It’s generally understood now that a considered, intuitive user experience is better for businesses and customers than a slapdash, last minute - or even willfully malevolent - one. And, too, as an industry we’ve got to grips with the idea that not everything has to be perfect before launch, that it’s better to have something that meets 80% of its goal out there, rather than nothing at all. And that monitoring, testing, analysing and iterating is a reliable route to evolving that best-in-class UX. Afterall, no one wants their site content failing their users.
But while technology and functionality can be improved on iteratively, as humans we are not quite so forgiving when it comes to the information they carry and convey. Instinctively we place value in the accuracy of information as it helps us to understand and navigate our world, from what we believe about society, to how we purchase a parking ticket. We use all kinds of cues to determine the accuracy and value of information, including its author or source, whether it fits with what we already know, and even how it is designed and laid out. If we choose to trust information which later turns out to be inaccurate, then we are unlikely to place the same trust in future. This is where the information your site carries can be crucial to your business goals - inaccuracy breeds mistrust which leads to falling sales and visitor numbers.
There are four core factors to providing valuable information: readability, timeliness, completeness and truth.
If your content is dense or written in overly long complex sentences, users will find it hard to read and understand your message. This can be particularly frustrating when trying to convey information which is critical to success in a wider complex task, for instance trying to understand how to find and gain access to a building, or how an application form is to be submitted. It can also be detrimental in an ecommerce environment. If product information is written in an unclear, users will be put off purchasing through your content failing to deliver.
Check your content is in plain English. Use short sentences and simple language. If words make up a significant proportion of your site’s value - if you rely on readership, product sales, or advertising income - then you may also wish to consider hiring a copywriter.
Users want to know that what they’re reading is true. Most of the time a well-written website will be truthful when it launches. But business and processes change. Are you delivery times still correct? What about your returns policy and contact information? Users may not notice the first time, but if a poor experience due to incorrect information leads to them doubting your competence, they may not return.
Regularly check your content. It’s better to proactively check informational and process content regularly, rather than wait for someone to complain because of your content failing.
Timeliness is a major part of accuracy and trust. It’s one thing to know that you are regularly checking your content, but does your user? Adding in date stamps on time-critical content like delivery trackers, service updates and customer service announcements allows your user to judge the veracity of content for themselves. It can also avoid confusion if there are competing sources of information, for instance with public transport updates, or delivery tracking from the store and the courier.
Date stamp timely content and automated updates. For staged processes like delivery tracking, allow users to see all time stamped steps in a process, so they have a full record should they need to make any enquiries.
Sometimes applications and websites offer different information depending on the platform being used. There are banking apps which provide different information (rather than functionality) on their website and their app. Others use different labels on the app for the same information displayed on the web. This disparate and inconsistent behaviour can make the information hard to use and navigate, leading to mistrust and misuse of services. Ultimately, users may be forced to ring up or may choose to switch companies entirely.
Allow the same access to content across different platforms, and ensure that titles and labels are used consistently.
Kathryn has been working closely with customers and stakeholders for over a decade, helping them to define their information architecture, design and user research strategy. She has worked across a variety of industries and clients, specialising in secure systems for government before moving into the commercial sector with clients such as Vodafone, Fullers, British Gas and National Rail.