Steve Nichols of InfoTech Communications suggests that the best intranet news services are the ones that are never read. Confused? He argues that good writing skills should prevent rather than encourage people to click on the "read more" link.
How do you measure the true effectiveness of an intranet news service? The truth is that it may be more difficult than you think. The fact that an article doesn't appear to be read may be to your credit.
Confused? Let me explain. First and foremost, why are people employed in a company? The answer is to perform some function or other. It most certainly isn't to browse an intranet all day.
So if we can make them use an intranet less we could save our company money, right? Well, only if staff are as informed as they need to be.
In reality, many intranet news services work on the basis of information overload. Throw as much detail as you can at the poor reader and let them sift it out. The truth is that an intranet should be able to accommodate all manner of browsers - from skimmers to full-blown data miners.
As web usability guru Jakob Nielsen puts it, we should be able to accommodate users looking for information at both the macro and micro level.
That is, the structure should be such that we can cater for those who want just an overview of the latest corporate news and those who want chapter and verse. This is why our news homepage design and content is so important. The usual technique is to have a headline and a "one-liner" or summary. If people want more they click on the story and go to the full version.
Trouble is, how much thought is given to that one liner and could a "four-liner" actually be more useful? That is, if the summary text gives the reader all the information they need to make sense of the story there is then no need to click further - and they can get on with their job.
The secret is to use good journalistic techniques, making sure that the salient facts are there on the front page. The headline is equally important and can work together with the summary to give a bigger picture. And we need to make sure that we use all the available screen space to run our headline too. For example, if you know you always have space for around 80 characters make sure you use all of them.
The BBC is very good at its use of summaries on news.bbc.co.uk. They are succinct, informative and let you know if you wish to click further. Punny, vague headlines that leave you wondering what the story is all about and summaries that say "click here to find out more about the latest situation" are best alone.
In truth then, stories that receive fewer clicks may still be being read, its just you have no way of knowing. But if your web writing skills are really up to scratch you can rest assured that the reader has retrieved all the information they require from your homepage - and are now quietly getting on with their job.
Intranet metrics are only part of the picture. If you really want to know how people use your intranet watch them and then ask them what they like and dislike about it.
We used to call it a readership survey - and just because we've swapped paper for screens doesn't mean they are any less relevant.
Steve Nichols (email@example.com) runs InfoTech Communications and is editor of the IoIC ezine. InfoTech specialises in online communications and has acted as consultant and trainer for many blue-chip companies including Aviva, AWG, Shell, Standard Life, HBOS, BNFL, AstraZeneca, Diageo, Accenture and Australia New Zealand Bank.