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:
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)...
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:
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
1. Optimize Your Content. As 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 needs. Creating 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.
3. Improve Audience Satisfaction. The 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?
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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…
“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:
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
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.
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
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:
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:
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”
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:
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
Education: Finished high school
Employment status: Recently unemployed
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”…
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.
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:
To allow Canadians to quickly and easily apply for EI benefits online
Here's a quick explanation:
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”.
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:
Establishing the baseline for each indicator leads to the next logical step…
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:
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:
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.)
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 Google.ca, you’ll need to write down:
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:
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.
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
Rankings in organic search for brand keywords
Current ranking on Google.ca for `EI` = 3rd position
Ranking on Google.ca for `EI` = 1st position
Within 1 year
Search Console in Google Analytics
Web Account Manager (Name)
Wondering how you can get started creating your own performance framework?
Here’s what you can do:
Questions or comments?
Please fire away in the comments section below!
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!)
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