Context is Bad?: Comms Versus UX Teams

Sometimes communications and user experience folk don’t see eye-to-eye. Here’s a tale about mismatched philosophies...

Working together
Last year, I was happily and productively collaborating with a communications team as part of a website redesign project. We all got along well and it seemed like we were all on the same page.

Adding some context
The existing homepage showed a list of 3 or 4 news headlines. Each headline was short and snappy and was linked to the full article (e.g. “Protect your glory box” linked through to a news article about sexual health).

I recommended that an abstract and a publish date be added for each news item. This would give users more context for each news item and help them decide if they wanted to click through to the full article. Nothing too controversial or revolutionary there.

Context is bad (huh?)
The comms team saw it much differently:

“Abstracts can actually decrease effectiveness of news on websites. The “that's all I need to know” attitude rules where people believe they discern enough information from the abstract and will not go any further.

There has been a 50 per cent increase in readership in the past two years through use of clever imagery and headlines that have intrigued readers and allowed discovery of information that may never have been discovered had an abstract been included.”

Well knock me down and call me Ethel! I couldn’t believe what they had said. Abstracts would decrease the effectiveness of news? Huh?

Different definitions of success
After I picked myself up off the floor, I realised that it was a difference in philosophies between the comms team and the UX team which explained everything.

The comms team believed that to be successful, news articles needed to be read in full. I disagreed. By including an abstract, additional context can be provided for those very snappy headlines. For example, the headline “Protect your glory box” has much more meaning when an abstract such as “Five ways to avoid sexually transmitted diseases” is added. By providing an abstract which gives context to a news headline, users might be more inclined to click through – even those users who were initially confused by the cryptic headline. And heck, readership might then increase by 100%! Also, by providing an abstract, there is a greater chance of users understanding the information that is available to them if they want it. And that’s got to be a success, right?

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What experiences (positive or negative) have you had with communication teams? Let us know about it in the comments area below.


tomvoirol said...

The thing is this, Ethel: It's not that to be successful, news articles need to be read in full. It's that one extra click is one extra page view is a few extra ad impressions and one potential extra click-through.

This is of course just me being a cynic and assuming they were advertising-funded. Were they?

Owen Hodda said...

I think the rationale of the comms team is a bit flawed here. A 50% increase in click throughs to news pages does not mean users were engaging with the content. It is highly likely that most of these people were not qualified users, who instead had clicked through only to find the content was not what the expected.
It would be interesting to look at the metrics of sites with and without abstracts and investigate what users do *after* clicking through to the article. My hunch is that those without an abstract would have a high bounce rate

Anonymous said...

What's the definition of success?

If it's having more clicks through to news articles, then a cryptic or suggestive headline will be more effective.

If it's about providing the user with a meaningful experience, letting them know what they are in for is better.

It's all about the context ;-)