Maximizing impact on Canada.ca – Best practices for a web-based approach

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Back to COVID content guidance


To help Canadians access the critical services and resources they need urgently in this time of crisis, the Government's web content must adhere to proven user-centered design standards.

This means:

  • easy to read, easy to navigate content, grouped by themes that are coordinated and integrated across departments (without duplicating information), and
  • applying user experience (UX) principles to creating and publishing all related web content.

This approach respects the requirements in the policy instruments that guide digital communications for the Government of Canada:

Focus on the user

  • In a crisis, poor content or a poor user experience undermines the credibility of the government
  • Speed matters; implement advice from web content design specialists about already-established best practices in user experience
  • Rely on standard templates and content design recommendations from the Canada.ca design system - these are based on best practices that have been tested with users to ensure they work and are accessible
  • Simple design is professional and timeless - it supports efficiency and effectiveness, helping maximize task success and minimize time on task. (17 Reasons Why Your Website Should Have a Clean and Simple Design)
  • Applying best practices doesn't necessarily take longer - it can often save time
  • Testing your content/service with as few as 5 people can give you great qualitative information about what works and doesn’t work for your users. (Why test the design with only 5 users?)
    • Identifying and correcting usability problems early can divert unnecessary calls from call centres, and reduce ineligible or incomplete applications for benefits, etc.

Design content for success

  • Decisions and changes to content and design should be driven by evidence from usability testing and web analytics.

Mobile-first

  • Mobile is now the dominant way that people are accessing web content. Design for mobile first, then desktop. Look at your content on a mobile device before publishing.
    • 60-80% of our users are viewing on mobile
      • Over 60% of users access COVID-19 pages through their mobile device.
      • Canada.ca/Coronavirus has some pages that reach 80% mobile.
    • World Health Organization (WHO) went from 55% mobile visitors pre-coronavirus to 70% now.

Integrate with other GC content, don’t duplicate

  • On your service and information pages, don’t duplicate announcements and content from other departments. Instead:
    • Check the COVID content inventory first
    • Work with partners to streamline content development and link to one authoritative source
    • Use alerts at the service level to point to announcement content in the main COVID pages (initially) so if it changes people always have the most up-to-date information
    • As soon as possible, create the detailed program/service level content so the main COVID pages can then direct people to the answers they need - see Moving from announcements to web content

Apps and other technologies

  • Key COVID-19 web pages are undergoing multiple updates daily.
  • Apps, chatbots or voice assistants, if not developed properly, can highlight poor content and get in the way of a user trying to find the latest info. Take the time to create effective, “authoritative source” web content first. (Optimize your content for voice search)
  • It is imperative that updates to web content are immediately reflected in any app so that users are not confused or misled by old information.

Graphics and video

  • All GC web content must use the GC design system so that users can immediately see that it is from a trusted source. With the increase in phishing campaigns and scams related to COVID-19, it is more important than ever to provide a consistent user experience.
  • Graphic-heavy web pages are a digital burden (economic and environmental)
  • Graphics and video do belong on social media where we know visual cues garner more attention and engagement. Do remember to:
    • Include alternate text (Alt text) in all photos and graphics that are shared on Twitter
    • Use open-captions when posting videos on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn (these channels do not support closed-captions)
    • Use closed-captions when posting videos on Facebook, YouTube, and websites including Canada.ca
    • Provide a link in social media posts to the accessible web version of information

Analytics and measurement

  • Reports should lead to action  as much as possible. Was the user able to find the information or complete what they came to do? If not, why?
  • Analytics should be put in context. “X number of visits per day” is not as valuable as “X number of visits per day, which is Y% more than the average visits per day.”
  • Loop in your analytics subject matter experts as early as possible to:
    • Find out what data you can collect
    • Ensure data is collected when content is launched (i.e. some data needs to be set up to collect prior to content launching)
    • Ensure enough time is provided to prepare needed reporting