Redesigning the Intercom blog

How Intercom redeveloped the Inside Intercom blog with a renewed focus on users

6 min read

Intercom’s blog needed a refresh. Lacking search functionality and display issues made it a less than ideal experience for readers. Optimal Workshop helped Intercom to make informed, user-focused changes to the navigation, resulting in a new blog that’s easier for readers to use and for Intercom staff to publish on.

Goals

  • Make the blog easier to use, internally and externally
  • Tailor the content experience to the readers
  • Bring the blog design inline with the company’s focus areas

How Optimal Workshop helped

Intercom used Treejack to benchmark the blog’s navigation and site structure. Pie tree visualizations helped the team understand critical navigation bottlenecks with the existing blog.

Company

Intercom

Company size

600+

Offices

San Francisco, Chicago, London and Dublin

Industry

Customer communications

Type

B2B

Tool used

“Instead of steering people toward more of the same content, we want to provide them with more of the “Best of” content.”

Introduction

Providing great customer support isn’t easy, especially in the age of automated email replies – but Intercom is changing that. Through dedicated messaging apps that allow businesses to seamlessly connect with their customers and prospects, Intercom is making both support and sales more human.


Intercom is also committed to supporting its customers – and the wider industry – with quality content. The company’s blog, Inside Intercom, covers topics across the support spectrum and additional areas related to the company’s products.

Challenge

When Intercom was founded, the blog served a narrow audience, with writers producing mostly product and startup-focused content. But over time, as Intercom’s products and audience grew, writers delved into more specialized areas such as sales and marketing, which mirrored it’s products and solutions.

While most aspects of the Intercom website had evolved alongside this developing product suite, the blog remained largely the same. The content had developed, but the blog had the same basic design, search functionality, display issues and optimization for long-form content.

The team also wanted to explore how personalization improved the experience of the blog. Prior to the project, the blog experience wasn’t tailored in any way – everyone saw the same content.

“We primarily were thinking about adding subscribe-type features and default settings to allow users to control their own experience better.”

Inside Intercom needed a refresh, but any adjustment had to be carefully considered, especially when dealing with something so closely identified with the company brand.

Solution

Developing a new Inside Intercom

With the objective defined, Intercom formed a cross-functional team made up of editors, producers and designers. They also enlisted the help of a digital agency, 10up, to help guide the project.

The team started by brainstorming changes they’d like to make to Inside Intercom, as well as analyzing how people used the website.

Deciding on a user research approach

Having gathered feedback from stakeholders within Intercom, the team started to weigh up their options for user research. They’d developed some internal hypotheses on the information architecture (IA) of the website, but they wanted to ensure this was in line with how users expected content to be organized.

They created a Miro (formerly RealtimeBoard) to communicate 2 possible research approaches. Option A was to run a tree test using Treejack in order to validate if their thinking was on the right track and option B was to run a card sort using OptimalSort to come up with ideas on how users expected content to be grouped.

This board proved useful for keeping remote team members in the loop, and for sharing example Treejack (tree testing) and OptimalSort (card sorting) studies so the team could make an informed decision on which research to undertake first. What’s more, the example studies helped the team to set expectations around the capabilities of the tools. Eventually, they opted to proceed with Treejack in order to validate their IA hypotheses.

“Sharing example studies with stakeholders is a good way to set expectations around the types of results you can expect to see from different types of research.”

Making information architecture decisions with Treejack

With the next stage of the project clearly defined, the team set up the study in Treejack to benchmark the existing IA. Testing the IA at this stage of the project allowed the team to lay a strong foundation for the new Inside Intercom.

Pre- and post-study questions attached to the Treejack study were useful on several levels. They helped the Intercom team to better understand the specific topics readers were interested in and also allowed readers to voice their own suggestions for how navigation should work. The team also used some of the answers to better understand user attitudes toward specific features.

The pie tree visualizations helped the team to make informed navigation decisions and to understand some of the critical bottlenecks with the current version of the website. They then inserted the pie tree visualizations into a RealtimeBoard, where they overlaid high-level takeaways to highlight specific areas and relationships, categorize and quantify free text answers and make specific recommendations.

A Pietree from one of the Treejack studies.

Usability testing and personalization learnings

With a clear direction for the blog’s IA and navigation mapped out, the team began the process of usability testing. At first, the testing focused on validating the navigation and findability work that had already taken place – but the team also used these sessions to prototype new functionality. 

They wanted to gather insights on things like color coding in the navigation at a conceptual level in order to inform the design process – the aim here wasn’t to test specific interactions. The usability testing uncovered valuable learnings on how people used Inside Intercom, but the team’s biggest learning was around personalization.

One of the goals of the project was to make the experience more tailored for the individual. The team was primarily thinking about adding subscribe-type features and default settings to allow users to better control their own experience. What they found in the research, however, was that people didn’t want to be closed off from the ‘Best of’ content.

 “Looking at these data points and the qualitative text entries, a clear need was starting to emerge for more serendipitous, cross-category discovery.”

Regardless of whether users wanted personalization features, they did not want to miss something if it was particularly good or notable, even if it wasn’t in their core area of interest. Intercom started to explore other ways of providing users with a more individual experience without necessarily using direct personalization features.

“Instead of steering people toward more of the same content, we want to provide them with more of the “Best of” content.”

Results

With a clear focus on its users, Intercom completely redesigned the Inside Intercom blog to better serve its expanding audience and growing variety of content. In addition to the accessibility-focused design improvements, the website now features a more user-centered layout and navigation with a focus on surfacing relevant, insightful content for readers.

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