A new website doesn’t feel that newsworthy, amongst the carnage in London of the past few days. However, a new-ish face for the Department of Health‘s corporate site appeared on Monday afternoon. I’m quite excited about it, as this represents the culmination of lots of hard work by my colleagues.

Essentially the homepage and some other important information now sits on our WordPress platform. We originally used this platform for blogs, but team head Stephen Hale quickly realised it’s potential to release us from the shackles of an old content management system. More importantly this new found flexibility helps us communicate more quickly and effectively with the Department’s audience.

The real story, though, is not about the technology that sits behind the site, but how it is changing the way we publish content. By carefully using tags and categories, we can start to ensure that information is presented in the way that people might expect to find it, instead of it being categorised according to how the Department is structured.

For example, in health, obesity is a subject that is dealt with by several different teams across the Department. Each of these teams would have published content on the corporate site individually, in the sections that covered their particular area of responsibility, or as a reflection of their location within the Department’s structure. Fine if you know your way around a Government department, or know exactly what you are looking for. Not so good if you are searching for the latest information about obesity, be that policy, campaign material or press release.

Department of Health website screen shot

Here it is, in all it's glory

Tagging and categories should hopefully allow this information to surface in a more intelligent way. I also believe that it will help colleagues within a large organisation think more about how their work interlinks with each other, because they’ll see their contributions to the website automatically appear alongside those of other teams.

By tweaking the layout of the home page, it was also a good opportunity to simplify the menus too. A spring clean is always a good idea.

This isn’t an easy process and I reckon the hard work is just beginning. The majority of the website is still sitting on the old platform. However, it has put the audience firmly back at the centre of our thinking about the website.

It has also got me thinking about hospital and regional websites. I wonder how the user experience could be improved if different disciplines and organisations within the NHS contributed content to centralised websites (defined by hospital or trust, for example), but tagged it consistently?