Knowing what works on your website

Buckle up content commanders.

We’re back with an edition of Not Quite Content that, in the planning phase, was merely the words ‘Help! My website is f*cked!...or is it?’ on an index card.

To this particular index card, past Sarah had helpfully added the line,

‘You can’t get better if you don’t measure.’

How do you know how to improve, change, or which direction to take with your content, if you don’t already know what’s working (and what’s not)?

How do you measure the effectiveness of your content, and know what is and isn’t working?

Because I’m in a super helpful mood today, I’m going to answer that question with a second question, ‘what does “working” mean to you?’

You can't decide how to measure, if you don’t first know how you want the content to work for you.

Every piece of content needs to exist for a reason. If you can’t determine what that reason is, you’ll never be able to measure its efficacy.

And you should probably rethink why you have it.

Luckily for you, I recently shared some posts on Instagram on just this topic. On purpose and on some stuff your website might do that isn’t just ‘get leads’.

But this email isn’t about purpose. It’s about measuring content efficacy.

First, I’m going to go through some common (web) content purposes and ways you could measure if that content is doing its job. And none of them are conversion.

At the end, I’m going to share a little story about the very first web project I ever ran.

Let’s go.

If your purpose is…

To reduce phone calls, or minimise the time it takes you or your team to answer enquiries or questions

Obviously, you can measure if those calls reduce, or track the time it takes to answer enquiries.

But, if you’re in a pre-publishing stage, or things haven’t changed as much as you might like, your number one goal here is to make sure the content you’re using to do the job is clear.

So, why not ask people?

Gather some readers together and have them read through the information. Ask them to,

  • Highlight any copy that made them confused or unsure in one colour.
  • Highlight any copy that made them feel confident in their next steps, or sure that they understood the information, in another colour.
  • When they’re done reading, ask them to write down what they think they need to do, or what happens next.

Clear content doesn't just help your audience "self help" it also gives you and your team the content you need to answer questions fast. Having the information to answer questions in an approved, centralised location, helps your team know what’s what, just as much as your customers or clients.

To answer that one question you get asked all the time

For example, how does it take for you to process my order or application? When will my package arrive? WTF do you actually do?

Again, on top of measuring how much time you're taking to answer questions or the number of enquiries, you’ll want to look at 2 things: findability and time on page.

To measure findability, consider the number of interactions it takes a user to get to the information. 

That might be how many clicks, taps, or scrolls they take between the top of your homepage (depending on where your audience is most likely to land on your site) and the information.

You'll probably also want to think about whether the words you’ve chosen for the metadata and page content match the words people will actually use to search.

For example, is a time poor, tired and stressed out parent more likely to search for the term "school term dates", or "school holiday dates"? There are tools you can use to work this out, but asking people and using common sense never goes astray.

The other thing you’ll want to look at is time on page. Which also happens to be a great measure to use when your content purpose is…

To have the user complete a process

The process could be to complete a transaction, book or change an appointment, complete a registration, or any other multi-step form.

Usually, we pat ourselves on the back when people have spent heaps of time on our pages. They're reading, they’re learning, they’re engaging.


Looking at the average across a site doesn’t actually tell you much.

Are people spending longer periods of time in the places where you want them to?

And are they able to do the processes you’ve set for them in a reasonable amount of time?

Sometimes, time on page should be short.

Longer times can show that people are struggling, confused, and probably getting frustrated.

And now, time for a story

I may have told this one before. Because it’s a good one. And it demonstrates how each of these measures can demonstrate the effectiveness of web content.

The backgroundy stuff

Let's talk about when I was the Project Manager at a regional development body. Working with me were 2 Project Officers plus other administrative staff and, of course the CEO.

We ran a particular program that received anywhere from 2 to 20 applications a day, which one of the Project Coordinators was wholly responsible for. 

They were the only person in the business who knew how to process the applications (which took at least 30 minutes each), or answer queries about the applications by phone or by email.

When I started, there was a backlog that we estimated would take 4 to 6 months to clear. AND these applications had serious, life changing consequences for the people who submitted them.

The (iterative) solution(s)

It didn’t take me long to realise that the backlog wasn’t due to the Project Coordinators time management or ability.

It was that - with so many people waiting, feeling like their lives were on the line, and with only 1 person on a team of 6 to answer their enquiries - the Project Officer spent most of their day fielding calls and answering emails.

That phone rang all day, every day.

How long will my application take? Has my application been received? What documents do I need to supply? Do I really need the documents certified?

I was asked to hand off a new project to the Project Officer, but it was clear they wouldn't have time. So I asked, do we have any information that we could direct our applicants to over the phone, or that the rest of the team could use to answer enquiries?

The answer was no.

As part of a larger website redesign, I created a series of web pages that went through every step of the process.

We redesigned the structure of the site so that the most asked questions sat on pages that were accessible through both the menu and a quick links footer (findability).

When the phone rang, the team used these resources to answer the questions, or directed the caller to the website.

As the calls dropped, the team could identify which parts of the website were unclear or where there were gaps (testing clarity and next steps).

Then, we did something radical. We added an autoresponder to the email inbox and a page to the website that we regularly updated with the current processing times. It became the most visited page and, of course, had the lowest time on page. The applicants opened the page, found their answer, and left. Without ever thinking about calling or emailing us.

Word spread that our applicants didn’t need to call to check the wait times. We got through the backlog in about 6 weeks, freeing up that Project Officer to actually run some projects.

But, this didn’t stop the calls asking if their application had been received.

We eventually also built a fully custom application portal (oh yeah, the applications were paper based) and took the process online. Applicants could submit, change and update documents in the portal. They could immediately see what stage their application was sitting in, and they could quote a reference number if they did need to get in touch, saving us time looking through hundreds of names for their application.

And it all worked, because we developed content to meet a business need, and could measure its efficacy and impact in terms of that need.

So here is my question to you.

Does your content strategy include a measurement strategy?

Want some of my brain juice?

Every week or so, I smear a bit of it all over the internet. By which I mean I publish an article on Substack that you can have delivered straight to your inbox. They’re all free (for now) and give you a good idea of how I work and think. Plus, reading my emails is an excellent way to feel like you’re working while you enjoy a morning coffee.

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