What are you risking by not testing content?

  • Yvonne Struthers

Testing content with users lets you find out how useful it is, how well it’s understood, how the tone resonates and how much confidence it inspires. You generate a wealth of insight you can use to refine your content to increase its effectiveness.

For the last two years, Scope’s services team have been developing new help and support content for disabled people and we’ve been running integrated rounds of user research.

Scope’s content needs to work hard:

  • To be able to help people solve problems, the advice needs to meet people where they are. It needs to recognise the exact circumstances people are in, which may differ from assumptions made in official guidance
  • To be able to provide emotional support, Scope needs to convey empathy in a way that feels genuine and respectful
  • To be the ‘go-to’ organisation for disability information and support, Scope’s content needs to be accurate and credible enough to inspire trust

Scope also know that it’s not just a case of knowing your subject well and writing about it. When you have a deep knowledge of a subject, you are often too close to that subject to be able to communicate it in a way that will be clear to all users.

Then there’s the added complication that people’s real-life experiences, interpretation of language and levels of comprehension all vary greatly. So while you may think you have the information to answer a user need, there are a multitude of unknowns that will affect how this information is received by your users.

Scope navigate this complexity with a rigorous content design process. Input from their subject experts is still critical, but it’s only one of several key factors.

Taking the content to the people it’s designed to support, listening to their views and experiences, and iterating the articles in line with user input is fundamental to creating effective content.

1. Check the accuracy of information

How things are supposed to work versus what people experience in real life has been a recurring theme in the testing we’ve carried out for Scope.

A subject expert can have inside out knowledge of how a service or process is designed to work. But while they may know the official or ideal scenario, they may be unaware of the ways that service may fail a user in real life. This is knowledge that can only be gained from users themselves.

If Scope describe a process such as applying for a benefit as straightforward when the reality is everything but, they miss an opportunity to meet the user where they are, be credible and provide essential emotional support.

2. Identify missing information

Each of Scope’s support articles aims to answer a specific user need and the testing allows us to check whether that need has been met. Sometimes the testing reveals that the user has been left with further questions. Or that their question has been answered, but without the human support they need in that situation.

For example, an article around applying for an EHCP plan was felt to have all the correct information, but without acknowledging how stressful this process could be. A simple tweak could allow Scope to validate their users’ experience of the process and demonstrate empathy.

Other users highlighted that their anxiety had been triggered when an important topic had been touched on too lightly. Had Scope published this content without testing with users, it could have caused distress; the exact opposite to Scope’s desired effect!

3. Check the usefulness of your content

Although you may think you’ve answered a user need, you won’t know for sure how useful your information actually is without consulting the people who are going to use it. In our Scope testing, an article advised applying for an educational psychologist via the school.

However, several users flagged that this wasn’t helpful advice. In their own experience, they’d had much more success by contacting their local authority directly.

4. Discover how the tone of the article sits with users

In our research, some participants found the tone of a particular article to be too cold and formal. This insight gives Scope an opportunity to adapt that article to a warmer tone and in doing so, provide more of the human support that is such a key part of their service provision.

At the other end of the spectrum, the tone of another article was felt to be overly familiar and patronising. Pitching your tone is a complex task, and particularly so when discussing an emotive subject. Involving your users in the process is a really effective way of helping to get this as right as possible.

5. Find out how your language resonates with users

For your users to feel like your content is speaking to them, it needs to be written in the language they use. People don’t necessarily use the official terms for things; there might be other vocabulary they use to describe the same thing. Taking your content to the people it’s written to support will give you an opportunity to use the words that resonate with them.

6. Find out whether your content structure is right.

You may have the information to answer a user need, but how you organise it is just as key. Your users need to be able to easily scan the page to find the information that is relevant to them.

In one session our research revealed that users hadn’t understood that the steps within a three step process were connected. The way you’ve broken your information down may appear to be helpful but you need to be sure it makes absolute sense to your users.

7. Check comprehension

Accessibility is all about making an experience as inclusive as possible. In the context of content, it also means making sure your information can be easily understood by anybody who needs to read it. Sentences need to be clear, concise and jargon free. For Scope, making their information accessible is even more important.

Our testing has allowed Scope to find out what terms people are already familiar with, and what they don’t understand. Users flagged complicated sentences which could then be rewritten more simply.

8. Uncovering efficiencies in content production and missed contexts

In each of their support articles, Scope are responding to a specific user need, within a specific context. Through user testing, we often discover a piece of content may answer multiple user needs, suiting a wider audience than initially thought.

For example, an article about starting to travel with a disability was written for young disabled people travelling on public transport for the first time. Our testing identified that the information would also be relevant to any newly disabled person of any age, since they would have to re-learn to travel with their new condition.

Likewise, an article about SEN or mainstream education for a disabled child was aimed at parents of pre-school children choosing their child’s first school. Our testing highlighted that this information need wasn’t exclusive to parents of preschool children. Actually, a child’s condition and therefore their educational needs may change at any point in their schooling.

Acknowledging additional situations a reader might be in when accessing information is so important. Getting this right tells the reader that Scope understands and is there to support them in their specific situation.

In summary

This isn’t an exhaustive list of the areas you can explore through content testing but it gives you a flavour of just how impactful this type of research can be. If you skip this important step of the content design process, you miss opportunities to further your understanding of your users and create really effective content.

Whether or not you are already working with your users to co-design your services, think about how you can involve them in shaping your content too, because content is experience.

If you’d like more advice on how to do this, please get in touch!

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