Case study

Fast facts

Client: ACT Government’s Economic Development Directorate (ED)

What they needed: a strategy to make sense of seven disconnected websites, each of them promoting Canberra in different ways

What we did: deep stakeholder engagement and analytics research to map out a coherent online ecosystem, with some websites merging and others staying separate

What we learned: the value of simple visual models to show that change is possible

The result: based on our strategy, ED got approval on a business case to completely redevelop Canberra’s flagship site (in staging)

True North starts with respecting the user. They’re then informed by business needs and provide the ideal outcomes based on purpose, value and usefulness.” – Chris Holly, Senior Officer, Innovate Canberra

The ACT Government had a clear mission: to promote Canberra in Australia and around the world. But its online presence was too fragmented to do that effectively. So the ACT Government’s Economic Development directorate (ED) reached out for help. They needed a review of their online presence — and a roadmap for making it coherent. 

The challenge

When we started working with ED, they had seven different websites, all with overlapping roles, covering everything from attracting students to Canberra to promoting Canberra as an investment destination.

digital strategy

Our client knew that this set-up was unsustainable. Here’s what we heard:

  1. Brand: each of the sites had a different brand identity, making it hard to tell one story about Canberra’s strengths.
  2. Outreach: staff were so embarrassed by some sites that they wouldn’t direct anyone to go there, hampering their outbound communication. 
  3. Search engine optimisation: several sites covered the same topics and didn’t link to one another, so they were competing against each other for traffic.
  4. User experience: every site had different navigation structures. This prevented users completing tasks, as did the over-emphasis on news content at the expense of useful information.
  5. Infrastructure cost: building the various sites had cost more than $600,000. And with many nearing the end of their lifespans, the cost of redeveloping them would be prohibitive.
  6. Resourcing: many of the sites were heavily focussed on news articles, which was absorbing many hours of staff time to keep updated.

“In the context of us having limited internal resources, what we don’t have the luxury to do is maintain content across multiple platforms.” – ED staff member

“If you want to get the best information about what the city means as a place to do business…. I can’t answer that question and say, “This is the place you go,” and feel confident that they’re going to get a professional experience.” – Innovate Canberra staff member

ED wanted to decommission some sites but also sensed that other sites did need to remain separate. Our task: providing a rational framework to help ED make those decisions.

Our approach

Our clients in ED needed evidence and clear thinking to make the case for change. They also needed a roadmap showing how to untangle the mess and make the complexity less daunting.

We cleared a path through the woods by answering four simple questions.

1. What is each site for?

We sought to understand the strategic intent for each website: why does it exist? We did this through:

  • stakeholder workshops
  • staff interviews
  • reviewing strategic documents

Because we spent time listening to staff, we understood each website from the inside out. We knew what staff needed each website to do and be, and had a sound basis for assessing how well each site performed.

2. What is each site made of?

We examined each site as it stood: what topics were covered and how each site was designed and structured. When redesigning websites, it can be tempting to take a top-down approach: design a framework and hand that over. However, without the substance of a site, any framework that is designed may break because it won’t hold the information it needs to.

We also knew that if ED did merge websites into one destination, they would need simple, repeatable structures that they could use across subject areas, from studying to living in Canberra. 

So, when we reviewed the structures, we looked for patterns that could be carried across.

ED also needed an accurate picture of its current content: whether that content was fit for purpose. When we ran our content audit, we assessed the content against several indicators, including readability, currency and relevance. Based on this, we identified gaps in the content, including:

  • what topics should be covered but aren’t
  • What parts of the content are likely to need the most work

3. How well is each site performing?

Now we turned to the data. We used Google Analytics to show us how users were interacting with each site. We learned that the sites had heavy amounts of news content, but that this content was very rarely accessed. 

In contrast, the most heavily used content was often factual and task-focussed.

We went further, though. Because our brief was to examine the ecosystem as a whole, we looked at how users were moving between the sites. We ran analytics to determine:

  • what sites linked to each other
  • whether sites should link to each other (based on shared intent) but didn’t
  • other sources of traffic

Distilling this data revealed a clear message: the suite of sites were underperforming, and not set up to channel traffic between sites effectively. Fixing up what was already there would take far more effort than starting with a clean slate. 

4. How might we transform the online ecosystem?

Drawing all our thinking and consultation together, we drew up a plan. The key components of this plan were:

1. Competitor analysis

Seeing how our competitors are performing can be a great motivator — and a source of ideas for design solutions.  

We set out to find other cities that faced similar challenges to Canberra. We formed a long list of 23 sites, then boiled it down to three other websites that were most informative. We used radar mapping to make that benchmarking easily accessible.

digital strategy diagram of radar mapping

2. A set of criteria for identifying websites to be merged

The client knew that some websites would need to remain separate: what we gave them was a basis for articulating why. When we work with clients, we don’t use too many ‘off the shelf’ templates and frameworks. Instead, we customise everything. For ED, we designed a decision framework with criteria on which sites could be brought together:

  • sites with a strong focus on engaging communities, rather than providing information or facilitating transactions
  • sites which did not need complete autonomy to deliver content in line with their mission

As an example, Study Canberra was slated for merging, while the Canberra Innovation Network’s website would remain separate.A roadmap for merging websites

We saw that was the logical home for promoting our city. However, the current website was not suited for that purpose: it was a flat-structured, news-heavy site with poor audience satisfaction. itself would need to be redeveloped. This would be a mammoth undertaking, so we needed to give ED other options to compare. These options ranged from:

  • first aid improvements to the status quo
  • complete integration of the sites

To make the complexity feel manageable, we generated visuals, working with Cre8ive, our brand partner on this project. Here’s an example, showing a scenario where two sites are merged, and one site remains separate.

digital strategy ecosystem map

We also described how to go about doing this, including:

  • the need for user research to inform next steps
  • considering content governance — how content is resourced and managed 

The result

The client was armed with the evidence base and a rational plan of attack to begin building something new.

And True North was there to help: on the strength of our strategy, we were awarded the work to deliver:

  • brand voice and messaging strategy
  • user research
  • information architecture
  • content creation

Our key client contact for this project, Chris Holly, let us know the impact of our work – and how our approach is different:

Traditional approaches to website redesign have often overlooked content and favoured design and programmatic functions. True North starts with respecting the user. They’re then informed by business needs and provide the ideal outcomes based on purpose, value and usefulness. Their approach reveals valuable insights into business processes, and provides simple, practical and readily applied practices to guide continual improvement.

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