How to meet your legal obligations without harming your business content

I once worked on a major web project for an organisation in a highly regulated industry. How to design web content for your customers without overloading your site with legal jargon

My brief was simple enough; manage and rewrite the web content and ensure it catered for the needs of the customers.  Easy.

Content weighed down by jargon

The work progressed well, but as the project gathered momentum, more and more ‘interested parties’ across the organisation became involved. 

Legal teams were soon poring over every single rewritten word and the carefully crafted web-ready content took on a new and terrifying shape.  It became weighed down by jargon.

Simple statements or lines of text were soon littered with caveats – as footnotes.  And instead of numbers, the footnotes were given a combination of numbers special icons (I’ll call them hieroglyphics). 

The web pages containing the footnote hieroglyphics tended to be long because of the additional footnote text.  And the content in these footnote sections was written in unfriendly jargon. 

I took a recent look at the website and noticed it relaunched as planned, with the text as described above.

Design content that works for customers

 One of the best ways to avoid a situation like the one I have described, is to ‘design’ content so that it works for customers.

Here’s how to achieve content designed for customers in a few clear steps:

  1. Remove footnotes – these are designed for reference in printed publications.  They are not for use on websites.  If the information is important, include it in the body text of the web pages.  If it isn’t important, delete it.
  2. Use design techniques – to ‘hide’ content.  This will need planning and some design budget.  Where pages are becoming cluttered with too much text, use hidden help text (as well as inline help text).  Pages will show the information that everyone needs to see, and further detail – that only some people will be interested in, is revealed as and when they want it (progressively) when they click on the link text.
  3. Break up your pages – where there is a huge amount of additional text to be read.  Rather than having absolutely everything on a given page, consider grouping pages by product and type, and including a link to regulatory matters on dedicated regulatory or compliance pages.  Detailed help text should also be handled in this way.
  4. Use your terms and conditions – to highlight that there is some important information that users must read either before or after buying or applying for your products or services – and must tick to say they have read and accepted these conditions.

Posted by DEBBIE THOMAS 18 May 2014