Every day’s a school day, but here are the five favourite things I’ve learnt so far.
Thinking about accessibility benefits everyone
I’ve been lucky enough to do what I love (write) for most of my working life. But, I’ll admit, it wasn’t until I joined the University and the Content team that accessibility became a daily consideration. From a commitment to using plain English and alt text for images to working up screen-reader-friendly data tables and considering heading hierarchies and colour contrast (to name just a handful of examples), accessibility is a broad and fascinating subject.
Brilliantly, applying accessibility best practices benefits everyone. With an accessible web page, language is clear and direct, flows logically and is easy to navigate. Getting it right is satisfying but also an ongoing process. You never stop learning.
Working on accessibility inevitably means spending time considering how others might experience the world differently from you, too. And that’s an incredible gift. There is zero downside to learning how to improve the accessibility of content, and I’m immensely grateful for that.
Discovery is so important
When I first arrived on the team, I noticed – among a bunch of posters and printouts on the walls – an image of Star Trek TNG’s Lieutenant Commander Data with the words ‘Make decisions based on data’. Coming freshly from a commercial marketing background, I appreciated the peak geeky pun more than the weight of the principle at the time.
One year on, I see those words in a very different light. ‘Make decisions based on data’ is one of our Digital Principles and, along with ‘Start with people’s needs’, it underpins every task we undertake. If we’re not researching best practices in a new area or benchmarking our existing content (and our competitors’), we’re referring to our last discovery report and running fresh analytics. And only once we have the data to prove the wisdom of our trajectory do we start creating, updating, or deleting content.
If you’re asking ‘does this work?’ you already know the answer
To be perfectly honest, this is applicable to a lot more than content creation. However, I’ve been struck by just how often it rings true since I’ve been in the Content Team.
Reframing it, the teachable moment here is, to trust your instincts. True, sometimes you really are too close to a piece of work to know whether it’s still (or ever was) good without an external viewpoint. More often than not, though, you know the answer and you just don’t want to acknowledge you need to redirect your efforts. If you find yourself about to ask that question, check in with your instincts first. You’ll be a better writer for it.
Interpreting Google Analytics is an art, not a science
The more I work with Google Analytics the more I believe in a chaotic and unknowable universe. Stay close to the basic figures and – for the most part – it’s possible to draw useful conclusions about who’s visiting your site, when and for how long. Wander away from the fundamentals however and certainties start unravelling at a pace.
There’s meaning to be found, but discerning human intention and behaviour in dwell times or scroll depths is something more akin to data-assisted clairvoyance than fact-gathering. And, between you and me, I love it! So much so, that I’m almost saddened that the all-new GA4 promises to be much more adept at interpreting humans’ predictably unpredictable behaviour. For now, though, I’ll light another incense cone and stare at that spike in traffic, wondering if a newly announced open day or the waxing of the moon was responsible.
The team is everything
Experience has taught me that calling a group of people working on a set of tasks a team does little or nothing to build one. One year in and I’m delighted to say I’m part of an actual team: talented, smart, collaborative and supportive. They are the reason why even the most challenging of days ends up feeling like an opportunity.