We do a lot of talking to people about what’s wrong with their website.
They tell us:
‘It’s not engaging’
‘It’s not interactive’
‘People constantly call us to ask about stuff that’s already on the website’.
That last one is usually yelled with the desperation of someone who has explained 347 times that yes, the opening hours on the homepage – you just need to scroll down.
They say their website is ugly, clunky and dated. They’re frustrated by the lack of videos or beautiful, high resolution photos. They say the site ‘needs some UX’.
The problem is, people so often get caught up on the flashy stuff. It’s glaringly obvious when a website’s look and feel are stuck in 2007, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the UX is bad. Your UX is bad when people are struggling to get what they need from your website. Unfortunately, that can’t be fixed with a sexy redesign and a couple of videos.
UX isn’t a thing you can just add to a website after all the other parts have been completed – it’s developed through a set of methodologies and ways of working that are meant to ensure you’re meeting user needs.
So people are often on the right track when they raise UX as an issue. But for meaningful change to occur, we need to ask ‘what are users experiencing that can be improved?’ If we’re asking that question about a website, the answer is almost definitely content. And by content, we mean pretty much everything on your website that communicates information to your audience.
At Weave, we say you can’t improve your users’ experience without addressing your content. This certainly applies to websites with piles and piles of content, but even small, 5-page websites can benefit from taking this approach.
Let’s use an example we’re all familiar with – a restaurant website. Sure, you want the site to be visually appealing. Users could reasonably expect to see beautiful photos of the food and the venue. But let’s consider what the site’s job is beyond making potential customers hungry. What information are they looking for? Most sites will tick the fundamental boxes – they’ll provide a menu, tell you how to book a table and give you an address. But what about accessibility – what questions might people have in relation to accessibility at a particular restaurant they want to go to?
Can I take public transport there? If not, is there parking? Does the restaurant have a carpark or am I going to have to hunt for something on the street? What about stairs? Is this place upstairs, because it’s my gran’s 80th birthday and half her friends use wheelchairs. Do you have to go upstairs to get to a bathroom? What’s the lighting like? More importantly, what’s the noise level like? Some of the guests we’re inviting use hearing aids and don’t cope well with a lot of ambient noise.
You get the point. Even when a site has a seemingly simple goal – like convincing people to come to your restaurant – there are dozens of questions it has to answer – or in other words, dozens of tasks a user might be trying to complete. And while beautiful flat lay photos of food might be enough to make people salivate, you’ll be losing customers if they can’t work out that you’re open Mondays, or that there’s an elevator, or that you actually have heaps of gluten free options.
Extrapolating the problem
Imagine this problem magnified – say on a government or university website. Questions like ‘how do I file my taxes’ or ‘how do I decide what degree to do’ are so complex and filled with so many sub-tasks and diverging user journeys that it’s much more challenging to provide content that meets everyone’s needs. They’re also tasks that have a lot more inherent risks, so people are much more likely to be stressed out before they even get to these sites.
But the point is that you need to help people achieve the task they’re there to do.
If people are tearing their hair out or calling up with basic questions it’s because they haven’t been able to do that. That’s a bad user experience. And it’s probably not going to be solved by adding a whole heap of flashy videos or starting yet another redesign. It’s going to be solved by getting the content right.
After all, the biggest part of what your users are experiencing is your content.
This means that if you want to improve your users’ experience, you need to ask questions like:
- Does your content answer their questions?
- Is it in the kind of language they understand?
- Is it in a format that’s most useful for them?
- Does your content take into account (and empathise with) the headspace your users are in when they encounter it?
- Do your navigation labels make sense and take users where they want – and expect – to go?
Yes? Then your users are probably having a pretty great experience on your very helpful website. If not, you probably need to start putting some of your resources towards understanding the answers to those questions.
What happens when UX work doesn’t include content
Even in organisations that are lucky enough to have both content and UX professionals, it’s rare to see them working together. This means that:
- User research examines what people need, but doesn’t capture the language they use to describe it. This means that content creators end up having to guess how best to communicate with their audience instead of being certain they’re speaking the same language.
- Ideation focuses on features and tools. This can lead to over-engineered solutions when simpler, text-based solutions might be more effective and easier to implement
- Stuff gets built with placeholder text, and then it becomes the content creator’s job to retro-fit their information to a design that was supposedly purpose-built for it, but doesn’t actually accommodate it – and meaning gets sacrificed so the design can ‘work’.
- Everyone continues to be frustrated because no matter how much money gets spent on the website, people still keep calling up to find out when you’re open.
Don’t separate content from UX design
When asked about UX, a lot of designers will talk to you about concepts like interaction design, information architecture, usability, accessibility – but they almost never mention content. But if we accept that UX practices, at their core, are about helping people to find, learn and do what they need to, then it makes no sense to separate content from UX.