When I first meet a new client and start imagining how we can improve their digital strategy, their content, and the user experience of their website, I start by asking about their target audiences. The questions are simple, but they can be hard to answer.
What do you want to accomplish with your website? Who is your website talking to? Who do you want to be talking to?
The “Who” questions are particularly important for large institutions that are looking to show their purpose and humanity. They want to feel less like a large, opaque organization and more like a human-centric organization made up of individuals. As one client told me recently “we want [our users] to know that we’re people."
But the problem with jumping from “Who are you talking to?” to creating user personas is that it reduces your diverse audience. We create personas to pinpoint a more effective strategy, so that the most important links and menu items are readily available to our primary audience. But this can have the effect of denying the diversity of your users and how they think.
So don't just ask "Who are you talking to?" The second "who" question above is critical. Who do you want to be talking to? It opens a space for us to think about viewpoints other than the ones we already know.
Since diversity and inclusion are more and more top of mind, the conversation often arises that an organization wants to show that it values diversity and inclusion. When creating personas, then, we make sure to represent diversity in their gender, ethnicity, age, abilities, and occasionally socioeconomic background. At that point, it's easy to decide the work is done. But when creating content, it's easy to forget about the diversity that we strive to present. Instead, we fall back to our default mode.
So how do we create a content strategy that promotes inclusion? What might it look like? Here are some ideas:
One approach to content strategy is to make the default mode "plain language" so we can speak to everyone.
Removing jargon from the primary pages of the website and creating a summary of more in-depth, technical content so that a general audience can understand it is a clear signal that you want more users to consume your content. A simple way to evaluate if you're writing with plain language is to use a tool like Hemingway App to check the general grade level and complexity of your content. Aim for a readability of Grade 9 or lower if you want to be sure your message is clear and readable.
Don't use a glossary to get past using any acronyms or industry terms in your writing. A glossary doesn't solve your jargon problems; no one is going to click on menu items and calls to action that are full of acronyms. I find this advice particularly useful for governmental organizations that have “policy maker” and “citizen” as primary and secondary audiences. Colloquial expressions can also be hard to understand for users who are reading the website in a second or third language, or just people who are stressed and distracted by life.
Another approach is to showcase individuals with their own voice, allowing you to break out of the brand’s tone of voice and expose more of your existing diversity. Testimonials or “Community Spotlights” are a great example of this. Go beyond just showing diverse faces. Let them speak. Including diverse views in your content's writers is a sure-fire way of increasing the diversity of the content itself.
If you’re serious about appealing to more diverse audiences, recruiting diverse people in your user research is important. We create a “recruitment guide” when we’re looking for participants for interviews and usability testing studies. If you plan to build an accessible website, you could find participants who use assistive technology. When we were running interviews for a business school that recruits internationally, we looked for students who had just moved to Canada. If you’re building out a website for people with mental health issues, you will want to seek out participants from that specific audience.
Don’t be afraid of personality
Storytelling is how you make content more accessible. It also implies a storyteller, a perspective, and an opinion. This can be hard to scale up if you have a lot of content authors. A formal tone of voice scales better, which is why large institutions have a tendency to go with a more formal tone of voice. But if you find places for the personality to come through, with some key messaging and some selected content that speaks more from an individual’s perspective, this can make all the difference.
If you’re revamping your digital strategy or doing a content audit, it’s a great time to reassess how inclusive your website really is. Evolving Web was founded more than a decade ago, and our commitment to inclusion is shown in our team & our customers. With all our experience in building for accessibility and inclusion, we are always happy to help others out as well.
If inclusion and accessibility matter to you, we’d recommend you check out an interactive training course we have created specifically to address how to make a website that is more broadly accessible to others.
And of course don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re looking for a team to guide you through the process. :)