22 September 2016

Why out-of-control content is ruining your user experience

So you’re looking to improve your users’ experience?

Maybe your website is new, or maybe it is so old it’s place in the digital era is questionable. Either way, investing in good user experience design is key to sound web development.

But what if your poor site usability is not a user experience issue at all?

Content is the lifeblood of your site

Let’s face it.

Your staff and customers don’t visit your site to marvel at fancy buttons and flashy images. They’re there for one reason – the content.

It’s the lifeblood of your site. And its health is paramount. Your content defines the information architecture, navigation, labelling, design, user journey and overall experience. Without content, there’s no reason for your site to exist at all.

And your content is there to serve one of two purposes for your users: to help them solve a problem, or to find out how to do something. That’s it.

When content is in poor health, every interaction with it becomes inefficient and ineffective.

9 signs your content is causing confusion

  • Customers call with enquiries seeking information that is on your website.
  • Website page numbers are growing faster than you can keep a track of.
  • You’ve received reports your site is slowing down or not performing as expected.
  • Staff manage their daily tasks by saving endless bookmarks in their browsers rather than navigate your site.
  • Your search function rarely returns useful results.
  • You’ve seen the same information presented in multiple different ways.
  • Content authors believe that using every page design function possible on one page is a good content strategy.
  • People don’t trust your content as its been around for years, so they go elsewhere looking for more current information.
  • Staff store all their files on their hard drives because they can’t find the information they need on your intranet – even though that’s where the most up-to-date versions are.

Content problems are often masked as usability issues

We’ve found, after working with many organisations, that if your site has more than 100 pages, it’s highly likely your usability issues are content problems in disguise.

And if you commission a costly UX project in the hopes of improving website usability without decluttering your content, all you’ll be doing is building a bigger, better storage facility for your collection of out-of-date content.

But, you’ve got to understand what’s there before you can sort out. To review it all before you know what you need to keep, redevelop or discard.

Content is fundamental to good user experience (UX)

A good content strategy should identify your key messages (tied to desired business outcomes) and combine these with what your audience needs to hear. A combined content and UX approach means telling your organisation’s story in a unique and compelling way that leaves no gap between what you need to say and what your audience needs to hear.

How to discover the truth of your problem

As with any discovery mission, research is key. First, you need to find out what there is, then you can sort and cull the clutter.

How? By completing a comprehensive, quantitative and qualitative content audit.

A good content audit will help you to understand your users’ behaviour, where they are spending their time and the reasons for a lack of desired action or results.

Essential elements of a comprehensive content audit

Analytics

How are people coming to your site? Where are they landing? What are the most popular pages? How many pages do you have and what does your metadata look like?

Categories

Page titles don’t always tell you what’s on a page. Build a picture of your content categories to inform the structure of your information architecture.

Duplication

A large author base often leads to content duplication and repetition. Is content duplicated in different areas of your site? Is the same type of information repeated in different ways in various locations? Trust is decreased and websites become unnecessarily large when content is duplicated.

Task-based

It’s best practice to develop an information architecture that’s task-based. Does your content reflect a task-focussed approach? Does each page have a clear purpose or call to action?

Tone

Does every word have a clear tone and consistent style? Does this match your brand? It’s easy for a brand to be eroded when each page has a different voice.

Readability

Content written for the web is not the same as traditional long-form writing. Readers scan content at high-speed searching for what they need. They’re ruthless and will dismiss a page in seconds. Is your content free from confusing jargon and acronyms? Does it use short sentences and paragraphs? Does it chunk content together under easy sub-headings? Is it easy to read?

Meaningful content

Each page should contain rich, actionable content. Content-thin pages such as those with rows of links and no context-building written content decrease your user experience. Links must be active too as broken links are hated by users and search engines alike.

When the time comes to improve your website, you’ll know you’re investing wisely

It’s easy to get swept up in beautiful design, user research and carefully scripted personas. We’re not dismissing the importance of any of these things. In fact, we endorse all of them. But without understanding the content your website is designed to share, you will never fully realise your investment.

A comprehensive audit will enable you to build a site that is trustworthy, conveys your brand story perfectly, and that is the first point of call for your users. One that fulfils every need with effortless clarity. And one that doesn’t swallow hours of staff time to maintain.

So how will you begin?

Powerful results are yours for the taking.

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