Split testing to improve our births, deaths and marriages content

Amy Browne, UX Executive and Andy Osborn, Digital Content Lead

Two mobile phones showing the old and new births, deaths and marriages section of

'Births, deaths and marriages' is one of the most visited sections of our website with just over 1.3 million page views this past year. But it’s also one of the top drivers of queries to the HSELive support team.

The high volume of queries - and the types of questions people were asking - told us the information on the website was not doing its job. Lots of people were left confused about how they could order a certificate or register a life event.

By doing some research, creating a new version of the site and conducting a split test we were able to:

  • raise user satisfaction to 75% on this section of our site
  • decrease live chat queries to HSELive about this service by 31%

We’re delighted with this result. But more importantly, this reduction in queries saves our users’ time and is a better use of health service resources.

Creating a new version


First, we set up a widget on the old births, deaths and marriages site to ask users for feedback. This helps us to avoid basing decisions on our own assumptions about what our users need.

We analysed 551 pieces of user feedback and could clearly see that users were often frustrated with their experience. They told us the site structure was “confusing” and the content was “unclear”.

Old births, deaths and marriages certificates page

Above: Old web page to order birth, death or marriage certificates

In relation to the ‘Apply online’ link, one user wrote:

“…I want to order a copy of a birth certificate. I don't want to "apply" for anything. I want to order and pay for something. I suppose I will click "apply" but it does not make sense.”

They were right.

Content design

Using insights from the research we redesigned the content to address the main points of confusion for our users, improving the structure, readability and style of the content.

Similar to our work on medical cards and GP visit cards, we were able to reduce the word count from 9,379 to 3,114 by stripping out irrelevant or repeated information and using plain English.

We improved the wording of links and buttons to be more specific so we could guide users and make it easy for them to find what they are looking for.

We also decreased the reading age for much of the content from 13 to 9 years of age. This might sound strange - 9-year-olds aren’t registering births or getting married. But we know that people of all ages prefer information that’s written in a more accessible way - it’s quicker and easier to read.  

Site design

From analysing heat maps to track user’s clicks, taps and scrolling behaviour, and gathering insights from search and website analytics, we could see that the majority of visitors to this section of our site want to apply for certificates. But our old design did not prioritise this user journey.

With the new version, we don't have a 'Births' section anymore. We have a 'Certificates' section and within that, we have a page titled 'Get a birth certificate'. We also have a section for 'Registering a birth, death and marriage' - within this we have a 'Register a birth' page. This structure seemed to match our user’s expectations and prioritise the most commonly used content.

On the old site, we had some ambiguous text in the navigation links. In the heat map below, you can see the red hot-spot is the ‘Births’ link. This link was misleading for users who wanted to order a birth certificate - the content on this page was about registering a birth, not ordering a birth certificate.

A heat map of the old births, deaths and marriages website. The births link is the main hot spot.

Above: Heat map of the old civil registration landing page

With the old design, links to the online form to order certificates were buried within the content. Our new design includes prominent buttons that take users directly to the form.

The contact page for the civil registration offices originally contained a long list of details that users had to scroll through. To improve this, we added links directly to each county so users can easily find the information that’s relevant to them.

Here’s what the new births deaths and marriages section of our website looks like now:

Screenshot of the new births, deaths and marriages website

Above: The new version of the births, deaths and marriages landing page

Split test

A split test (sometimes called an A/B test) is a way of testing two versions of a website against each other to see which works best for the user. Sometimes it can be a tiny refinement, like a change of button colour or page title. In this case, our two versions of the site were very different.

Having done our research and gotten a clear sense of what the main problems were for our users, we were confident that the new version was an improvement. But we wanted to make sure it really was better for the people using this content. So we ran a split test.

We presented the new version of the births, deaths and marriages to 50% of all users who arrived on that section of our site. The other half continued to see the old version. The results of the test were positive. We saw an improvement in engagement and user satisfaction.

Since we have pushed the new version live, knowing users preferred it, there has been an overall increase in user engagement with the content, and user satisfaction has now increased to 75%. Live chat queries to HSELive on those web pages have decreased by 31%. This tells us that the new content is more effective in helping people understand the service and complete their task, so they don't need any extra support.

Another iteration

Since this is one of the most used sections of our website, we'll be continuously reviewing its performance so we can make improvements. We’re now working on another iteration of the births, deaths and marriages section which will be live soon.