None of us started out on the web. Medical Boards have come from a world of print documents, reports, newsletters, and organizational bulletins. We held them, flipped through pages, scanned for headers and page numbers. We dog-eared important sections and made mental notes as to where on the page we saw something.

It was fine, but we didn’t know what we were missing.

Now with digital content, we expect to find all that information online. Hyperlinks, interactivity, searchability, personalized data, and configurable page settings are vernacular. What’s more, we expect to actually accomplish things.

How do we transform reams of complicated requirements from legacy print formats into strong and nimble web content?

It’s hard. But it’s not impossible.

Someone has to do the work of finding, interpreting, and organizing the information. Someone has to put the button under the user’s cursor. If the board isn’t investing that time at the source, then each user must do it with each site visit. The more diplomates you serve, the more time you save your specialists by taking this task head-on. Armed with a plan, the right team, and some simple tools, you can do this. Here’s how:

Content Strategy. Nobody likes walking around in the dark alone without a map. Leadership, internal physicians, program management, and administrative staff can work together to develop a strategic approach to web content that supports your users to achieve your organizational goals. This will be your map to guide decisions about content placement, language, graphics, life cycle, etc.

People. Your subject matter experts (SMEs) and program specialists are crucial team members for getting the right information out there, but they’re probably not trained web writers. Your traditional marketing/communications folks are writers, but may still need some training in creating great web content. Working together, these are the people that can respond best to user needs as defined by your Content Strategy.

Schedule. Start with bite-sized chunks. Build in time for multiple rounds of revision, especially at the beginning as you get your bearings and form your process. You may need a heavy-lifting period up front, with lessening involvement from SMEs as your web writers gain momentum. And since web content is ever-evolving, allow for a steady stream of ongoing attention to keep the site timely, fresh, and aligned with strategic principles.

Tools. Collaborative writing and content organization tools are proliferate and inexpensive. Google products like Docs and Spreadsheets allow for real-time group writing, content tracking, and sharing. GatherContent creates a skeleton site that parallels your actual site, while managing version control and content resources. HemingwayApp and WebFX’s Readability Test Tool help you simplify and reduce the words on the page so they’re scannable and clickable.

User Research. Large or small, qualitative or quantitative, onsite or remote – user research will always teach you something. When you’re up to your elbows in drafts and revisions, regular check-ins with various user groups will keep you in touch with their needs and views. This will prevent you from slipping into insider mental models and jargon, and frankly, remind you why you’re building a website in the first place.

It’s not easy, but it shows that you value your users’ time. And that’s worth the effort.

I am not suggesting that all boards have the resources to undertake this job in-house, at least not at first. And – full disclosure – I do work for a consultation firm that provides support at all levels of this process, from strategy down to content authorship. So help is out there. But sometimes knowing what’s in store can make a daunting task look … dare I suggest… even possibly a little bit exciting?

UX Research Tip: Tree Testing

There’s nothing like a real website for testing what users do. However, in early phases of creating a site’s structure of content, we need insight into how users thinkOptimal Workshop’s Treejack tool provides a quick and inexpensive way to get inside a user’s head. The free version lets you create 3 tasks for up to 10 people, which is enough to let you know if you’re on the right track. Then you can adjust your outline and test again, or pay for the upgrade if the tool really works for you.

Simple “tree testing” of your proposed content hierarchy puts you inside users’ heads quickly and inexpensively.

Note: I do not work for nor own shares in Optimal Workshop or any other research software company. All opinions and recommendations are my own, gained from experience, and shared here in hopes of making the web a better place.