Improving our website with user research: What you told us

In summer 2016 we ran a website test to help us better understand how you – the people who use our sites – expect our online content to be organised and labelled.

By learning more about the words and terms you use to describe the things we do, we hope to improve the user journey across our sites.

Here’s what we learned and what we plan to do.

The problem

We noticed that we were being inconsistent in how we categorise content on our main sites, ncvo.org.uk and knowhownonprofit.org.

For example, in the services and support section of ncvo.org.uk there is a section called ‘Workforce’, which links to a section on knowhownonprofit.org called ‘You and your team’. And there are other sections on the site that use the term ‘HR’.

Three screengrabs from NCVO’s websites that show the different ways we describe the same topic: workforce, you and your team, and HR
Examples from our websites of inconsistent category names

Three different ways of describing the same topic area – which could be a bit confusing.

And when you’re browsing our sites, we want to be able to point you to similar content that we think you’ll find useful. With inconsistent category names, this is difficult.

On top of that, the words and terms we use for our categories hadn’t recently been tested with users – were we even talking about things in the way you expect?

What we did

We ran a card sorting exercise: a simple form of user testing that helps you understand how information should be organised and categorised on a website.

It worked like this.

  1. Participants were given a stack of cards, each with a question on it that people often use our websites to answer.
  2. They sorted them into groups of cards that they felt were similar.
  3. They labelled each group with a name that they thought described it best.
Part of a completed card sorting exercise. Cards are sorted into groups with category names written on sticky notes. The category names are finance and funding, volunteers and HR.
Part of a completed card sorting exercise – cards are sorted into groups with category names written on sticky notes

You can read more about the exercise in this case study on NCVO Knowhow Nonprofit.

What we learned

No big surprises

We were pleased to see that the terms we’ve been using to categorise our content were pretty similar to the ones you chose in the test. So inconsistency was our main problem – we had to pick one term for each topic and use it across everything we do.

By looking at patterns and similarities in how people sorted and labelled the cards, we came up with this set of category names.

  • Campaigning and lobbying
  • Communications
  • Finance
  • Funding
  • Governance and trustees
  • HR
  • Impact
  • IT
  • Legal
  • Planning and strategy
  • Volunteer management

So no bombshells – just tweaks and improvements to what we were already using.

But, importantly, tweaks and improvements that are based on our users’ needs and expectations, rather than our own.

Here are a couple of examples of how we came to our decisions.


Governance and trustees

Five cards about boards and trustees that were often grouped together in our exercise. The cards say: when can we pay a board member, can you help us change our governing document, how can we help our board understand what our organisation does, what are the new rules that apply to my trustee role, and how do we attract new trustees.
Cards about boards and trustees that were often grouped together in our exercise

While almost half of participants categorised these cards as ‘governance’, others used terms such as ‘for trustees’ and ‘boards/trustees’.

We felt this reflected two ways of looking at the subject: governance as a discipline, and trustees as the people who sit on a board.

So we decided to reflect the expectations of both sets of users with ‘governance and trustees’.

No one chose ‘trusteeship’, a term we’ve been using on ncvo.org.uk.


HR

Four cards about staff and employment that were often grouped together in our exercise. The cards say: do you have a sample staff handbook, is our data protection policy out of date, do you have salary benchmarking data and do you offer management courses.
Cards about staff and employment that were often grouped together in our exercise

Most participants categorised these cards as ‘HR’; only a couple used ‘human resources’.

This showed us that the abbreviation is widely used and understood, and that we didn’t need to use it in full.

‘Workforce’ – a category on our main website – didn’t come up at all.

Well, maybe a couple of surprises…


Legal

We noticed that a lot of participants grouped together all cards that had a legal angle, even if they covered different topic areas.

Six cards with a legal angle that were often grouped together in our exercise. The cards say: do my mentors need to be DBS checked, what legal structure should my organisation take, how do I set up a charity, what are the new rules that apply to my trustee role, can you help us change our governing document, and how do I campaign within the law.
Cards with a legal angle that were often grouped together in our exercise

This was interesting, as it’s not something we do at the moment – while we have a category for legal advice on ncvo.org.uk, legal content is scattered across different sections on our sites.

This told us that some of you expect to find this type of content in a legal category, so we need to keep this in mind when thinking about how we structure information on our sites.


Digital

While ‘digital’ is a word we use quite a bit (although as a member of the digital and communications team, I’m perhaps a bit biased), no one used it in the exercise. Cards that I would have grouped together and called ‘digital’ were often labelled as either ‘communications’ or ‘IT’.

So although we think it’s an important term and one that we’ll continue to use on our sites, it reminded us that our category names need to reflect the language of our users, not our own preferences.

But the real revelation…

Doing a bit of user testing was really easy.

With just a bit of staff time we got some useful insights that will improve our websites and make it easier for you to find what you’re looking for.

If you fancy doing your own card sorting exercise, have a look at this how-to guide on NCVO Knowhow Nonprofit.

What’s next?

Over the next few months we’ll start updating category names across ncvo.org.uk and knowhownonprofit.org.

However, we see this as the first step, not the last: just as English changes over time, so will the words you use to describe the things you’re looking for. It’s up to us to make sure we’re always speaking your language.

Thanks – and let us know if you’d like to help

Thank you to everyone who took part in the card sorting exercise.

If you’re interested in helping us with other website tests, drop us a line at membership@ncvo.org.uk.

 

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Greg Lamyman Greg is NCVO's brand and content officer. He manages NCVO's brand and creative work, and writes, edits and commissions content for NCVO Knowhow Nonprofit.

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