Seeking About Us Content: Why and How
Though big or famous organizations may think the About Us section of the site should have low priority, this information is important and accessed by many different types of users in a variety of scenarios:
- Professionals who want to interact with business partners and investigate potential vendors
- Medical professionals, lawyers, and tradespeople who need quick answers about your company, products, or services
- People who take up sports or new hobbies, discover a new genre of literature, music, or home décor, are diagnosed with a new disease, start eating a new type of food, or otherwise become interested in organizations they’ve never dealt with before
- Journalists, influencers, and content creators who need information about your products or services
- Individual investors who read something positive about your company or saw it pop out of a page of stock metrics
- Job seekers who were attracted by one of your opportunities and want to learn about the organization before applying
When asked to describe the last time she looked up company information on a website, one user seeking a new job said, “I was being recruited and was just looking into the company as a potential one to work for. On their website, I looked at their mission, their client base, how they describe their products. I look at the vibe and feel. If you hire a high-school kid to do your site, I can tell and I don’t want to work for a company like that. The site itself is not going to sell me, but it’s a good start.”
She went on to explain that she did this type of research primarily on a desktop computer. For the companies she was interested in, when she had a question on the go, she would access the site on her mobile device. In fact, the majority of users in our study stated that they usually try to learn about companies on desktop, rather than on mobile.
Three Rounds of Research and 85 Guidelines
To help designers understand the evolving behaviors and user preferences related to About Us content, we conducted three rounds of research. In total, we observed over 70 users, including business professionals, as they completed common tasks with About Us content on a variety of corporate websites. Studies primarily took place in the United States, with a few sessions in Hong Kong.
Across the three studies, we tested 100 websites and reviewed an additional 65 sites. The result is 85 guidelines for designing About Us content to help users easily find and understand your company information. The guidelines include ways to improve the usability of About Us sections and other corporate website areas, to bolster your company’s image and maximize its reputation, while garnering interest and trust.
We tested sites in 5 different categories, based on organization size:
- Large companies, such as Zappos, General Electric, Citigroup, Eli Lilly, Chevron, and Nestlé
- Medium-sized companies, such as LogMeIn, Cintas, Slack, and Team Industrial Services
- Small companies, such as Oscar Insurance, ImmunoGen, Uncommon Goods, OneCall, and Squarespace
- Government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Department of the Interior, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Small Business Administration
- Nonprofits, such as American Refugee Committee, Make-A-Wish Foundation, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, and Charity Water
Our most recent study included 20 users. Participants’ occupations ranged from financial analysts and realtors to city clerks and nurses. People working in technology or tangential fields were screened out to avoid bias. All participants had at least 2 years of experience using the web for decision-making tasks related to their jobs. Their ages ranged from 24 to 65.
Users attempted to learn the organizations’ purposes, where companies were located, their missions, values, and history, as well as how to contact them. Each user was given a unique, open-ended task to attempt on two different websites, specified by the facilitator. After attempting the open-ended task, users were provided with 8 directed tasks to attempt on each site. At the end of each testing session, users provided feedback about the most important factors that impacted their perception of an organization. Most sites were tested on desktop computers; a small portion were tested on mobile.
Consistent with our previous studies, users appreciated About Us content that was easy to find and understand. However, users in the most recent study were more skeptical than in the past. Organizations that stood out from the crowd in favorable ways used tactics that helped them appear authentic and transparent. Those tactics included:
- Using realistic photography
- Showcasing unbiased reviews
- Offering multiple channels to connect with a real person at the company
About Us in an Age of Transparency and Authenticity
Because we’ve studied About Us content for over a decade, we have a strong basis on which to assess the major trends surrounding corporate-website design. Perhaps the most noteworthy trend that emerged in our most recent round of research is that users now expect companies to demonstrate a heightened level of authenticity and transparency not only on their websites, but in every interaction a person may have with the organization. More than ever, users are skeptical of companies and see right through complex corporate speak, jargon, and stock photography.
People favor companies that showcase themselves as being customer-focused, human, and easy to understand. When businesses deliver on their promises, users are willing to write them glowing reviews and recommend them to friends, colleagues, and family. We found that reviews and recommendations from trusted peers are one of the most important criteria used when forming an impression about an organization. Reviews also influence the decision to conduct business or apply for jobs with a particular organization.
People continue to value plain. They appreciate copy that makes them feel as though they are having an intentional and mutually beneficial conversation with a human at the company. Our participants liked to see photos of real employees and products, and looked for content that came directly from happy customers and employees. Content with an honest and straightforward eased fears and skepticism, therefore making users more comfortable with sharing their personal information, reaching out to contact the company, applying for a job, or initiating business with the organization.
What Does Transparency and Authenticity Look Like?
Elements that make an organization appear transparent and authentic can manifest in many different ways. Most impactful were those in social-responsibility areas such as Diversity and Inclusion, Sustainability, Culture, and Mission and Values.
For example, Zappos’ About Us section included a subcategory called Zappos for Good, where it outlined the company’s position on important social topics such as environmental sustainability and giving back to less-fortunate people.