User Research: What It Is, Why It’s Important, and How to Test Your Website

The data is clear: Websites that follow a user research-driven process increase their KPIs by 135% on average. So why aren’t all organizations properly investing in usability testing? Perhaps they don’t understand the process, feel that it’s too complex, or aren’t able to demonstrate the ROI of this kind of investment.

As a user researcher and strategist, my job is to uncover users’ needs, identify the best ways for organizations to explain how they meet those needs, and create a digital strategy that converts visitors into leads. This process provides a number of benefits to organizations, including better conversion rates, happier users, and increased revenue.

Not convinced? Keep reading to learn more about the user research process, how it can benefit your organization, and what steps you can take to gain a deeper understanding of your website users today.

What is user research, and why is it important?

Effective user research starts and ends with your audience. It allows you to experience your brand the way your users do, which is likely very different than you think they do. The user research process involves interacting with your target website users to better understand who they are, what tasks they want to accomplish, and the scenarios in which they visit your website.

Although certain elements of web design can be subjective, user experience (UX) research provides a way to set conversion benchmarks and provides a path to make improvements and measure those results. While best practices and common sense may get you to “good enough,” detailed user research validates and/or refines your design direction. Effective user research enables you to improve your site’s user experience by tailoring its design, content, and architecture accordingly.

Related: For practical tips to improve your UX, check out our guide to 7 UX Laws for B2B Websites.

The goal of UX is to set the design direction on a path toward a better, more usable experience for all. By watching people use your website, you’re able to understand not only what areas they interact with, but the underlying reasons why they choose to visit in the first place. This allows you to meet their needs now and also identify new business opportunities and other ways to provide value.

How is user research conducted?

Depending on your goals, there are a number of methods for conducting user research. User testing can be done remotely, using software such as, Validately, Optimal Workshop, or dozens of others. It can also be done in-person, through focus groups and one-on-one interviews.

In moderated testing, users are asked to complete specific tasks by a moderator who can answer any questions and keep things running smoothly. This gives you more control, but scheduling moderated tests can be a challenge. Moderated can be better if you are testing on low-fidelity wireframes or a prototype that requires more context or explanation, very complex interfaces, or experiences that require special software or equipment.

Unmoderated testing allows users to test a website on their own devices and on their own schedule. These are generally cheaper, faster, and can lead to less bias because the user doesn’t feel subconscious pressure to please the moderator or give “correct” answers.

Other common examples of user research include:

  • Online user surveys
  • User interviews
  • Analytics review
  • First click testing
  • Clickstream analysis
  • Benchmarking
  • Contextual inquiries
  • Card sorting
  • A/B testing

What are the benefits of user research?

Reduced costs: Testing wireframes or low-fidelity prototypes allows you to make changes much more quickly and cheaply than waiting for results on a new live website. Once development starts, the costs of making changes go up exponentially.

Better decisions: User research provides a structure to decision-making that is aligned with your business objectives and user tasks: Rather than “This option looks better,” the conversation becomes “This option has a 15% higher conversion rate.”

Happier users: Most websites have task success rates of less than 50%, making the average internet experience one of failure. By understanding what your users actually want, you’ll be able to delight them by providing a much more tailored experience. Not only will better UX make your users happier, it will also reduce the number of customer support calls and confused emails you receive.

Increased revenue: Websites that go through a user-research process increase their business metrics by 83%. This means more conversions, and ultimately, more sales.

As the first step in the web design process, user research helps set you up for long-term success. After conducting user research you’ll be better positioned to refine your information architecture and prioritize areas of focus, create better user stories and functional requirements that are tailored to your users’ needs, and pinpoint the messaging that best resonates with your users.

However, keep in mind that there are diminishing returns on testing. Although you don’t need to test everything on your site, it is worthwhile to test the aspects of your site that will have the greatest impact on the end user. Because of how instrumental user research is in creating a highly functional end product, we recommend allocating at least 10% of your project’s budget towards user research.

Ready to position your website for success? Get in touch with us today to learn more about how we can help you craft a targeted digital strategy that drives business results and engages users at every stage.

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