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HM Revenue & Customs User centred website research Online survey and user interview findings September 2009. Online survey and user interviews Findings. Online survey and user interviews Method. Face to face interviews 12 participants Recruited from the target audience

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HM Revenue & Customs User centred website researchOnline survey and user interview findings September 2009

online survey and user interviews method
Online survey and user interviews Method
  • Face to face interviews
  • 12 participants
  • Recruited from the target audience
  • One hour open ended interviews
  • Coded and analysed
  • Online survey
  • 800 respondents
  • Recruited live via a number of web sites and direct email
  • Mostly structured questions based on interview data
  • Analysed using descriptive statistics( 22nd September)
online survey demographics
Online surveyDemographics


Female 36.20 %

Male 63.80 %


65 Plus 0.90 %

16-24 8.60 %

55-64 14.03 %

25-34 21.27 %

45-54 27.15 %

35-44 28.05 %

The male female split is roughly 60:40 so the design should generally be gender neutral.

The majority of respondents (77%) are between 25 -54. There are small percentages from the extremes 16-24 and 65+. The age range 55-64 still manages a response rate of 14% which is not insignificant. To ensure that the design is inclusive, whilst we may want to exclude the 65+ (small number), we should look to provide design elements that work well for the 55-64 range. Basically, this means looking at colour use and relative font size due to some deterioration in visual acuity and colour perception during this stage of life.

All age groups (80- 90% use the web daily) had a lot of web experience so should be familiar with its various conventions.

  • Suggestion
  • The design should be gender neutral
  • Accommodate the 55-64 age group where colour and visual acuity state to deteriorate.
online survey business type
Online surveyBusiness Type

Trading status

Other 3.60 %

Partnership 4.05 %

Limited liability partnership 4.05 %

Sole trader 41.89 %

Limited company 46.40 %

Current Status

Planning on starting a business 20.09 %

Running a business 79.91 %

The majority of respondents (87%) operate as either sole traders or as a limited company. This could provide guidance for weighting content if these categories have tax implications

20% of respondents are only at the business planning stage. This still is a notable number and should be catered for. If a time line/developmental approach is used, this pre- business stage needs to be incorporated.


  • Suggestion
  • Content should be aimed at sole traders and Limited companies.
  • If a business stage approach is used to organise/ filter content then pre start up is needed.
online survey description of business 1
Online surveyDescription of business 1



60k -150k 21.36 %

150K plus 24.09 %

Under 60k 54.55 %

Do you work from home

No 39.64 %

Yes 60.36 %

online survey description of business 2
Online surveyDescription of business 2

Number of employees

Number of employees

4+ employees 14.15 %

1-4 employees 33.96 %

1 employee 51.89 %

Time trading (5+ years removed)

1 - 2 years 17.57 %

Less than 1 year 34.23 %

3- 5 years 48.20 %

In terms of providing content and dealing with large portions of the target audience, the data that describes respondents’ businesses provides clear segments.

Firstly, the majority of respondents’ businesses (55%) generates an annual turnover of up to 60k. The rest are divided roughly equally between the other ranges (60k -150k , and 150k+)

Secondly, roughly 60% of respondents work from home

Thirdly, just over half are one-man bands.

Finally 44% have been operating less than 3 years .

Time trading (5+ years removed)

online survey description of business 3
Online surveyDescription of business 3

Male v female

Turnover is possibly the single most useful factor in determining the nature of the respondents and their businesses.

Proportionally, there appears to be a linear interaction with gender: as turnover increases, the percentage of males increases, with the percentage of females decreasing dramatically.

Those businesses with a turnover under 60k are most likely to operate as sole traders (55%) followed by those acting as a limited company (35%). Of the businesses generating 60k+, roughly 78% are a limited company with 9% operating as sole traders.

Unsurprisingly, the number of employees ties in with turnover (it might be of interest to compare full time v part time in future research). Under 60k, 76% of businesses will comprise of one employee and as the turnover increases, the number of one employee enterprises drops off.

There also appears to be a linear relationship between whether the business is run from home or not. Under 60k, 78% of respondents work from home. Between 60-150k, the numbers are roughly equal and for 150k+ the numbers are reversed with 72% not working at home.

Number of employees

Working from home

online survey description of business 4
Online surveyDescription of business 4

There also appears to be an interaction between turnover and number of years in business. 37% of those businesses operating less than a year, turnover is less than 60k. For the other turnover ranges, 60-150k and 150k+, the largest proportion is at the other end of the scale, 54% and 64% respectively operating for 5+ years. This may indicate business growth. For these two groups the numbers increase year on year by quite significant proportions. For under 60k, the numbers drop off after the first year but then still display a steady increase of 10% for each time period.

It is possible that there may be two types of business models: those that are about life style and sustaining that life style, turning over at steady rate and others that are intended to grow from the outset. This was indicated during the interviews; some interviewees didn't have long term plans, it was just something they were doing for now or tied to a life style or activity they were interested in doing, and there were interviewees with big ambitions for their business i.e. to create one that would succeed and grow over time.

The design implications of this is that turnover is on the surface a powerful mechanism for organising, sorting and filtering content. For instance, low(er) turnover businesses are likely to involve one employee, be home based and operate as a sole trader. Conversely, if the turnover is greater, there is a strong likelihood that they are male, employ at least one other and operate as a limited company.

Years trading

  • Suggestion
  • Turnover should be used either as a filter or a way of segmenting the audiences when they arrive at the site as it is a good indicator of a number other factors.
online survey sector
Online surveySector


Health 5.05 %

Leisure 5.50 %

Finance 6.88 %

Media 10.09 %

Property 11.01 %

Consumer goods and retail 12.84 %

Technology 14.22 %

Other 34.40 %

The interview data indicates that at some point participants want content that is specific to their business. Using sector or industry as a navigational aid would on the surface seem to offer a good mechanism for tailoring content.

However, if we compare some of the open ended responses with the pre-defined sectors groups, we notice that there is a good deal of repetition, e.g. “retail” v consumer goods and retail. Given this range of different sector definitions, we suggest not using sectors as a navigational aid on the tax help site.

Health Informatics Training

First Aid Training

Child development

Rice, yams and garri

Recruitment- Education

VAT Consultancy

Home & animal care



Weddings, Video Making

Technical Services

Graphic Design



Play consultant

IT Software development

Professional Services



Community support

Take away

Selling second hand books

Consultancy support for Quality, Environment & H&S

Information / library

Customer service


Coffee shop

Curtain making etc

Creative Consultancy


Driving Instruction

Business Services

Human resources

Landscape gardener

  • Suggestion
  • Sector should not be used to organise content.
online survey sites visited
Online surveySites visited

Common content areas:




Tools/My Business Kit

Promote Yourself


Video Lounge

Knowledge hub

Learn from experts


Business Linkx 100

FSB ( business link) x10 (very comprehensive list of tools)

Business direct

Office of fair trading

ukbusiness forums

company made simple

business link west yorkshire

Sites visited by respondents provide opportunities for cross linking as well as providing greater access to the tax help site, which will also boost its search ranking. Looking at the survey data, the primary means of finding the tax help site is through using Google search.

These sites may also provide some design and content guidance.

  • Suggestion
  • Use audience relevant sites for cross linking and generating more traffic to tax help site
online survey contacting the hmrc
Online surveyContacting the HMRC

Preferred method of contact

Preferred methods of contacting HMRC

Letter 5.24 %

Person 6.28 %

Email 35.60 %

Phone 52.88 %

Contacted HMRC

No 37.82 %

Yes 62.18 %

The preferred method of contacting the HMRC is through the phone (53%) and then email (35%). This is not surprising as the phone offers a more immediate response to a specific issue. Regarding the site, it is important to make a contact number available as it is unlikely the site will be able to address all users’ needs entirely. However, the position and presentation of the contact number should be after other options have been exhausted, i.e. “Can’t find the answer you are looking for and you’ve tried a, b and c first”

  • Suggestion
  • Make a contact number available on the tax site, but position in such a way that other options are exhausted first.
online survey knowledge of tax
Online surveyKnowledge of tax

Informed about tax

Very informed 5.47 %

Very uninformed 9.45 %

Uninformed 13.93 %

Neither 21.39 %

Informed 49.75 %

Need to know about your business tax issues

Very little 4.50 %

Little 7.00 %

All 19.50 %

Some 33.00 %

A lot 36.00 %

Legitimate business expense

Very clear 8.96 %

Very unclear 9.95 %

Unclear 18.41 %

Neither 23.88 %

Clear 38.81 %

Informed about tax

Most participants have some knowledge about tax, and what they can claim as legitimate business expenses and there may be a slight indication that they feel they need to know a little more than they currently do.

  • Suggestion
  • To be inclusive the tax help site needs to include those from very uniformed to informed. Those who have high levels of knowledge probably don’t need to use the site. Content may be structured to aid this e.g. the basics, next steps and digging a little deeper.
online survey tax return
Online surveyTax return

Submit tax return by

Tax return

Post 18.62 %

Online 81.38 %

Submit your tax return

At the last minute 35.20 %

As soon as possible 64.80 %

Changing behaviour

Changing behaviour is very difficult but there are a couple of instances here that HMRC might want to change: 35% “last minute submissions” and 19% “postal returns”.

Realistically, more work around the attitudes behind these behaviours would be needed to construct a strategy but in the meantime the site can still be used to encourage early online tax returns.

online survey visiting the tax help site
Online surveyVisiting theTax Help site

Visited the Tax help

Yes 42%

No 58 %

Frequency of visit

Daily 2.60 %

Weekly 7.79 %

Yearly 16.88 %

Monthly 32.47 %

Twice yearly 40.26 %


61+ mins 1.28 %

0 - 5 mins 6.41 %

31 - 60 mins 6.41 %

16 - 30 mins 33.33 %

6 - 15 mins 52.56 %

Frequency of visit

online survey access the tax help site
Online surveyAccess the tax Help site

Access tax help site

Follow a link 3.85 %(HMRC site)

Bookmark 20.51 %

Type in Tax help website address 23.08 %

Search 52.56 % (Google)

Where from

Home 75.6%

Work 28.9%

Internet Café 2.2%

Library 2.2%

On the move 0.0%

online survey visiting the tax help site1
Online surveyVisiting theTax Help site

Only 42% of respondents that have been trading less than 5 years had visited the tax help site. Probably the most effective method of increasing this number is to improve the site ranking in Google (53% use Google as to find the Tax help site) as this is the starting point of most site visits. Steps towards this are to optimise the site for search terms the audience are using (see the “search” slide) and to increase the number of cross links to other sites (see “sites visited” slide). This will also have the benefit of increasing the chances of a visitor following a link which currently is the lowest ranking method for accessing the tax help site (4%).

Frequency of visit is generally low: the reason may be the visit is triggered by a specific issue or an event e.g. tax return deadline looming. The low frequency could also be down to the content. Changing the site may also change the visit frequency. However, if visit frequency remains low then there are a number of implications:

A) There will be little opportunity to learn the site ( conventions, structure and interaction styles). This increases the emphasis on the design to be as obvious and straight forward as possible.

B) It is unlikely that the visitor will be able to recall their previous activity. One possibility is to allow some personalisation so that each visitor can collect content that is relevant to him/her and keep a history of their site activities.

C) The site would not be an effective way of delivering notifications, e.g. “The return deadline is coming” If messages or alerts need to be delivered then providing a a sign up for email alerts would be the most straightforward way of communicating topical content.

Keeping the duration of the visit short is probably appropriate. Currently, the most common visit time is between 6 -15 minutes (53%). What we should aim to do is to ensure that this time is not used inappropriately e.g. not being able to find what you want or having to digest poorly structured content.

online survey transactions
Online surveyTransactions

All three options were very popular and should be considered for the tax help website. Free courses in particular. They provide something that is potentially useful without placing a financial burden upon the small businesses.

The option of the tax advisor is also important. This came across in the interviews conducted: at some point participants wanted to talk to someone directly about the details of their particular business. Some survey respondents used a financial advisor instead of an accountant to support their business.

  • Suggestion
  • Make all three available
online survey tools1
Online surveyTools

The interviews suggested that participants were interested in practical help. This finding was reinforced via the survey. Free book keeping software and the tax calculator were very popular amongst interviewees and respondents.

‘Ask an expert’ was also very popular. This addresses the same need as being able to speak to an advisor. The practical implementation of such functionality is another issue. For instance, the automated Q&A system Barclays uses did not appear to work very well and probably does not in principle address the users’ need. If it had a certain degree human involvement there may be some benefit but at a greater cost.

Personalisation could be very useful. This was a popular option and if we tie this in with data on frequency of visit, it could offer a lot of benefit to users. 70% of visitors are visiting the tax help site once a month or less. This could allow the visitor to set up the site so that they can recall and save there previous activities.

The demands for social media and networking were relatively low, though still over half thought they would find it useful. This is interesting; from the interview data there was a strong indication that immediate (peer) networks were the first port of call for support and advice. Further these communities are used on other sites visited by survey respondents. Additionally, the Brand watch [a tool that monitors discussion around a topic on the web] data showed that LinkedIn came out on top as a site where most the key topics about tax and business were discussed. Social media should not be ignored but it is probably better to make use of existing social networking sites rather than setting up a a new, specific system.

online survey topics
Online surveyTopics

Search queriesVAT registration

VAT on lease hire vehicles

VAT applicable to leaflets



tax return help

Tax obligations for startup businesses

Tax information

tax allowance

tax advice videos


starting up

starting business

start up business

self employed tax return

self employed tax


Self Assessment

revenue & customs

Paye online Calculator

Triggers to visit Tax help


How to complete: tax return

Tax allowances

Self employed

Starting a new business

New employees


Contacted HMRC about

NI contributionsPAYE issues

Registering for personal tax

Overdue payment Ceasing to trade

Looking at what respondents searched for, what triggered their visit to the tax help site and what issues they contacted the HMRC for:

VATTax returnsTax allowancesStarting a business

Self-assessmentSelf employment

NI contributions

Overdue payment Ceasing to trade

online survey content1
Online surveyContent

Tax allowances, ‘typical mistakes’, understanding the tax calculation and general guides were all extremely popular. Again, they tend to reinforce participants’ need for practical information. Content that supports the running of the business proved to be what participants tend to look for. Perhaps not surprisingly, tax allowances came out on top. ‘Allowances’ was also one of the triggers and search terms used by respondents. Additionally, the survey data suggests, the most popular topics were VAT and tax returns which fall under the category of general tax guides.

General business guides, tutorials, understanding the self assessment statement and what to do if you are having trouble paying tax were all very popular. Overdue payments and self assessment also came up in the search terms and triggers.

This was also the case for tax issues related to each sector. Participants expressed their interest in issues related only to their specific business type. However, the survey data indicates the concept of “sector” is not well understood. It may be worth considering that instead of providing sector lists, a filter based system could be used to direct visitors to content that is relevant to them e.g. turnover and business stage.

Providing content related to the developmental stage of the business was also popular (84% of respondents thought so). This mechanism is also used on other sites visited by participants and reviewed during the benchmarking. They tend to follow the following format: planning a business, launching , running, growing and exiting. This can be used by the tax help site to direct users to relevant content.

Videos, lists of accountants and advice on controlling your finances were relatively less popular.

online survey web
Online surveyWeb

How often do you use the Web

Weekly 3.37 %

Monthly 4.49 %

Less than monthly 4.49 %

Daily 87.64 %


Home 81.1%

Work 71.7%

On the move 25.1%

Library 1.8%

Internet Cafe 1.8%

Networking sites used

Bebo 2.0%

MySpace 11.4%

Twitter 23.5%

LinkedIn 45.5%

Facebook 78.0%

Networking sites to discuss business issues

Yes 24.69 %

No 75.31 %

  • Suggestion
  • Use social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to provide peer support or, in the case of Twitter, deliver announcements or alerts.

Nearly 90% of respondents have a high degree of familiarity with the web (this may be self selecting as it’s an online survey). Regarding the use of social media, Facebook is the most popular (78%), followed by LinkedIn (45%) and then Twitter (24%).