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User needs: how they lead to better guidance

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Defra content design

Would you read government guidance if you didn't have to?

"Of course not," says the average citizen. That's why every new page that the Smarter Guidance team creates has to have a user need.

If there's no need for someone to read it, if there's no task or good reason for them to want to go there, then we can't publish it.

So I looked at the data and found that applying user needs to content is making a big difference to improving guidance.

What are user needs?

User needs form the basis for every page the Smarter Guidance team writes.

We write them as:

  • As a…
  • I need to…
  • So that I can…

For example,the user need for the upcoming guide to food labelling is:

  • As an organic food producer, seller or importer
  • I need to know the standards I need to meet if I want to include non-organic ingredients in my organic product
  • So I can get approval for my organic product to be able to market and sell it legally

If you're keen to read more you can see what GDS has to say about user needs and how to write these stories.

What the data says about user needs

Here are some of the latest average stats over a month (from Google Analytics) comparing Defra pages with and without user needs.

Defra Page views for pages with and without needs
Page views for pages with and without user needs
Defra Average time on page for pages with and without user needs
Average time on page for pages with and without user needs
Defra Bounce rate for pages with and without user needs
Bounce rate for pages with and without user needs


We like these numbers and think you should too because, for pages with user needs:

  • page views are higher - we take this as meaning that people actually want these pages and so are visiting them
  • average time on page is higher - the longer time means that we think people are reading the page and not heading back because the page isn't right for them
  • average bounce is higher - a bounce rate is when people visit a page and then leave the website straight after reading that page

Why are we happy with a higher bounce rate?

Unlike sites like Amazon or BBC News, where you tend to look at a few pages each visit, if a GOV.UK page only serves one need then we expect the reader to leave once they've finished the page.

So if like our example, a user needs to know about organic food labelling and the page answers all their questions, then they're likely to bounce away and get on with their life.

Which is exactly what we want.

What this means for people working on Smarter Guidance

Please think about your user needs when publishing anything on GOV.UK.

Always ask yourself: "Who is this guidance for?"

And if you start from there, your online content will perform better. And everybody's happier.

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  1. Comment by Joshua Mouldey posted on

    Really good illustration of the difference it makes when information is based on user needs.

    Some dataviz crimes on the 2nd and 3rd column charts though... 🙂

  2. Comment by Jonathan Richardson posted on

    Thanks Joshua for pointing that out, those weird y-axes seem to have slipped through.