In September 2015, I gave a presentation at the Europe's Customer Festival in London, using a content test Jakob Nielsen conducted in 1997. It had probably been around in digital for a good decade longer than most of the audience. But I still find it one of the best illustrations of how simple usability best practice can increase people’s engagement with – and understanding of – content.
If you haven’t come across it, have a look. In summary, Nielsen took content from the Visit Nebraska website, created 4 alternative versions and put them into user testing. The first version was cut right down. The second was put in a scannable format, using bullets and short sentences. The third replaced marketing hyperbole with plain language. All three outperformed the control. Then a final hybrid version was tested, incorporating all 3 usability principles and achieving the Goldilockian heights of being ‘just right’ (with 124% uplift in measured usability).
Nearly 20 years on, cutting copy, simplifying language and scannable formats should be content 101 as we market to mobile-obsessed millennials. And yet the delegates that I meet at Usability Week’s content strategy seminars, still complain of being handed dense blocks of jargon-filled, self-involved prose. And I haven’t yet found a more elegant case study to prove them wrong.
And there is more where that came from. I’ve used Jakob’s report on how people read on mobiles countless times when persuading companies to embrace a mobile-first content strategy. Did you know it’s 108% harder to understand information when reading from a mobile screen? Seeing proof that readability drops by over half when moving from a desktop to an iPhone-sized screen tends to give people pause for thought.
If your next content challenge is customer service content, you might be interested to find out how tone of voice can encourage self-help online. Or how ‘chunking’ can transform your FAQs. Especially if you’re wrestling with a legacy of thousands of never-asked nonsense queries.
And just last week, Nielsen published some new thoughts on gated content. Is this technique of keeping content behind forms that only allows users access in return for data, so beloved of B2B - a good thing or a bad thing? Nielsen Norman’s Hoa Loranger shares a list of 8 times it’s okay to ‘gate’. She advises content strategists to embrace the reciprocity principle, where you give generously before you take. Worth a read.
In that spirit, we’d also like to remind you that the man himself is bringing Usability Week to London from 7-13 November 2015.