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10 obstacles between your user and your content*

Sector Ecosystem

Focus groups and user research can highlight obstacles between your audience and your site. But be careful what you tell your participants in advance and how you phrase your questions.    

Working with public sector clients in New Zealand, I participated in well designed user research projects and focus groups, and met many people that challenged my initial assumptions and made me rethink our approach to specific projects. The list below will not replace your own research - I see it as a list of avoidable mistakes to consider before you throw everything away and risk ignoring, repeating, or recreating known obstacles. 

Obstacles that design, content, or technology can not solve alone

  • Your target audience does not have access to the internet, or does not use the internet to obtain or access information of the kind you have in mind.  
  • Your target audience is not aware that your site or services exist. 
  • Your target audience is aware of your site or services, but does not know that your site or services are relevant to them. 
  • Your target audience is aware of your site or services, but prefers alternative sources or services. 
  • Your target audience does not see you as a credible and trusted source. 

Obstacles you can remove with design, content, and technology

Obstacles you can observe in user testing

  • Your user can’t find the content on your site. 
  • Your user is overwhelmed by content or can’t identify content as the information they are after.  
  • Your user switches to the search, but the search does not yield intended or desired results (or your user can’t identify the relevancy based on the presented search result).
  • Your user scans the content and skips over the sections relevant to them. 
  • Your user can find the content, but does not understand the provided content, data, or forms.
  • Your user finds content buried in PDFs (partly in legalese) and dismisses it as too long or too hard to read. 
  • Your user remembers something they read on one of your channels, but is not able to find the information again because the content is published in only one digital channel, e.g. Twitter, Facebook or a newsletter.

Obstacles you can identify based on a site review and content audit

  • Content is written and organised based on the structure and view point of your organisation, not your user's needs. 
  • Content is out of date. 
  • Content is doubled-up. 
  • Content is not written for online audiences. 
  • Content is buried and stuck in outdated content hierarchies. 
  • Content is not relevant to your audiences.
  • The current navigation pathways are inconsistent and not easy to grasp.
  • Content is not presented in an engaging context.  
  • Content does not guide the user through the site - missing related content and cross references. 
  • Content does not support business objectives or marketing strategies.  

In short ... 

Technology, design, and your content can get between your user and your site or services. Go out and meet your target audience. Do less, but do it well. Create your own list and add it to your Content Strategy and Information Architecture approach. Pin it to your screen. Keep in mind what you can and can't achieve. Test your ideas against your list. 

Want to know more?

Check out our content strategy and creation series on our blog

* I got up to 21 22 obstacles, but I wanted to make sure you'll read them all. 


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Heike Theis

Heike is part of the Sector team at Sparks Interactive and, together with Dave Sparks, the project owner for the Sector Drupal Distribution. 

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