User journeys are the step-by-step paths users take to reach their goals. The points along a journey will consist of a number of website pages, but also other channels (digital or non-digital) that send a user to your website.
A user starts a journey with a goal - a need they have - and at each a point along the way they make a decision - where to go next, what information they still need, whether to take an action, and so on.
So what does content have to do with a user journey? Everything. It’s the content the user views or listens to, interacts with and more. Content answers their questions, peaks their interest, triggers their behaviour, and either moves them further along their journey or finishes it. (The other key factor in user journeys is context, discussed below.)
Needless to say, this means we need to give them the best content.
How content makes or breaks a user journey
Since content is the stuff a user journey is made of, its importance is large. The quality of the journey equals the quality of the content.
We know other factors contribute, such as the quality of the user experience and the strength of the technology and development. But even if those are to the highest standards, the content is what the user thinks about and judges.
Broadly, we require our content to be three things:
Valuable to users in meeting their needs. Our text, images, videos, graphics, calls-to-action and more need to either efficiently move users closer to their goals or successfully achieve their goals.
Consistent in its design, writing style and tone. Content does not exist in a vacuum. To anyone interacting with Shelter, digitally or in-person, a single piece of content must look, feel and sound like all other Shelter content. Consistency is non-negotiable.
Clear in how it provides information. Lack of clarity is the number one source of frustration for most users. Our text needs to be simple and understandable, and not lengthy.
The role of context
The other facet of user journeys is context, which we define as the situation or background the user is living with. For Shelter, this includes their housing situation: Are they renting? Do they have landlord issues? Struggling with their council?
Context also includes their physical location - users in England require different advice to users in Scotland. It also includes their digital tech: Are they on mobile or desktop? What kind of bandwidth issues might they be facing? Do they have a permanent or temporary disability?
And context also applies to the journey itself. Is the user just starting to investigate a topic and not sure exactly what they need, or do they know exactly what they need and they’re ready to take action?
Before we can create the right content for them, we need to know their context.
Best practices that make the best user journeys
We use a range of methods, tools and practices as we learn what’s needed for a user’s journey and create the content to deliver it.
User journey mapping (or customer journey mapping) - This is an invaluable discovery exercise that creates a visualisation of a user’s current journey. Through research tools such as interviews or diaries, we learn the journey a user follows as they attempt to solve a problem or meet a need.
With our user research completed, we collaboratively (normally in a workshop) piece together the map, showing a user’s overall goal, their touchpoints (our channels and web pages they visit), what they thought (cognitive) and felt (emotional) at each touchpoint, and the final result of that journey.
Removing friction points - Changing or adding content to improve a step along a user journey. We often do this after we’ve completed a user journey map, which will show us the various blockers and pain points a user faces in trying to reach a goal on our websites.
But sometimes we don’t need a journey map to spot a friction point. Other types of measurement can help us like analytics or various user tests such as A/B testing.
Sticking to our standards - Whether it’s our house style, video production standards, accessibility policy, or SEO standards, we make sure we adhere to them. How? The best way is through the guidance we write to help the creators, managers and owners of our content understand what good looks like.
Pruning words - Since the majority of our content is in written form, one of the failsafe ways to give our users smooth journeys is by editing our text to make it simpler and more concise, using plain English.
Avoiding and removing duplication - Taking a holistic look at all our content, to avoid unnecessarily creating content that already exists. Duplicate content has a cost to the user (in confusing or fragmented journeys) and the business (in poor SEO and wasted resource).
Providing clear links - When we provide a text link, we make it easy for our users to intuitively know where it will take them, based on the linked words. Read our guidance on text links.
Offering clear calls to action - CTAs are links - in the form of text links or graphic elements like a button - that prompt users to take a specific action. We try to make the wording as simple as possible, with the action and link leading the sentence. Examples:
Sign our petition to end the freeze on housing benefit
Read our blog on the housing benefit freeze
One size doesn’t fit all
Considering user journeys in content operations means thinking about how the whole publishing process fits together, from planning to delivery to measuring performance. It considers how we organise and distribute our content, how the different tools we use work together, and how useable our CMS really is for publishing at scale.
In this context, the teams that come together to create content - from content designers and product teams through to stakeholders - are our users. By looking at the whole picture, we can identify ways to improve how these teams interact and the workflows, technology, training and documentation they rely on to publish, thus delivering content in a more streamlined and effective way.
To do this well, we also need to consider the context of our content teams and the types of audiences they serve. Our content ops is there to give teams the tools and frameworks they need to create bespoke processes that are defined by their users’ needs.
By connecting stakeholders and content teams through streamlined processes and thoughtful technology in this way, we are more effectively prioritising our frontend users.
What are content operations and why are they important?
Read our guide to writing online content
The tools and methods we use to understand our audiences
Contact us about the digital framework
Have a question or comment? Found a bug? Or maybe you’d like to contribute to the framework? Use our contact form to get in touch.