Improving the GOV.UK blogging platform

Three years ago dxw built a blogging platform for government,, to move departmental blogs on to GOV.UK and help civil servants blog as easily as possible. We’ve been hosting and developing the site since it launched, and this year GDS renewed their contract with us for a further two years.

It’s been a while since we’ve done any development sprints with the GOV.UK blogs team, so we’ve been doing some discovery work to find out how we can iterate the platform further.

What needs fixing?

We kicked off the work by running a roadmap workshop with the GDS editorial team and new product manager for Dave facilitated the day and structured it around asking seven questions, including “who are our users?” and “what do we need to learn or prove?”. This helped us set some direction for the work and reach a common understanding of GDS’ goals.

One of the top priorities was security. At dxw we think it’s good practice to do regular penetration testing of digital services, so we conducted a security audit on the site to detect any vulnerabilities and fix them. A common theme emerged in the findings – how can GDS securely operate a cross-government platform with devolved publishing?

Giving users tools to make the service more secure

GOV.UK blogs is a WordPress multisite with more than 100 blogs (sites) and 2,000 users. It wasn’t a surprise that we found large numbers of inactive user accounts and users who had left their role in government.

With this in mind, we built some auditing tools so that the GDS editorial team can manage the platform more easily. Editors have a busy workload and they don’t have much time to regularly check accounts are being used. We’ve therefore developed some simple tools to ‘deactivate’ users and automatically make users ‘inactive’ after they haven’t logged in for a period of time. We’re already seeing the benefits of having these features and had some positive feedback from the team.

Understanding user needs

Between development sprints we’ve also been doing some user research. Vita recently finished a sprint of user research running in-depth interviews with blog owners and authors to understand their needs and experience with the service.

Overall, we discovered that the blogging platform works well, but there are challenges. The difficulties lay around processes, knowing where to go for help and getting approval from internal teams to publish blog posts. To address some of these pain points, we have produced a backlog of user needs and prioritised these with GDS. It includes things like making guidance easier to find on GOV.UK and establishing a community for blog owners to share their learnings and experience. We’ll be working closely with GDS in the coming months to make some of these improvements outside of the blogging platform.

Our next priority for the new year is to do some usability testing with users visiting to understand their needs and find out if there’s any changes we should make to improve their experience. We’re also working on redesigning the site to make it more consistent with the rest of GOV.UK and looking at how we can integrate with GOV.UK Notify for emails and SMS. We’ve made great progress so far and look forward to doing some more exciting work with the team at GDS in the new year!