Experience Design

Doing user research right

Sam Bowler
Sam Bowler

We've already established that buying a website is a big deal, but how do you make the most of that investment?

When you're so close to an organisation, it’s easy to get tunnel vision and make misplaced assumptions about what users need from your website (there’s even a word for it: credulity). Effective research can help you get out of that rut and target your budget towards initiatives that will actually make a difference.

Why is it important?

As we move in to the age of the customer (Forrester), misplaced features and poor customer experiences can have an increasingly negative impact on your bottom line. If your website is more difficult to use than it needs to be or doesn't meet users' expectations, they'll simply go elsewhere. Forrester's research shows that organisations that have failed to focus on customer experience have suffered a 33.9% decrease in stock performance over a six-year period, compared to a 43% gain for those organisations that have put customer experience at the heart of their business.

Additionally, social media and product reviews provide your customers with incredible power to affect the perception that a wide audience has of your organisation - you need to make sure that they're sharing a positive message. It's only possible to ensure a positive message with a detailed understanding of who your end user is, what motivates them, and what problem you're solving for them.

What does it look like?

No one piece of research is the same, but it can typically be split up in to three streams: understanding, building, and measuring.

The truth is, you're probably doing a level of research already -- it can take many forms. If you've asked your friend what they think of something, you're likely doing rudimentary user testing. If you've talked to customer services about which queries customers most frequently have, you're doing a form of research. For it to be truly effective, however, there must be a specific focus and targeted use of different techniques. No one piece of research is the same, but it can typically be split up in to three streams: understanding, building, and measuring.

Understanding

Research that facilitates understanding is usually done during a project discovery phase.

We're looking to answer questions like the following:

  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • Who are we building it for?
  • What do those users need to achieve their goals on your website?
  • Where does any pre-existing solution fall short?

Research in this stream is likely to consist of surveys (externally with customers and also internally within your organisation), customer interviews, competitor analysis, and data analysis, amongst others.

Building

Building typically follows understanding. Only once we know which problem we need to solve, and why, can we move on to building an effective solution. The research here sits alongside other activities such as wireframing and UI design and is mainly focused on validating the usability of an interface. At this point, it's important to remember that the first rule of usability is "don't listen to users" - what they say isn't necessarily what they will go on to do.

Measure

Lastly, but most importantly, we need to measure the impact of what we have built against the goals set out when embarking on the work.

More tangible goals (such as increased sales, leads, or other direct conversions) are easy to track through analytics. Measuring less quantifiable objectives, such as better usability, can be more involved but generally consists of using a standardised benchmark such as SUPR-Q against a baseline.

Making a difference

The most important aspect of research is making sure that the findings are correct, actionable, and will go on to make a tangible difference for your customers.

The most important aspect of research is not planning which techniques to use or how many people to survey, it's making sure that the findings are correct, actionable, and will go on to make a tangible difference for your customers.

Research, when done right, has the ability to not only validate your assumptions but also to identify opportunities to delight your customers. There are so many things that it's impossible to know until you go out and talk to them, otherwise known as getting out of the building. That's not to mention that having real evidence of those needs gives you a concrete reason to invest - you know it will have a positive impact.

Ridgeway’s in-house Performance team of experts help to drive traffic, create great customer experiences, devise marketing strategies, and analyse website performance to make actionable recommendations for the optimisation of your digital solutions.