The government often publishes a news release when there are changes to policies, new programs or services or other important announcements.
Designed for the media, news releases and other news products serve a very specific function. It is different from the function of program- or service-based web content that guides people through the tasks they need to complete as a result of a policy change or announcement.
Given this, ideally news releases and supporting web content updates should be released at the same time. Unfortunately, this isn’t always realistic or possible. Sometimes news has to go out ahead of other web content updates, and this can cause issues for the public accessing our pages.
Lack of integration affects trust in Canada.ca and the government
When people hear an announcement on the news, they come to Canada.ca expecting to find the details that affect them within the program or service web content.
When that content doesn’t reflect what they’ve heard, or read in the news release, it can cause serious issues such as:
- increased calls and emails by people looking for clarity
- damage to government and program/service credibility
- undermined trust in the site
“Information seems inaccurate - not consistent with what is being said on the news that rules have changed. Please update accordingly.”
“Information about when measures start should be updated on the website immediately after they are announced, otherwise this supposedly official source of information is useless.”
- Canada.ca user feedback
For Canada.ca to be a trusted source of information, content needs to be coordinated and up to date, and designed with a focus on the needs of the people using the site.
Despite people’s best efforts, web teams can’t always publish content at the same time as a news release or announcement, especially in urgent or emergency situations.
While there are certain things you can’t control, there are practical techniques that you can use to support the public in the time between an announcement and the release of updated web content.
Coordinate your news releases and related web content
Over the pandemic, we’ve learned a lot about what works for Canada.ca visitors amid changing rules in emergency situations. These lessons can be applied for less urgent situations as well.
1. Craft a strong, clear headline for the news release
We know that it’s a best practice to make news release titles clear, specific and attention-grabbing to attract media attention. This technique is equally important for making sure search engines pick up and share a news release.
Search engines prioritize results using the H1 title of a web page. We often see searches on Canada.ca that reflect keywords from a recent announcement. If those keywords aren’t in the H1, search engines don’t always find the news release. Stories from the media may end up at the top of the search results instead.
Just like a headline, people decide whether to read the news release by reading the page title. Where ever possible, help them make the right decision with a specific title about what is changing and when.
Examples of headline-oriented news release titles:
- Health Canada authorizes use of the Moderna Spikevax (50 mcg) COVID-19 vaccine in children 6 to 11 years of age
- Government of Canada will remove pre-entry test requirement for fully vaccinated travellers on April 1
2. Add temporary alerts linked to the news release on affected content pages
In cases where you can’t update web content at the same time as when the news release is published, adding a temporary alert that links to a news release lets you intercept people on a content page where they naturally look for the most recent information. From there, you can direct them to “breaking news” content.
This is a stop-gap measure that can buy you some time to complete detailed updates on the content page.
Place alerts in context, not just at the top
Consider the placement of alerts carefully. An alert at the top of a page may get missed by enthusiastic scrollers. Placing it within the relevant subsection of a page lets you draw attention to an important change at the point where it makes the most sense for the reader. This maximizes the impact of the alert.
Up your alert-content-design game
Placement of alerts is only half the battle. How you design them can make a world of difference in how effective they are.
- Reading level: Write the alert text at a grade 6 to 8 reading level. You want people to easily understand why they need to pay attention.
- Length: Keep alert text very minimal. Long alerts that include too much information are distracting and disorienting. This is especially true on mobile, where they push the main content down the screen.
- Effective date: Include the exact date that changes come into effect.
- Verb tense: Pay attention to your verb tense. If changes don’t go into effect for another week, don’t write in the present tense. Put your alert text in the future tense and update it once the effective date has passed.
Remove alerts as soon as possible
Remember that adding alerts is a stop-gap measure. As soon as you’ve updated the program or service content to reflect what was announced, remove alerts pointing to news products.
3. Improve process synchronization
Look for opportunities to sync web content work with the news release production cycle:
- Add a web team touchpoint to news release procedures
- Work backwards from the news release date to determine feasible options for changes to web content
- Set up a co-design session with program, media relations, and web colleagues
- Engage approvers as early as possible
Developing products simultaneously serves the needs of both the public and the media more effectively.
4. Add the page feedback tool
Before an announcement, put the page feedback tool on the relevant content pages so you can capture visitor feedback. Sometimes, the best way to prevent out-of-sync updates happening again is by sharing feedback from people who didn’t receive the service they expected because the content was out-of-sync.
As the official digital source of government information, it’s essential that Canada.ca keep up with the news. People expect the official content to be updated as soon as they hear something in the media.
Up-to-date content increases trust and encourages people to use Canada.ca as their go-to point of reference. When they can’t find what they’re looking for, they turn to other sources that may be less accurate.
A lag between announcements and supporting web content causes confusion and frustration. When policy or programs are changing, make it a priority to work across teams to sync up your communications.