Table of contents:
This article outlines the instant benefits user research can provide for you and your business (or your client’s business)
To all online marketing managers, project managers, eCommerce managers, site owners, designers and developers, board members and stakeholders – if you have not yet experienced user research for you (or your clients) site firsthand, then I would strongly recommend getting your feet wet.
1. Immediate quick wins:
Quick wins you can action to enhance the user experience. This will enable you to prioritise which features, elements, copy changes and page designs need to be implemented based on customer-centric design to increase site conversions and ultimately ROI.
2. Establish why checkout conversions are low and drop-out (abandonment) rates for a particular stage in the checkout process are high:
For eCommerce sites, a serious issue effecting the majority of sites large and small is poor (or poorer than what can be achieved) conversions for customers who have started the checkout process. User research this key shopping journey will identify where site users experience barriers to progression and any areas of frustration or security concerns.
Surely it makes sense to drive the same paid traffic budget to a user-tested website with a better design and better conversion level
3. You may spend a significant budget on Search Engine Marketing – make sure it isn’t being wasted:
Does it make sense to continually invest money in Google Adwords and similar social media channels, when your conversion rate percentage doesn’t improve? Surely it makes sense to drive the same paid traffic budget to a user-tested website with a better design and better conversion level. This delivers more conversions for the same budget.
With improved conversions, you can either throttle back on marketing spending to receive the same level of conversions or UP your spending and get a higher number of conversions.
4. Help identify key issues in information architecture:
After user research, you are now far more informed why users struggle to find a key area/tool within your website or mobile device. This is invaluable, providing the necessary proof that key changes need to be made.
5. Raises issues not even considered internally:
An area that is considered optimal may in fact have room for improvement
This helps you identify how critical information and calls to actions should be positioned within a page hierarchy
6. Shopping behaviours can be identified and the website tailored to maximise conversion opportunities:
For e-Commerce sites, user research will provide insight into the various shopping behaviours [we call these ‘personas’]. Shoppers may be hunters, followers, know what they want, impulsive or open to persuasion buyers. This helps you identify how critical information and calls to actions should be positioned within a page hierarchy as users progress through a shopping journey.
7. Quashes any in-house politics:
Real users provide the insights into what is and isn’t working on your site
8. Creative marketing messages and promotions ignored:
The expensive, slick piece of on-site marketing is actually overlooked as users exhibit ‘banner blindness’, instead they go looking for actual site content and not forms of advertising or promotions
User research, when conducted professionally, can provide an overwhelming insight into how real users actually interact (or attempt to interact) with your site.
3 key aspects how PurpleFire conduct your User Research
1. Recruit the Right Research Participants: Understandably work is required on identifying your existing and potential target audiences, and ensuring the right users are recruited to carry out the user research
2. Appoint the Right Research Specialist: The right user experience research moderator (a service PurpleFire provide through)
3. Create the right scenarios: Gaining insights through observing a user using your website can both shock and excite website owners, as they realise both the current failings of their site (whether in UX, information architecture or technical errors) and begin to understand that by making sometimes subtle changes to their site will significantly increase user task completion rates.
The Crunch: What if you have no budget for user research?
- For businesses without sufficient budget – improvise! Use friends and family who fit within one of your customer personas
- Task these people with the same site objectives with your commercial objectives
- Observe them as they navigate the site and you will begin to realise the issues they experience and the incredible potential of user research
With reference to the title of this post, in addition to observing user experience research, a second factor comes in to play – think out loud methodology.
What is think out loud methodology?
How does this work?
The user is encouraged to talk about their experiences when carrying out task and scenario based exercises. When they pause their mouse movement whilst contemplating where to look or what to click on, the research facilitator encourages the participant to talk out loud about what they are thinking – remember the more cognitive effort a user requires to complete their tasks can enhance their frustrations or reduce their patience in carrying out the task.
Why does thinking out loud work?
Speaking with other usability professionals, some prefer not to rely on what the user says. Although this is not wrong, it can depend on a variety of factors. A facilitator who puts words in the users mouth, or when a users actual site interactions conflict with what they are saying, the moderator’s best approach is to always encourage the user to ‘think out loud’.
How to maximise the potential of think-out-loud user research
I would like to point you to an excellent and comprehensive article over at UX Matters entitled When Observing Users Is Not Enough: 10 Guidelines for Getting More Out of Users Verbal Comments.
A quick summary of the 10 points that Isabelle Peyrichoux talk about in depth were:
1. Be aware of your own judgments and projections
2. Be genuine and transparent
3. Adapt to each user. Do not ask users to adapt to you
4. Be conscious of the way users are interacting with you
5. Get users to speak about their own experiences
6. Notice when users are censoring their own comments
7. Get users to speak in terms of problems, not solutions
8. Ask Why? and dig deeper
9. Make objective and precise observations
10.Allow users to be spontaneous and follow their flow
Although this great article back in 2007 will be of more use to user experience specialists and people involved in user research on any level, it should provide an incite as to how user research and the think out load methodology can be combined using basic (but often un-used) human relationship qualities to provide optimum user research data and results.
Eye tracking – another level of user research and customer insight?
Coupled with the user research and think-out loud principles, taking the research another step further by introducing eye tracking may provide further insights.
Whilst eye-tracking technology is improving there are limitations and at the time of publishing. Contact lens, false eye-lashes, prescription glasses can inhibit the quality of eye-tracking and even moving your head to acknowledge the moderator or into a more comfortable position can record a variance on the results. Some might say that eye-tracking is unnatural and can impact normal behaviour and that the effort required to analyse the eye movement can easily be replaced more naturally with the simple ‘talk out loud’ approach
Using Web Analytics To Further Identify Site Conversion Improvements
I am an advocate of using web analytic data to uncover a vast range of improvement possibilities with site content and conversions, I would not be able to add value to this User Research article and point you to the excellent blog of Avinash Kaushik who handles all things analytics:
- Experimentation and Testing: A Primer
- Excellent Analytics Tip#5: Conversion Rate Basics & Best Practices
- Excellent Analytics Tip #8: Measure the Real Conversion Rate & Opportunity Pie
I hope you’ve found this article useful, and any feedback is greatly appreciated!
In summary, I have experience on both transactional and non-transactional websites, from SME’s to blue chip companies and believe the return on investment by conducting user research can be outstanding to every online business.