At AnswerLab, we assess digital products across the spectrum of development stages. This means our researchers test everything from static, bare bones wireframes to high-fidelity prototypes to live websites and mobile applications. Oftentimes when testing prototypes, we see that the structure and visual treatment have been given careful consideration while written page information and content have been put on the back burner to be revisited at a later time.

Too often copy gets saved for last. Placing emphasis on the layout, look, and feel of a site or application while failing to address its written content can be a critical mistake. Copy is an integral part of the user experience, and leaving it out of the test plan means developers can miss key opportunities to improve upon the value proposition, nomenclature, contextual help, and instructional and error messaging that guide and engage users.

Lorem ipsum whatsit? Consider copy early in the design process

The use of lorem ipsum placeholder text is a well known practice in the design industry, where developers employ it to demonstrate the intended layout and features of a page while deflecting attention from its written content (which may be a work in progress). While the goal is to draw focus to the key features and calls to action on a page—such as imagery and buttons— it often results in the opposite effect. User experience researchers have their fair share of comical stories when it comes to participant reactions to lorem ipsum text. We’ve heard everything from “I’m sure that whatever those Latin words are would be really informative” to “Did I forget how to read English?” Lorem ipsum text often distracts and confuses research participants who are unfamiliar with the convention. It also forces them to imagine what the textual content would communicate rather than being able to see and judge it for themselves as part of the holistic site experience.

Having something concrete to test is always preferable to this game of make believe. Even if the copy is a brief rough draft, developers can gather user feedback on expectations to help steer its future direction. Users can speak to the amount and quality of the information and provide feedback on its clarity and tone. Wherever possible, we encourage developers to opt for test copy that is realistic and tailored to the site’s purpose rather than testing nonsensical placeholder text. Representative textual content adds incredible value to testing since the insights gathered are far richer and more instructive.

User testing is a great way to hear the language your customers speak

Developers should be mindful that while the usability of a website may test well, the textual content will undoubtedly have a negative impact on the overall user experience if it is convoluted, confusing, or incomprehensible. Therefore, it is vitally important to learn how to clearly communicate to your users in language they understand, and in a voice and tone that is congruent with your brand.

Take, for example, a software company that was testing their website for marketing and selling one of its key products. The homepage acted as a portal for users to identify their knowledge and skill level among three user types in order to advance down a path designed for their needs. The company thought of these three personas according to their own internal terminology and subsequently labeled the user types with these business names. During testing, research participants were confused by the nomenclature and uncertain where to navigate, causing them to feel pressured and anxious about the decision. With their copywriter on hand to observe the sessions, the developers were quickly able to iterate and rename the user paths “Beginner,” “Experienced,” and “Help me choose.” The result was that the next round of participants readily understood where they should go and felt at ease navigating and consuming information and content on the site, in addition to having positive overall impressions of the site’s user friendliness. This simple change allowed our client to meet their objective of engaging users more deeply on the site and moving them down the purchase consideration funnel.

Think about including copywriters in the user testing process

Testing is a phenomenal way to disprove assumptions, particularly related to language. Developers spend so much time immersed with a product they may forget that the average user does not come to their site with a keen understanding of their business vernacular. In the example above, stripping down the proprietary terminology to the basic use cases positively affected the customer experience. Many people prescribe writing for the Web at an 8th grade level. While the audience should always dictate what is appropriate, it is best to follow this general rule: keep it simple, specific, and succinct.

Copywriters can be a great asset in user testing. Getting them involved helps your content developers learn how your users think and talk about the key features and functionality of your site or application. It can also build team consensus on messaging when the time comes to make changes.

Copy is as critical to the success and satisfaction of your users as the form and function of your site or application. As such, it should be treated as an essential element of your user research. Ensure your site or application clearly communicates the information that your users want and need to know—in language they understand and can relate to—by including thoughtful copy at an early stage of product development.