How Unicef UK doubled conversions with its new website

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Unicef's new site is now capable of handling disaster-related traffic spikes.

Unicef is the world’s leading organisation for children, promoting the rights and wellbeing of every child. Unicef UK raises funds to protect children in danger, transform their lives and build a safer world for tomorrow’s children.

As a registered charity Unicef UK raises funds through donations from individuals, organisations and companies as well as lobbying and campaigning to keep children safe. Unicef UK also runs programmes in schools, hospitals and with local authorities around the UK.

Last year, Unicef UK recognised that its website was no longer fit for purpose, having last been refreshed in 2010. Digital agency Manifesto was selected to design and build a new site, a decision which would ultimately revitalise Unicef’s whole approach to online content creation and lead to an immediate, significant uplift in visitors, conversions and income.

The Drum Network recently chatted with Tom Chapman, strategy director of Manifesto, to find out more about the agency’s approach to the project…

How did Manifesto first become involved with Unicef and this project?

We’d previously worked on several Unicef projects in collaboration with their fundraising agency, so we were really interested when the new website design and build was put out to tender; which was split into two parts. Firstly, audience research, content strategy and information architecture, which would then inform the second part of the project – the actual web design and rebuild. We ultimately won both parts and started work January 2016.

The research and strategy stage lasted three months, and kicked off with an immersion week where we spoke to pretty much every department within the organisation to better understand their ways of working, needs, challenges and aspirations. We then undertook a range of desk research activities, including a review of organisational strategies, existing supporter data, web analytics, competitor analysis, recent developments in the third sector (especially around public perception of charity donations and data handling) and a review of the current website content.

Our user research involved a survey – hosted on the website, social and newsletter – which delivered over 1,000 responses, backed by depth interviews with existing and potential supporters matching Unicef’s persona profiles.

Did the client need convincing to undertake such an extended piece of research?

Unicef has a progressive and experienced digital team, and they understood the need to move from an organisationally-focused site, demonstrated via its information architecture and content, to something highly user-centred and immersive. That's simply not possible without research – and it formed a big part of their brief to us.

That said, it was important to bring the rest of the organisation on board. We didn’t want it to feel that we had been parachuted in to unveil a new website in some sort of ‘big reveal’. Throughout the project, we regularly communicated the vision and progress to keep people involved. ‘Lunch and learn’ sessions provided opportunities for teams from across Unicef to feedback and keep them involved and excited.

What immediate changes were required?

It was the age-old problem of a website failing to keep pace with the demands placed upon it. The site was massively bloated and creaking at the seams with lots of out-of-date content. It wasn’t responsive, and there were separate mobile and blog sites, leading to confusing user journeys.

In addition, there wasn’t a clear vision around why people were creating content or what ‘good content’ looked like for Unicef. In short, they simply weren’t proud of it as an organisation and, considering the amazing work that Unicef does, it wasn’t fit for purpose.

The CMS was very clunky and outdated with a complicated admin process. Many of the content creators told us they were actually ‘scared’ of it, so making the system more accessible and intuitive for content creators was a priority.

The website had also failed on several occasions due to spikes in traffic caused by sudden-onset emergencies, such as the Nepal earthquake. Our tech team looked at ways of ensuring the new site would withstand these kinds of events in the future – without loss of service or speed.

How did you approach the challenge of figuring out the ‘customer journey’ for Unicef UK?

With the vision of creating a sector-leading, user-centred website, we had to quickly understand the needs of current users and supporters, lapsed supporters and casual visitors to the website. With our survey and user research data built upon the organisation’s existing marketing segments to produce five personas representing Unicef’s key audience types. These personas, with detailed but easy to grasp info on needs, common pain points and typical behaviours, would become an ongoing reference for improved supporter experiences at Unicef.

Our research also allowed us to produce experience maps for some of the key supporter journeys on the website and make detailed recommendations for how these journeys could be improved.

The work on personas led us to produce a ‘content prism’ – essentially a one-page distillation of the main content strategy – which provides guidance on creating content designed to meet the specific needs of each persona. Lots of agencies only hand over a 100-page strategy document that gathers dust on a desk. The prism tool that we’ve developed provides guidance and ‘cheat sheet notes’ for content creators to keep them on track in terms of winning themes and tone of voice for each key audience.

The new content strategy has given Unicef a new language to use within the organisation to help communicate the audience, purpose and ambition for content creation. Where no one would ever have considered using “Hero Content” as a term related to the previous site, it’s now common parlance, and the Unicef team are challenging themselves to create content that really lives up to the name, and can showcase the amazing stories – and brand – which they're the guardian of.

We also identified opportunities for Unicef UK to increase engagement of supporters through more engaging follow-up communications which allow them to see and share how their money is used.

In addition, open and closed card sorts, treejacking and an intensive analysis of existing website data helped us produce a new tested IA for the website, with information grouped in a way that met the expectations of users and improved navigation through key journeys.

What was done to improve things for content creators on a technical level?

Unicef went with Wordpress for the new site – which may be seen as a bold move by some. But their editors were already familiar with it and enjoyed using it, and this was a key factor – along with it being very well supported and customisable. We also helped integrate legacy platforms with the new site, for a secure transition with minimal disruption, and heavily load tested the new system before launch.

The new site provides editors with an easy-to-use page builder, allowing them to devise and publish an almost unlimited variety of different page layouts. The drag and drop interface features a wide range of modular components which helps editors tell immersive stories, call attention to important stats, embed calls to action within content, and make the most of the storytelling potential of video and images.

We used our strategy insights to develop a visual style for the new site that would dramatically improve the impact of content and its capacity to emotionally engage users: large, full-width images, more dramatic typography and iconography that convey the far-reaching impact of Unicef’s work. We also used our digital video production capabilities to help Unicef UK produce new, original motion content for use on the website and across social, in line with the new content strategy.

What have been the results to date?

Since launching in November 2016, conversion rates among website visitors have more than doubled. Cash donations are up 55% per visitor, and, in December, Unicef UK received more online donations in a single month than ever before, helping them protect more of the world’s children from hunger, disease and the chaos of war.

We only have 6 months of data to analyse so far, but long-term Unicef is estimating a minimum 50-60% uplift in base-level conversion – but this needs to be backed up with some more detailed analysis, and is hopefully quite conservative.

Website content has been audited and reworked by Unicef UK, going from over 4,000 pages pre-launch to around 400 today – with a real focus on persona-based curated journeys and quality over quantity.

There are some softer results which I think are worth talking about as well. The new site has had a massive impact internally at Unicef – it’s something the organisation is really proud of – a stark contrast to the old site. It has enthused existing users, as well as encouraged some stakeholders who previously we’re not particularly engaged with their online content to really understand how impactful it can be and to want to learn more about how they can make use of the new platform, as part of the supporter experience.

It’s easy to use and reliable as well – and now able to handle disaster-related traffic spikes – which means Unicef can focus on improvements and optimisation, while the wider organisation can increasingly take ownership of creating, updating and maintaining day-to-day content.

As the charity’s appointed digital agency we’ll continue to work closely with Unicef UK as the website, built as a Minimum Marketable Product, evolves through continuous improvement, incorporates user feedback, and grows into a fully-fledged digital marketing platform. We’re providing additional enhancements to the content creation and publishing features, visual assets, and help with third-party integrations and general technical support.

We’re also currently rebuilding the donation funnel of the website (which wasn’t part of the original project) and looking to optimise that even further.

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Michael Feeley

Michael Feeley is The Drum Network's consultant journalist, advising and assisting member agencies on their editorial submissions and contributions to The Drum.

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