Five Common Content Faux Pas and How to Avoid Them

Imagine logging into a new application for the first time, only to discover there are no words to guide you. How would you know where to go? How would you know what you could do? You wouldn’t. Without content, your new application might be beautiful, but it would also be useless.

Content is a critical – though most often overlooked – part of the user experience. Whether you have a website, application, or other digital platform, your user relies on content to guide them. As designers, we spend a lot of time slaying pixels and debating drop shadows, but rarely do we think about spending the same amount of time and effort on our content.

The reality is that your users won’t separate your design from its content, and neither should you. Good content will delight your users, but bad content will frustrate them – and it reflects poorly on your brand. Here are five common content faux pas that I see repeatedly in digital products, as well as some ideas on how to avoid them.

1. Unhelpful help articles
I get it, break ups are hard. You don’t want your users to cancel their account, and your first instinct is to convince them to stay. However, you need to let them go. Don’t make this process any more difficult than it needs to be by making them reach out to customer service. The last thing you want is to make the interaction unpleasant, and risk losing the trust you’ve built with them while they were a customer. They might come back, but they definitely won’t if they remember how much of a pain it was to leave.

Was this article helpful? No.

The fix:
Your help section should be clear and actionable. Provide answers quickly and outline a path to resolution to avoid frustration. When appropriate, include direct links to help users troubleshoot more quickly.

Airbnb’s help article is focused on resolving the issue, not locking me in.

2. Confirm shaming
Remember the old saying “brands are only mean to you because they like you?” Me neither. Yet in the last few years, “confirm shaming” has become such a popular practice that there’s an entire blog dedicated to it. Some brands consider this a clever way to drive conversions. In reality, it can be aggressive and alienating. Even if a user is shamed into signing up, they likely won’t stick around for long. After all, who wants to buy products from a brand that accuses them of cakey foundation while they’re just browsing? Not me.

No thanks, I’ll buy foundation elsewhere.

The fix:
Don’t shame your users for opting out of your communications. Instead, inject personality into your content in a way that feels inviting and makes them want to join. It’s okay if they don’t convert then and there if you’ve still created a memorable touchpoint.

I might not subscribe now, but I will remember this cat.

3. Vague error messages

Don’t ask your users to trust you without an explanation. Generic error messages like “oops, something went wrong” are frustrating and provide no clear path to resolution. The same goes for error messages that are laced with technical jargon. “The {0} template was not found in the target object store” means nothing to a layperson.

If I push “no”, did the error ever happen?

The fix:
Be clear about what’s gone wrong. Use plain language to tell your users what they can do to fix the problem. If the mistake is on your end, own up to it. If it’s on theirs, let them know how to fix it.

Mailchimp’s error message is clear and provides a path to resolution.

4. Requirement shaming

Don’t blame the user for not doing something if you didn’t provide requirements up front. If a user’s password needs a capital letter, a number, and the name of their favorite Girl Scout cookie, they’ll make sure it’s included. But they won’t include things if they don’t know they are required.

Who has time to read an error message that’s five lines long?

The fix:
Make it easier on everyone by being clear about your requirements up front. Including the password requirements right on the page, rather than as a pop up, sets expectations from the start.

Password requirements are easier to digest as bullet points.

5. Confusing CTAs
Make your calls-to-action clear and, well, actionable. Users shouldn’t be asked to spend as much mental energy on your CTAs as they would on an SAT question. This isn’t the time to be clever, it’s the time to be clear.

So, am I unsubscribed or not?

 The fix:
Tell users exactly what will happen when they make their selection. If they’re inputting credit card information, let them know they’ll have a chance to review their purchase by saying something like “review order.” If they’re trying to unsubscribe from your mailing list, keep it simple and say “unsubscribe.”

Nordstrom uses “review order” rather than “next” to let users know they aren’t making the purchase yet.

In summary
When done right, content can elevate your product from a good experience to a great one. By spending time determining what your product should say and how it should be said, you can give your users the content they need, at the time they need it, in a manner they expect it. Trust me, they’ll thank you for it.


Author: Brittney Urich, Experience Designer
Brittney is an experience designer and entrepreneur who is passionate about crafting digital experiences that solve problems in an empathetic, innovative way. Throughout her career, she’s advocated for the integration of user experience design and content strategy. Prior to joining Ogilvy, she co-founded Conecter, a social media platform that revolutionized the way college students engaged with each other and their campuses.

When she’s not working, you can find Brittney hiking, playing tennis, or cheering on Michigan State University’s football team.