Access to information has been enhanced with the development of the web and technology such as tablets and smart-phones. We no longer rely on being in the same location as people or getting a physical product to them so that they can use our information.
Disseminating your information online gives you the opportunity to reach many more people. Assuming you have a strategic plan, quality assurance measures and that your target audiences have been identified; here are some of the practical issues to think about when enabling online information access:
Why choose online
Providing information online has a number of obvious advantages, but it does require more maintenance and responsiveness than traditional print publishing:
- Currency – online content can be updated quickly and give your users access to the most recent and accurate information
- Reach – dissemination costs are generally much lower than print information (see section below) meaning you can reach much bigger audiences with your information
- Navigation – links between different sections can be more dynamic and varied helping your users to find only the content they need
- Integration – online content can be brought to life with audiovisual content and animated graphics
- Involvement and feedback – forums, commenting, rating and sharing allow your readers to actively engage with the content and each other
- Capacity – users expect online information to be as up-to-date as possible. However, additional staff capacity is likely to be needed to maintain quality and respond to feedback
- Content reproduction – information published online is protected by copyright legislation but it can be reproduced and shared easily and this is difficult to track and stop
- Access – accessible language and user journeys can be at odds with other organisational priorities, for example fundraising or campaigns
Where to host the information
The most obvious location for your information is your own website – this will build your brand and reputation as a trusted organisation. Ideally you should link clearly to your information from the home page, and develop the architecture of the website to guide people easily between related topics. If your aim is to disseminate widely then you might consider making your actual content available through other channels:
- On another organisation’s website – this could increase the reach but could create quality control issues, for example ensuring the content is not altered and is updated regularly. One solution to this is to develop your website so that other organisations can syndicate your content – NHS Choices has done this very effectively
- In a protected area – to keep some exclusivity you allow other organisations to use your content in a member’s area or on their intranet only. You can also consider offering information online through a subscription so that people actually pay for access and then log in to see the content.
- On an app – there are now thousands of health apps available to support people managing their condition
- Portal – portals bring together a range of content in one location – you might reproduce part of your content on a portal then link people back to your organisation’s website for full copy
- E-news – these can be used to provide different sections of your audience with content teasers, and draw them into your website to read more
- Forums – If you run an online forum you can use chunks of information to respond to questions, and offer support to members. Normally these would be quite succinct and would link people back to your website for further detail
- E-readers – Devices like the iPad and Kindle are making it much easier for people to download and read digital content. You might want to create e-book versions of your content and host on a marketing place like iTunes or Amazon to reach new audiences
- Dynamic content – providing links out to detailed content through press releases, blogs and news stories can keep your information at the forefront of people’s minds
Complementing other material
Your online information should ideally complement information in other formats. If you do provide all your content for free online this could impact on your print distribution figures, particularly if you charge for the printed products.
Content is usually written differently for the web. Visitors tend to spend very little time reading web-pages (2-4minutes) and use menus, headings and links in the body text to navigate between topics. For more detailed topics you might offer people the option of downloading a PDF version of the content which can be printed or read on a portable device at a later time.
In order to increase the visibility of your online content you can employ a range of strategies to attract more visitors:
- Link building – Your website will be ranked more highly by search engines if other websites link to you. Identify organisations that should link to you and contact them to request that they do
- Google grant – Registered charities can apply for a Google grant which gives free adwords advertising worth up to $10,000 per month
- Search engine optimisation – Learn about the words that people use when searching for the content you provide, and ‘optimise’ your website so that search engines link the two together
- Google analytics – use this free tool to understand what is driving people to your website, and what they are doing once they reach your content
- QR codes – these square barcodes can be used on posters and print adverts to bring people directly into a particular content page on your website
- Share buttons – make it easy for people to tell others about your content by including ‘share this page’ options
- Write well and include SEO ranked keywords in your online content
- Test the website with your users to understand how they look for information
- Complement with additional material that can be downloaded and printed
- Make the most of other communication channels to raise awareness of your content
- Encourage people to share the information they have found useful
- Consider syndicating your website to allow other people to use your content but maintain quality control
- Include a date on information and update regularly- web visitors have an expectation that online information is the most current because it’s easy and quick to update.