’s diagram.

Note: the arrows indicate that performance measurement is an iterative process. In other words, you don’t just do it once and stop - you constantly keep working your way around the loop.

In the sections below I describe each of the steps in detail, and I provide a hypothetical example using one department (i.e. ministry) of the Canadian federal government.

How to Create Your Own Performance Framework: Step-by-Step

Question #1: What’s the Purpose of My Digital Presence?

Your first – crucial - step is to answer the question “What’s the purpose of my digital presence?”

I use the term “digital presence” here for a placeholder, because you might be creating a performance framework for your:

  • Entire website
  • Group of important web pages (i.e. a content grouping) on your site
  • Social media content
  • Mobile app
  • Or any other digital content or element

Another way to word the question is: “Why does my [digital content] exist?”

The answers to this question should be tied to organizational objectives (or “business objectives”, as they’re called in the first step of the Digital Marketing and Measurement Model.)

As a web analyst, performance measurement means taking a “big-picture” view of your organization and how your digital presence fits into it.

That means starting with your organization’s objectives, then working your way down to website goals and KPIs.

Here’s a diagram that shows what I’m talking about:

Performance Framework for Public Sector Digital Programs

Note that a “digital program” can be anything web-related – a website, a social media account, an app, etc.

The point of this framework is simple: to connect web analytics data to higher-level program and organizational objectives.

Because if we aren’t using our digital presence to ultimately support organizational objectives, what’s the point of having a presence?

(Answer: there is no point.)

Here’s a quick breakdown of the diagram:

  • Departmental/Organizational Objectives are just as they sound – the highest-level objectives that your organization is aiming for
  • Program Objectives are a level below organizational objectives and should relate specifically to your program, project, etc.
  • Program Indicators are the measures for the program objectives. As its name suggests, an indicator indicates whether or not you’re making progress toward an objective
  • Digital Performance Indicators are the measures that related specifically to your digital presence
  • Indicators for Need/Efficiency/Effectiveness reflect the most important “buckets” of indicators. Based on the Government of Canada’s Policy on Results, I break digital performance indicators into three major buckets:
  • Need. Simply put, is there online demand for the program?
  • Efficiency. Is the organizations’ digital presence helping the program achieve its objectives efficiently?
  • Effectiveness. Is the organization’s digital presence helping clients achieve their goals?
  • Web Analytics Reports are where we get the data from. We then have to analyze that data to derive knowledge and – most importantly – insight

Performance Measurement in the Government of Canada

For Government of Canada programs, it’s important to keep in mind TBS’s Policy on Results - not because it’s a sexy topic that’ll make you the centre of attention at cocktail parties, but because your program will eventually be evaluated by your department’s Evaluation Division.

That means you should include in your suite of web analytics indicators measures that address the core evaluation issues that are examined during an evaluation:

  • Core Issue: Relevance
  • Continued need for the program
  • Alignment with government priorities
  • Alignment with federal roles and responsibilities
  • Core Issue: Performance (Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Economy)
  • Achievement of expected outcomes
  • Demonstration of efficiency and economy

Not all of the core evaluation issues will be relevant to the web. As web analysts, we’re mostly concerned with demand (i.e. need) for our web offerings, and whether or not the web is helping our program achieve its objectives, as efficiently as possible.

(Example) How to Convert Organizational Objectives into a Digital Purpose Statement

As part of Employment and Social Development Canada’s (ESDC’s) “Benefits Delivery Modernization” initiative, the department aims to:

“…provide client-centric services that are easy to use, effective, and sensitive to the needs of clients”

(Which includes services that are delivered online).

Those are great objectives! “Easy to use”, “effective”, and “sensitive to the needs of clients” are all objectives that can be measured.

It’s important that you ask relevant stakeholders in your organization what they think the purpose of your digital presence is.

Continuing from our ESDC example above, members of the Employment Insurance (EI) web team might identify this as the primary objective for the Employment Insurance web content:

Purpose of Employment Insurance Website Content (Hypothetical):

“To allow Canadians to quickly and easily apply for EI benefits online”

Again, an important aspect of a purpose statement is its measurability. The purpose statement above is certainly measurable (we’ll get into how to measure it in a moment).

When the U.K.’s Government Digital Service conducts performance framework workshops with ministry clients, they set up a whiteboard and ask members of the client team to write their opinions on sticky-notes, and they post the notes on the whiteboard:

Brainstorming Components of a Performance Framework for the U.K.'s Parliamentary Website

Now that we’ve covered why and how to create a purpose statement for digital content, let’s turn to the next step…

Question #2: What are the Goals of My Content?

“Content goals” are what needs to happen to achieve your digital purpose.

In the previous step we asked the question “What’s the purpose of my digital presence?” Content goals are what needs to happen in order for that purpose to be achieved.

In other words: it’s easy to just say “I want my website to be quick and easy to use”, but what actually needs to happen on the site for clients to experience “quick” and “easy”?

That’s where content goals come in…

Here are some categories of content goals you may want to consider:

  • Need: Is there a need for your content?
  • Awareness: Are clients aware of how to find your content?
  • Access: Is your content easy to find online?
  • Knowledge: Do clients have the knowledge necessary to use your content to achieve their goals?
  • Efficiency: Is your content easy to navigate?
  • Effectiveness: How effective is your content in allowing clients to achieve their goals?
  • Economy: Is your content helping clients achieve their goals economically?
  • Satisfaction: Does your content achieve a high level of client satisfaction?

I call this the “NAAKnEEES” framework, pronounced “knock-knees”. 

(Yes, I'm that bad at coming up with acronyms!)

Here are a few examples to demonstrate the types of content goals:

Access goal > Audience is able to easily find the content online

Efficiency goal > Audience is able to navigate content easily

Effectiveness goal > Audience is able to complete their task during their first session

Satisfaction goal > Audience is satisfied with their experience

Question #3: Who is My Audience, and What are My Audience’s Needs?

This should really be the first step in the process of creating a performance framework, because in the public sector (and private sector, for that matter) our digital content exists only to serve our audiences.

After all, without an audience to serve, there would be no need for corporations or public services.

But having worked in the public sector, I understand the reality: the mandate of a department/ministry is often the first thing on a public servant’s mind, and user needs are second. So here we are.

How to Define Your Target Audience

The first step here is to define who your audience is.  

Now, if you’re tempted to say “I work in the public sector, my target audience is the general population”, please take a moment to slap yourself in the face…

Because “general population” is a population, not a target audience!

Why “General Population” As A Public Sector Target Audience Must Die

The purpose of choosing target audiences is to go after the “low-hanging fruit”.

In other words, while all citizens might theoretically have a need for your service (or other type of content), some groups will be more willing and more able to be consumers of what you’re offering.

Here’s an example: Environment Canada could claim that all Canadians are a target for their weather information service – because everyone needs weather information, right?

Wrong! Every Canadian does not need weather information. And, more importantly, not every Canadian needs weather information equally.

In February, accurate weather information is much more important to my 87-year-old grandmother than my 17-year-old son, because ice on sidewalks can literally be a life-or-death situation for an 87-year-old, but it’s arguably less dangerous for a 17-year-old.

 (In fact, my 17-year-old hopes for lots of ice – so he can play hockey on the outdoor rinks!)

A good way to start defining our target audience is by brainstorming audience personas.

What exactly is an audience persona?

Tony Zambito, one of the top authorities in “buyer” personas has an excellent definition:

(Note: even though Tony’s definition is focused on the private sector, it’s the best definition I’ve found and is still relevant to the public sector. Just replace the word “buyer” with “client”, and the word “buy” with the most-important action you want your visitors to take, e.g. “register online”):

Definition of Audience Personas

tony zambito

Tony Zambito

Guru in all things personas

…personas are research-based archetypal (modeled) representations of who buyers are, what they are trying to accomplish, what goals drive their behavior, how they think, how they buy, and why they make buying decisions.

So a persona is basically a fictitious character that is based on real-life clients.

Personas are created using real-life data, in order to visualize and make more tangible who our target audience is. Whenever we’re creating/designing content, we keep this person in mind - like we’re creating that content just for him or her.

Learning how to create audience personas could be an entire guide unto itself, but you can start by gathering data that you probably already have. This data will give you an idea of who is currently visiting your digital content:

  • In Google Analytics you can use the Audience reports to see demographic data (like age and gender), geographic data, “interests” data, and technology data like device and browser type
  • In Adobe Analytics you can use the Visitor Profile reports to see languages data, geographic data, and technology data

That’s obviously the bare minimum you should start with in creating audience personas. To create a more fulsome picture of who is (or should be) target audiences for your digital content, you ideally should gather data from as many of these sources as possible:

  • Surveys of existing site visitors
  • Your other channels (e.g. call centres; physical locations, such as walk-in service centres)
  • Social media listening

If you’re interested in learning more about how to create personas, check out The Complete, Actionable Guide to Marketing Personas as well as Tony Zambito’s interesting concept of “buyer persona stories

What Are My Audience’s Needs? (+ A Sample Audience Persona)

Remember that people don’t browse websites just “because” – they always have a reason for doing so, whether that reason is to accomplish a task (e.g. visit their bank website to pay a bill), make a purchase, find information, or simply be entertained.

So it’s crucial that we understand as clearly as possible what our audience wants to accomplish – whether they’re visiting our website, content grouping, social media account, web app, etc. Simply put, we need to understand their needs.

There are many questions you could ask to zero in on your audience’s needs, but there are three questions that I find most useful:

  1. 1
    What is the audience trying to get done and why?
  2. 2
    How is the audience currently trying to do this?
  3. 3
    What’s frustrating about the current process? In other words, what are the “pain points” that the audience is suffering from?

Allow me to demonstrate this by continuing to use the Government of Canada’s Employment Insurance (EI) program as a guinea pig an example…

From surveying our site visitors and talking to our call centres, we should be able to answer the three questions above.

At the same time, we can look at our web analytics data to obtain demographic information on our visitors.

Putting the data from these sources together, we might come up with the following as one of our (hypothetical) audience personas:

Sample Persona for ESDC's Employment Insurance Program

Name: Ethan

Age: 25 

City: Calgary 

Education: Finished high school 

Employment status: Recently unemployed


  • Looking for short-term financial help while searching for new job
  • In the process of trying to sign up for EI online
  • Wants to sign up for EI as quickly and easily as possible; doesn’t want to learn how government works in order to do this
  • Feels that online process is confusing; steps are not clear

Ethan’s needs are a great reference point for creating and structuring our content. But to satisfy both Ethan’s needs and our organizational objectives, we need to do a bit of a “mash-up”…

Question #4: Which Audience Needs and Content Goals Overlap?

Our hypothetical persona named Ethan probably has a lot of needs, but even governments don’t have infinite resources, so we need to figure out which audience needs overlap with our organization’s content goals.

So, turning to our sample persona of Ethan again, we know that Ethan’s needs include wanting to sign up for Employment Insurance as quickly and easily as possible, without having to know how government works.

Comparing Ethan’s needs to the content goals for our Employment Insurance content, we can see (for example) that there are two comparable content goals:

The audience is able to navigate content easily, and the audience is able to complete their task during their first session.

In the images below you can see the overlap between Ethan’s needs and those two content goals for our Employment Insurance content:

Once we have a tight fit between the two, we can move forward confidently knowing that our work is contributing to both our organizational objectives AND the needs of our target audience.

Question #5: What Indicators Will I Use?

An indicator (often called a “key performance indicator”, or “KPI”) is a measure that “indicates” progress toward achieving a goal.

So if a person’s goal is to lose weight (more specifically, a goal might be to “lose twenty pounds by the first day of summer”), a key performance indicator would be “number of pounds lost”.

Ideally, an indicator is accompanied by a baseline, a future target, and several other variables (more on that in the next sections).

Most importantly, indicators make our goals concrete and measurable.

If you’re like most analysts, you’ve probably heard about applying “SMART” criteria to indicators. Indicators should be:





Timely (aka "time-bound")

Here’s an example that combines our hypothetical digital purpose (“To allow Canadians to quickly and easily apply for EI benefits online”) with sample content goals and indicators:

Digital Purpose:

To allow Canadians to quickly and easily apply for EI benefits online

Content Goals:

  1. 1
    (Access) Audience is able to easily find content online
  2. 2
    (Efficiency) Audience is able to navigate content easily
  3. 3
    (Effectiveness) Audience is able to complete their task during their first session

Content Indicators:

  1. 1
    Rankings in organic search for brand keywords
  2. 2
    Path abandonment rate
  3. 3
    Path conversion rate segmented by first-session visits

Here's a quick explanation:

  • If our access goal is that our audience is able to easily find our EI content online, the related indicator could be “rankings in organic search for brand keywords” (because organic search – e.g. searching on for EI-related keywords – is one way that our target audience would try to find our content)
  • If our efficiency goal is that our audience is able to navigate our EI content easily, the related indicator could be “path abandonment rate” (which means the rate at which site visitors exit a “path” of web pages that we define in our web analytics software).
  • If our effectiveness goal is that our audience is able to complete their task during their first session, the related indicator could be the “path conversion rate segmented by first-session visit” (which means the rate at which first-time site visitors complete an action that we specify, such as completing the online EI application process).

Bottom line: when developing your indicators, answer this question: “How will I know if I’m making progress toward my content goals?” And make sure your indicators are “SMART”.

Question #6: What is My Baseline?

Once you’ve set indicators, you’ll want to record the “baseline” for each indicator that tells you where you’re currently at.

For example: if your indicator is “rankings in organic search for brand keywords”, you’ll need to record what your current rankings are for brand keywords on the major search engines.

In the case of our hypothetical EI example, this would involve:

  1. 1
    Identifying the main search engines that are sending traffic to our content (in the case of Government of Canada sites, the dominant search engine is
  2. 2
    Identifying the “brand keywords” that people are searching for on those search engines
  3. 3
    Recording the ranking for each brand keyword on each search engine

Establishing the baseline for each indicator leads to the next logical step…

Question #7: What is My Target?

Once you’ve set baseline numbers for your indicators, the next step is to set targets.

Targets answer the question “How will I know when my website is successful?”

How exactly do you set specific targets?

That could be an article unto itself, but here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Targets should be “high but achievable”. As explained in a guide on performance targets published by CIMA, “We need to set targets at a high level to stretch staff, but the targets need to be perceived as achievable if the staff are going to accept the stretch.”
  • Related to the previous point, setting target numbers should be a collaborative process within your group, because you’re more likely get staff “buy-in” if they’re involved in the process
  • Also noted by CIMA: there are three factors that have an impact on the way staff perceive target difficulty:
  • Having a clear idea of their role and performance expectations
  • Having a supportive organisation where risk-taking, continuous learning and improvement are encouraged to promote greater ownership of the targets, which in turn positively affects perceptions about how difficult these targets are
  • Being able to participate in the target setting process

Question #8: What are My Data Sources?

Your data sources will be determined by the type of data you’re collecting, whether it’s quantitative or qualitative data.

Here are some potential data sources:

  • For web analytics data, Google Analytics or Adobe Analytics are the two primary software programs for collecting data
  • For organic search data, the “Search Console” inside Google Analytics is an excellent source of data for (and, etc.)
  • For social media data, you could use the analytics dashboards provided by social networks themselves (e.g. Facebook Insights), paid tools like Socialbakers, or free tools like Buffer
  • For qualitative data (such as data from exit polls), you can use inexpensive SaaS tools like Hotjar, or create your own in-house tool and license an instrument like SUPR-Q

Question #9: Who is Responsible for Collecting Data?

This is self-explanatory: someone must be in charge of collecting (and recording) the data on a regular basis.

That person (or people) must obviously know what indicators they will be collecting the data for, and have access to the sources of data (Google Analytics or Adobe Analytics, social media accounts, etc.)

Question #10: What Actions Will I Take Next?

The next step is to develop an “action plan” consisting of the steps you’ll take to achieve each target.

Here’s an example using the GC’s Employment Insurance program:

If one of your targets is to rank #1 for the term “apply for employment insurance” on, you’ll need to write down:

  • Any on-page and/or off-page changes that need to be made to the web page that you want to rank #1 (e.g. improvements to the page’s content; changes to the page’s meta data; adding external links that point to the page)
  • Approvals that are necessary to make those changes
  • Who will implement the changes, once they’re approved

Question #11: What Obstacles Could Impede My Actions?

The last step is to write down the obstacles could impede your actions.

This is an important step used by the U.K.’s Government Digital Service when helping clients create a performance framework, and it’s a great way to anticipate the problems that might get in the way of achieving your targets.

There are two steps to this process:

  1. 1
    Write down the obstacles that could block each step toward achieving your targets
  2. 2
    What you will do to deal with each obstacle

Brainstorming a Performance Framework: Results from a Workshop

As mentioned earlier in this guide, the U.K.’s GDS conducts workshops with the web teams of ministries to quickly create performance frameworks.

During the workshop, they cover many of the questions outlined in this article, and at the end of the workshop they have a whiteboard covered in sticky notes, organized by question.

The image above shows the results of a brainstorming session for the U.K.’s Parliamentary Digital Service.

Pretty cool, eh? I’ll bet other governments would improve their digital performance significantly if they followed this process.

A Sample Performance Framework

To bring the previous sections together, here's a sample performance framework that pulls together one goal type for ESDC's website for the Employment Insurance program:













To allow Canadians to quickly and easily apply for EI benefits online


Audience is able to easily find content online

Persona: Ethan

Rankings in organic search for brand keywords

Current ranking on for `EI` = 3rd position

Ranking on for `EI` = 1st position

Within 1 year

Search Console in Google Analytics

Web Account Manager (Name)

Wrapping Up

Wondering how you can get started creating your own performance framework?

Here’s what you can do:

  1. 1
    Forward this article to your colleagues and ask for their thoughts on it
  2. 2
    Download my sample performance framework template (click here to download)
  3. 3
    Print off this article
  4. 4
    Set up a workshop with your colleagues to go through the steps covered in this article (the workshop doesn’t have to be a whole day; you can test out a 2-hour or 3-hour session)
  5. 5
    During the workshop, go through the 11 questions covered in this article; record the answers on sticky-notes and post them on a whiteboard or a wall
  6. 6
    Transfer the answers into a performance framework
  7. 7
    Share the draft performance framework with your colleagues
  8. 8
    Start implementing the changes needed to achieve your targets
  9. 9
    Bask in your awesomeness

Questions or comments? 

Please fire away in the comments section below!

About the Author Maurice

I've been working in digital marketing for 15 years, with a specialty in web analytics and everything performance measurement. I'm a researcher by avocation and love building frameworks (how nerdy is that!)