User Insight meets Branded Content - A Cleanipedia case study

Summary of my talk at the Agile Content Meetup. I talk about how we integrated content, design and marketing for big website redesign project.

Photograph of Chris Myhill giving a UX presentation.

Earlier this week I was lucky enough to present a short talk at the agile content meetup at The Book Club in Shoreditch.

Massive thanks to Jonathan and the rest of the Together London team for organising the event. It was great fun, and I learned a lot. The ‘micro user testing’ technique was particularly useful!

For the keen beans out there, I’m dropping my slides and a transcript of my talk right here. My rant describes how we integrated content, design and marketing on a big project for Unilever.

I talk about :

  • Involving stakeholders from the beginning so that both user needs and business requirements are met.
  • Working in a multidisciplinary agile team that creates prototypes quickly.
  • Testing content in realistic scenarios to learn more about how people use your product.

So here it is. Enjoy!

The Presentation

Talk Notes

Slide 1

I’d like to tell you all a story about how user insight met branded content, fell in love, and lived happily ever after.

Slide 2

The case study I’m going to share with you tonight is called Cleanipedia.

A startup inside of Unilever, Cleanipedia is the internet’s home for cleaning tips. The go-to place if you spill red wine on the carpet, or need help cleaning the oven.

Slide 3

Like many branded content websites, most of Cleanipedia’s visitors found the site via search engines, and it performs really well. If you google most cleaning scenarios or stains, odds are that a Cleanipedia result is going to appear pretty high up there.

Slide 4

The Cleanipedia website had been around for about five years, and was actually immensely successful, as far as traffic was concerned. The site got two million visits every month, which is the equivalent to a page viewed every second.

The site actually gets more traffic than all of Unilever’s other cleaning brand websites combined. When these numbers started to get around Unilever, the brand teams suddenly paid a lot of potential. Because all of these visitors were potentially revenue that was going untapped.

Slide 5

I say that because, Cleanipedia was in need of a refresh. The design and the content hadn’t really changed in 5 years. And, despite the massive amounts of traffic, it wasn’t really providing any revenue to Unilever.

The site had these banner ads, but we knew from analytics that they had a very low clickthrough rate. We’re talking like, 0.2%.

Slide 6

So, there was a lot of opportunity here. Opportunity to improve the content experience, but also to provide more value to Unilever through advertising that worked a bit harder. But wait! Surely these two objectives conflict with each other? Well, not necessary - and this is what I want to talk about.

Slide 7

I came into this project as part of a very large discipline team, made from a few different agencies. The cool thing was that rather than passing this around in different phases, the whole crew was brought onto the project together from day one as part of an agile team.

We had the content strategy, branding, the technical oversight, and muggins here doing some UX, too. Really importantly, we also had the client with us from the off, providing not just more direction for the business goals, but also their unique knowledge of the industry, and customers in the retail sector.

Slide 8

So together we set out to do a bunch of stuff, to take Cleanipedia to the next level.

This didn’t just involve thinking about a mobile first redesign of Cleanipedia and it’s content, but also around new eCommerce features, CRM integration, and new platforms like social and Amazon’s Alexa - because that’s what all the cool kids are doing these days.

Slide 9

It would have been easy to get carried away and start blasting intro producing new design and content but, we instead started with - you guessed it, the user insight.

There’s a saying that to assume makes an ass out of you and me - and we wanted to avoid getting this wrong at all cost. So, we did our homework first.

Slide 10

We trawled the analytics of the existing site to paint a better picture of who the user was. Their demographics, what they were searching for, and when.

…Also, whilst we’re on the topic… imagine trying to keep a straight face in a presentation where the term ‘sperm stain’ is a key insight. One of the more unexpectedly challenging moments of my career.

Slide 11

And then we used usability tracking tools like HotJar to get a better impression of how people were using the content. Which parts did they read more often, and (very importantly) we put feedback surveys on the site to learn what people have to say about our pages.

And this is where some of the most important insights started getting drawn out.

Slide 12

The content was repetitive, and a bit keyword stuffy. We’d put more emphasis on search engines that people.

Slide 13

We had a tendency to waffle and pre-amble before we gave people the actual solution. We learned very quickly that when using the site, people were in very stressful situations. You know, you just spilled wine all over the carper. You are in a panic right now, and you need to get this cleanup up! You don’t want to be reading a lot of waffly exposition.

Slide 14

And, there was just a level of distrust when it came to the banner ads. They were very heavy handed, treated as an afterthought, and not integrated very well with the content.

Slide 15

So… what was to be done?

Well, we brought all of this research into our kick-off meeting.

From get-go, we made sure that every team member was aware of what was learned. We made sure that this insight was being used to plan decision making when it came to content formats, new design ideas, and new ways of presenting advertisements.

Slide 16

We worked together to create new user personas. These focused not just on their experience with the Cleanipedia website, but also the broader journey.

  • How did they find it?
  • Where and when are they when reading the content?
  • What did they do afterwards?
  • What features and promotions could we offer them help them clean the stain, but also result in some value for Unilever?

Slide 17

By having a better understanding of the user, we could clean up the content experience (see what I did there?).

We went from the long form, tricky to scan content you can see on your left, to formats that are much digestible, and in a order much more relevant stressful situations like cleaning a wine spill off the carpet.

Slide 18

So there does advertising come into this? Well, we were rethinking this content experience from the ground up.

Because Unilever’s stakeholders were there here in the room with us, they were aware of the user insight. We could plan with them, new features and techniques that make advertising part of the content experience rather than a bolt-on.

We could promote products in a much more relevant way, like as part of a shopping list.

We could offer promotions that were relevant to the user’s need - like offering a coupon for the product in question.

And above all, we could actually provide useful features. Help the visitor out by allowing them to set SMS reminders for regular cleaning chores, like cleaning the oven.

Slide 19

All of these different features and content types were turned into components. There were components for cleaning the stain, for providing useful further tips, promoting the content, and just engaging the user.

By having all the specialists in the room together, we could actually print these components out - cut them out, and play around with the order until we agreed that it was the ideal template ; balancing the needs of the user with those of the business.

Slide 20

This component model also works really well when translating it to other platforms, like Alexa. Not only does it break the content down into much more managable chunks, but it also splits it out so that we can decide - which are the actual important components that Alexa should read out? Which ones should be skipped?

Slide 21

And of course, we put all of this to the test by getting feedback from our users. This wasn’t some glamorous affair in a lab. We deliberately made the testing very low key.

We put our new content templates on a mobile phone, gave the user a realistic cleaning task to complete and just observed how they got on.

Having an actual cleaning task in front of them was massively important, as it really affects the way people use the site. When people are in a stressful situation, and are multitasking, it’s never more apparent that they don’t read properly, or skip through anything too waffly or blatantly ad-like. Because everyone was working on this together, we could play results back to the whole team, and get everyone aligned on what was going on.

Slide 22

And that’s what was able to take us from what we had, to much more user friendly, versatile and profitable content formats. Slightly upsettingly, the stats for the first week of launch came in the day after I completed these slides, but I can tell you that the average session time went from 15 seconds for the original version, to a full minute in the redesign. Stats on the ad clickthroughs are still TBC, but we’re hopeful!

Slide 23

What were the main takeaways?

  1. Get everyone involved early. User needs and business needs can conflict if we’re working in silos, but if we agree on a happy middle ground early, it’ll save so much time and create a better solution in the long run.
  2. Make sure everyone is aligned on the user research. By sharing this early, we could make sure we were all working to same goals.
  3. Test your ideas in realistic scenarios. I was amazed at how different the user feedback was when they were actually using it to clean a stain, rather than just aimlessly scrolling through it. The context is such a massive part of how people experience your content, and you need to be catering for it.

Slide 24

That’s everything I have to say. If you’d like to learn more about Cleanipedia please do check out the website or get the Alexa Skill.

Slide 25

And if you want more of my ramblings, you can find me at Or you can chat to me at the bar later, where I’m happy to talk more about the projects or just have some Cleaning tip bants. Cheers!

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Chris Myhill, an incredibly handsome UX designer who heads up Just UX Design

Chris Myhill

Chris heads up Just UX Design with 10 years of experience creating digital products and managing design teams.

He’s worked on loads of different projects, using UX wizardry to help businesses make better products.

Learn more about Chris

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