Research Methodology to Understand Your Website Audience

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Prior to designing or reworking your website you need to understand your audience. As the e-book “Small Tweaks, Big Impact Websites“ explains, there are simple ways you can analyse human behaviour and how real humans interact with your website. Below I’ve listed techniques from the e-book that help you understand your target audience’s goals, problems, challenges, motivations, and the reasons why they use your website in the first place.

Research your audience as thoroughly as possible. The more you understand your customers, the more capable you’ll be in designing a website that’s tailormade for them.

Interviewing your customers

Interviewing customers is a popular method of research. When you talk to your customers in an interview setting, you gain deep insights on how they interact with your website. While your customers may analyse your website from a different perspective than when simply interacting with it normally, this process is likely to expose issues you would never have considered without your customers’ input.

Talking to your customers face to face instead of through the phone is ideal but not always practical. Talking face to face allows you to observe non-verbal cues that you’d otherwise miss.

Consider using a script when conducting interviews. Keep it conversational where possible so you can delve deeper if required. A good script will help maximise the information gleaned from the interview. When you prepare your script, include the questions and the sequence in which to ask them.

It’s crucial that you get the information you need from each question. If you aren’t satisfied with your interviewee’s answer, proceed with the rest of your queries and circle back later asking your question in a different way. Ensure that your questions are simple and practical. Asking questions in a straightforward way allow people to better explain why they do what they do, but be direct without interrogating them.

You can divide your questions into three categories:

Relational questions

With relational questions, you learn more about your interviewees and how their personalities and way of thinking relate to your business. For example:

  • Do you have favourite websites or mobile apps? What are they?
  • Where do you spend most of your time online?
  • What do you think about [my field or industry]?

Field-specific questions

Questions specific to your field or industry let you in on what your customers want to happen when they may use your website, or a website like yours, and what issues they may have when they do. For example:

  • Right now, how do you find [primary action related to your website]?
  • Can you tell me about the last time you did [an action related to your website]?
  • What did you like most about that experience?
  • Did you find the experience difficult at any point?

Let your interviewee tell you a story as much as possible. You can gather so much information from your customers’ stories that can be invaluable to your research. If you can make them recall a specific instance, their responses to your question is likely to be much more detailed.

UX-specific questions

Questions focused on user experience zero in on how your customers think you can improve specific areas of your website. For example:

  • What do you like most about our website right now?
  • What do you like the least?
  • What changes do you think we should make so our website works better for you?

When you’re done with all your interviews, look at the responses and ask yourself whether any themes have emerged. If new information keeps arising, try to interview more people until you can establish particular patterns. Once that’s done, you’re sure to find the insights you need.

Identifying your ideal customer

As a research technique, this step can be a dicey one for big companies to understand. If all you get from your efforts are irrelevant, haphazardly processed, or poorly applied data, you can easily turn an otherwise helpful research tool into a mess. It’s far easier for small business people who are hands on in the business.

Identifying your ideal customer is a vital step in your research. Your ideal customer is probably very similar to your best handful of customers you have right now. Most work involved in identifying your ideal customer should focus on their aspirations, challenges, physical needs, and emotional needs. Use the information gathered from your customer interviews and synthesise it to create a profile for your ideal customer, called a ‘persona’. This persona will give you a detailed, in-depth view of the challenges your audience faces when they use your website. Large corporations work with multiple personas, which makes their marketing complex. On the other hand, small businesses can afford to laser-focus on a specific niche and, therefore, one ideal customer.

When you have a clear understanding of your ideal customer’s frustrations, it can directly affect your decisions regarding your redesign. For instance, let’s say your audience feels frustrated because they can’t find enough information about your services. You can solve that by creating an FAQ page or an expandable widget that they can click on for more information about the services you offer.

Creating use cases

A use case is a study that describes step by step how your website’s users complete specific actions on your site. By writing a use case, you can create a clear picture of your website’s issues. The use case will help you create an optimised flow that will improve your website UX and boost conversion rate.

Your interviews will reveal those steps in your website that your users found frustrating. The use case will highlight patterns in your users’ behaviour and where processes are a hindrance. When you write a use case, you can identify what steps are confusing, inefficient, or redundant and simplify your website.

It won’t always be possible to predict every path that your customers may take to achieve their goals when using your website. After all, a website generally offers its users a range of options. However, the research can tell you if your customers may be using your website in ways you didn’t initially expect.

After you’ve done your preliminary research, you can turn the knowledge you’ve gathered into wireframes and simplify your processes.

UserTesting.com is a quick and easy tool where you can hire participants to review your current website and even those of your competitors. This will help you understand what’s important in your redesign. The participants are selected according to your requirements. Their screens will be recorded while they’re navigating the website/s and verbally answering any questions you list for them.

UserBrain.net is a tool similar to UserTesting.com. However, it’s set up for ongoing monthly reviews as opposed to once-off projects.

I encourage you to download “Small Tweaks, Big Impact Websites” today to find out more about the User Experience (UX) hacks that could work for your website.