Case study - RISE

RISE is a Sussex-based charity first established in 1994 that supports individuals affected by domestic abuse and violence.

Thomas produced a comprehensive audit of the RISE website with regard to its usability, complete with a set of recommendations for us to consider in our imminent redevelopment. This included a technical audit, a review of the site’s Analytics data for key engagement metrics, as well as user testing to assess how well the website serves the needs of our audience.
- Nicola Davies, Digital Officer RISE

The brief

I was hired as a technical consultant and SEO specialist during a period in when RISE were fully redeveloping their website. Working with their chief digital officer and a team of volunteers, my job was to conduct a thorough site audit, combined with user testing and workshops, in order to identify opportunities for improvement and enrichment. My findings would then be shared with their developers who would implement my recommendations. My remit was broad and encompassed:

  • The site’s technical foundations and integrity
  • Content and on-page optimisation
  • Design
  • Usability

Summary of my work

Aims and responsibilities

This project appealed to me primarily because it was an opportunity to apply my technical expertise to a worthy cause that would help to improve the circumstances of the charity’s stakeholders. As the site would serve multiple functions and a variety of different user groups it posed unique challenges. An important factor bearing on my work was that many users would be accessing the site during at times of considerable distress, danger, and vulnerability. This really focused my attention and underscored the importance of creating a site that would offer a straightforward and unencumbered route to help and support.

User testing

On the basis of client discussions and research into the site’s usage data I established that the site served three primary users: individuals in need of RISE’s services; fundraisers and advocates; and professionals working within the social services sector.

I then devised a series a user testing workshops, following the guidelines of recognise UX authorities, the Nielson Norman Group. Each session focused on a different user profile. The workshops included the following activities:

  • web-based navigational and information gathering tasks
  • group discussions and ideas collection
  • monitored website-based tasks

This provided numerous valuable insights into the shortcomings of the old site and the content requirements for the new site. In particular we uncovered numerous issues with the site’s information architecture and limitations when it came to channelling the different user groups to the appropriate content.

Technical and content audit

The SEO audit identified several issues and inconsistencies common to sites that have multiple contributors and which have experienced bloat over time. Some of the main issues:

  • Duplicate on-page designators (page titles, headers, meta descriptions)
  • Duplicate pages owing to poor URL hygiene
  • Un-semantic URLs
  • Thin content
  • Broken links
  • Lack of canonical links and XML sitemap
  • Performance issues owing to images and unoptimised rich content

In addition, the site’s performance on mobile was poor, having originally been built prior to the smart phone revolution. Recommendations were made to put the mobile experience at the heart of the redevelopment.

As part of the technical audit I reviewed the sites Google Analytics (GA) and Search Console data. This generally consolidated the findings derived from user testing. I recommended that RISE move towards a more intermediate model of GA usage: setting up custom organic goals in order to identify usage trends and to use this to inform rolling optimisation and fundraising activities.

Design and UX

Many findings related to the site’s visual appearance and accessibility. In particular, I advised that:

  • the site use consistent font weights and sizes across device types
  • the two separate logos be amalgamated or one be chosen over the other to promote consistent branding across media
  • to review the images of service users. Many images on the site excluded the faces of the subjects on safeguarding grounds however this also raised ethical issues and could be construed negatively by users

Conclusion

This project introduced me to a broader array of user groups and provided valuable and rewarding experience of working alongside charitable organisations; something I would like to do again in the future. It also underlined the importance of user testing and consultation during the development stages of any web project. Prior to working with RISE, I only had a theoretical understanding of usability and UX. It was great to be able to apply this to an applied context that would have demonstrable benefits for users.

You can view the old version of the RISE site (Internet archive) and the new version incorporating my recommendations.

We’re delighted with this piece of work, which far exceeded our expectations with regard to the level of detail and the amount of actionable feedback. Thomas has considerable expertise in UX, SEO and Google Analytics with the ability to present his findings an accessible way to those who are not experts in the field! I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend working with Thomas.
- Nicola Davies