Webmasters must be up to the task
GSA's Campbell says the key to a good Web site is what it can do
One of the government's biggest advocates for better Web design has been the General Services Administration's Sheila Campbell, co-chairwoman of the Federal Web Managers Council and leader of the USA.gov Web Best Practices Team at GSA.
GCN spoke with Campbell about the agency's new series of classes for Web managers and the cross-agency Web Content Managers Forum. More information on both can be found at www.usa.gov/webcontent.GCN: What is Web Manager University?CAMPBELL:
It is a training program for government Web managers. To manage a government Web site, you have to have a pretty broad skill set, so we try to cover all the core competencies ' things like basic usability, Web metrics and analytics, search engine optimization, improving the user experience, design, and good Web writing.
We also offer classes that are more geared toward [people at] a managerial level. We offer classes in Web management, Web governance, and how to build a Web team, how to recruit people, how to develop policies and publication procedures. We teach a class on federal Web requirements as well so people know the laws and regulations that govern federal Web sites. We offer a class on Section 508.
It's really the only program out there geared toward government Web managers.
We offer classes in a variety of formats: half-day seminars, full-day and two-day classes. And more and more, we're offering webinars. The nice thing about a webinar is one person can register for their agency, and then they can bring the whole Web team together and view the webinar in the conference room.GCN: What is the Web Content Managers Forum?CAMPBELL:
It is a community and a [mailing list] of more than 1,400 Web managers ' mostly federal but a growing number of state and local folks as well.
It's a very active list and a real key resource for Web managers across the country. We debate issues and talk about challenges with our peers. It's a real lifeline to many managers. Many of these folks are the sole person working on their government Web site, so they need that sounding board and community support. Other people just need validation. We see that a lot. Someone will post a message saying, 'I want to start a blog. Is anyone else doing it? If I see someone else is, I can pitch to my management that it's a good idea.'GCN: What makes for a good government Web site?CAMPBELL:
Knowing who your customers are and making sure they can accomplish their top tasks. It sounds like common sense, but it is really critical. If you do one thing, it is focusing on top tasks. And you can't do that unless you know who your customers are, so it's a two-step process.
One of the challenges is that government [managers] tend to think that the general public is their customer, and so they feel they have to reach out to everybody on everything. And then no one is served. So we're trying to work with agencies and help them break down these different groups.
And focus on tasks ' agencies need to reorient their Web sites around tasks and not look at Web sites as a repository of information. They're not online libraries. That's not to say people aren't looking for that kind of information, but people come to Web sites with specific tasks in mind. If your Web site doesn't help them complete those tasks, they'll leave.
The Social Security Administration just reoriented its home page, SSA.gov, around its top tasks. They're filing online for retirement benefits, applying for disability benefits, requesting a Social Security card.
The old way of government Web sites was a big picture of the agency head and all the news releases. If you look at eBay, Amazon and Google, they don't have corporate stuff on their home pages. A task-oriented approach to your Web site is really [crucial].