Three-quarters of GOV.UK content looked at by less than 10 people a month

Written by Rebecca Hill on 8 December 2016 in News

Civil servants are ‘wasting time’ producing content that users can’t find, according to the Government Digital Service

GOV.UK on a mobile - Image credit: GDS

Three-quarters of GOV.UK content is looked at by less than 10 people a month, according to figures from the Government Digital Service (GDS).

There are more than 300,000 items of content across GOV.UK and more than 250,000 downloadable files.

GDS said that civil servants across central government were adding 2,500 items of content and 2,600 new files a week.


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However, 73 per cent of that content is looked at by less than 10 people a month, according to Trisha Doyle, head of content design at GDS.

“That’s a problem because civil servants’ time is being wasted producing content hardly anyone is looking at and users’ time is being wasted sifting through hundreds of pages on the same topic,” she said in a blog post.

Moreover, as the content teams across government are asked to produce and publish new content they are struggling to maintain existing content, meaning it becomes out of date or inaccurate.

The volume of content, along with the low quality of the things that are on GOV.UK makes life difficult for users, Doyle said, adding that when users can’t find what they need to know “they make mistakes and hit the phones”.

The only way to fix search and browse, she said, is first to reduce “our enormous stock of content”, then improve the quality of the rest and have better governance structures to stop the same thing happening again in the future.

“We have to find a way to stop doing this every few years – the cost to government is huge, and even bigger to citizens,” she said.

However, in response to a comment that cautioned against removing content just because it was less popular – noting that it could still be important to a smaller number of people – Doyle said GDS did not intend to remove content permanently, but to archive it instead.

“For us archiving means making sure it's not confused with current and more relevant content from a user's perspective,” she said.

“But we do need to organise our content better, consolidate the things that need to be read together to get the full facts and make sure it doesn't contradict.”

In an effort to make it easier for users to search and find the content they need – and so cut down on the number of phone calls staff are dealing with – the content team carried out research on GOV.UK content.

Among other findings, the research concluded that “publishing isn’t really digital by default” because government is still operating from a paper-based, traditional and reactive process.

“Our guidance to publishers doesn’t spell out clearly enough what good looks like. And our tools don’t make it as easy as it could be,” she said.

“There are too many PDFs and we know they’re not great for accessibility, but it’s hard to change behaviour when the alternatives aren’t yet simple or intuitive enough to use.”

Doyle said that the content operating model had to be built around publishers’ needs and that the GOV.UK team needed to do the hard work to make publishing simple.

She added that the content team now looking at the priorities and seeking people to help run pilots on changes to content.

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