Do you write or publish information about the law?

At Victoria Law Foundation, we are passionate about improving the quality of legal information so every Victorian can understand their legal rights and take action to address a legal problem. Our quarterly legal sector publishing forums are a chance for people who produce legal information to get practical advice from publishing, communication and community education specialists, to share ideas and to showcase their projects. Our Publications Manager Peter Davies shares what he learnt at the latest forum.

What makes good web content? This was the question we asked at our September forum. Our speakers ­– Dey Alexander from 4 Syllables and Lyn Jenkin, Gitsi Maksay and Mark Egan from SocialDesign ­– were well equipped to provide some answers.

The speakers covered a wide range of topics around developing content for web projects, with plenty of practical ideas and useful ideas. I’ve picked out a couple of key ideas for community organisations.

Identify your audience
Who is the website for? And what do they want to know? A clear idea of who the project is for and what information they’ll be seeking will help you to develop a site that meets your audience’s needs. Lyn from SocialDesign prompted us to think about what questions your audience will have, what terms they’ll be using to search for information, and the best way to group your content.

Apply a logical structure
In her presentation, Dey from 4 Syllables presented heat maps to show how users navigate webpages. A heat map shows where users focus their attention – it’s generally the top left hand corner of the page, forming a rough ‘F’ shape. It’s not really surprising – users are familiar with the traditional webpage format of a vertical menu usually occupying the left side of the page (the vertical stroke of the ‘F’) and the main headline and subheadings running across the page (the horizontal strokes). So what’s the best approach? Apply a logical page design so users know where to look for information.

Write for the web
If you have an existing printed publication, it can be tempting to copy the content and post it on your website without any editing or restructuring. It’s worth remembering, however, that the way users navigate and read content online is quite different. Gitsi from SocialDesign touched on the need to restructure content for web projects – people skim read content on the web and, if they don’t find the information they’re looking for easily, they’ll look somewhere else. Use subheadings, dot points and signposts to help readers find the information they need.

Use keywords throughout your site
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the science of helping search engines find your site. Keywords are an important part of this – they tell the search engines that your site is relevant and reputable. Don’t abuse keywords by overusing them; just make sure that the key phrases related to your topic are used naturally throughout the site. Pay particular attention to headings. You might also think about back links – if other reputable sites link to you as a source of information, it can improve your site’s ranking. Think about any organisations you work with who may be able to link to your site.

Use social media as part of your communications plan
Once you’ve developed a great site, you need to let people know about it. A communications plan can help you work out what to do next. Social media can help you start a conversation with your audience and it can also increase traffic to your website. Mark from SocialDesign talked about the character of different social media channels. Facebook can be a good way to actively engage with your community, particularly younger audiences, but it can require a significant time commitment to keep the conversation going. If you’re stretched for time and resources, Twitter might be a better option – you can schedule tweets throughout the week, which is a handy way to maintain your presence online even if you’re not in the office everyday.

Did you attend the forum? What did you take away from it? What other advice can you share with community organisations who are producing information for the web?

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