Microcopy: little words make a big difference on the intranet

 
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Some of the greatest value the digital workplace can deliver is moving internal services online, making it easier to get things done at less cost to the company. Online HR, training or meeting room booking are just some examples of services that are delivered through the intranet to save money and time.

The problem, as any regular user of these services will know, is that these are often difficult to navigate and use. At best this frustrates users; at worst it undermines trust in the intranet altogether and forces people to use offline channels. 

That’s all a marked difference from the real world, on the internet, where use of online channels is growing all the time. Online sales in the UK grew by 20% in the past year, and just this week two banks announced they were closing hundreds of branches as people shift to online banking.

One reason for this success in driving channel shift is that websites have invested time and resources in getting the little things right. They invest resources in testing and optimising microcopy – the small bits of text that help instruct or alleviate the concerns of users – and this has a huge impact on user experience. Data consistently shows how changes to even single words on a page can have a sizeable impact on the number and value of completed transactions.

Online retailers, in particular, have followed the advice of user experience experts like Jared Spool who’ve proven that small changes to even single words on a website can have a huge effect on the bottom line. In one example, Spool showed how a simple change to labelling on one page of a retailer’s checkout process increased the number of completed checkouts by 45% – netting the vendor $300m in the first year. The potential to grow website revenue by millions of dollars with just simple changes that require no development has spurred retailers to invest time and money in testing and optimising every single word on their pages.

The much-lauded UK Government Digital Service followed the same approach, using A/B testing to optimise the user journey. In one example, they tried eight different variations in wording to test which best encouraged people to sign up to the Organ Donor Register. Adding one link with small changes to wording meant 350,000 more people signed up.

Yet despite the obvious benefits in cost reduction and productivity that same approach could bring inside organisations, that degree of process optimisation simply isn’t happening – with the result that services are hard to use (and therefore underused).

Despite the proven benefits of optimising microcopy, this test-and-iterate process rarely happens on intranets and digital workplace tools. That’s a real shame, as adapting and optimising microcopy has the potential to delight users and boost use of internal online services for very little investment. These are little changes that could make a huge difference.

How to optimise microcopy on the intranet

To see where microcopy changes could make a difference, start by finding the problem areas in feedback from across your organisation. Are HR still getting calls on a service even though it’s available online? Do people still call reception to book a meeting room? Is there information that people constantly complain they can’t find?

Once you’ve identified which user journeys need closer inspection, take a look at the analytics. Which pages in a user journey have high bounce rates? Test your hypothesis by watching real users attempt to use a service and see where they struggle.

Next, look at these pages and think what elements are ambiguous. Do you label a button submit or save? Do you provide enough guidance on the process? Or too much? Would an example help? Do you say ‘three’ or ‘3’? All of these tiny modifications can make a massive difference.

Once you’ve identified the problem area, test one or more solutions. The ideal way of doing this is through A/B testing, which means serving different versions of the page to users at random and testing which performs better.

If you’re not able to do this – perhaps because the technical set-up of your site doesn’t allow for this, then you could try changing the page and comparing before and after.  You can also use the ‘inspect element’ option within Chrome’s developer tools to make changes to the page within your browser (see our example here). This can be useful for simple tests or to show stakeholders what changes will look like.

Once you’ve tested your changes, implement the most successful option, or iterate further.

Make microcopy matter

Once you’ve seen some success in optimising your microcopy, make this part of your content processes and standards. Keep identifying problem pages, testing changes, and iterating.

Train your content publishers to do the same, emphasising the need to make the entire page or process work for users – not just the main body text. Include this in your content publisher training.

Finally, be sure to highlight the results of your content optimisation to stakeholders. It could be a quick, low-cost win that demonstrates your and your team’s expertise in making the intranet work better for your organisation.

Have you had any success optimising your microcopy? Share your experiences and tips in the comments below.

 

 

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