User research is one of the keys to getting the most out of any website or app you create and the springboard from which you can make future enhancements and improvements. Although we no doubt build our products with certain users and behavior in mind, the reality of our working product can often be somewhat different from that which we planned, and user research is the most efficient way to evaluate the use and success of what we have built, looking in depth at the who, where, when, and why of our users.
There are several useful and effective ways to do user research and dig for that key info; from conducting one-on-one interviews to recording and analyzing more complex user data, here are 5 of the most popular and most effective ways to conduct user research:
User Research – Online User Surveys
User surveys are a great way to collect a lot of targeted data in a short period of time. With online surveys you can collect key pieces of information, concentrate on certain aspects of your product or the user experience, or simply ask your users what they like and dislike, and what they’d like to see improved.
You shouldn’t try to force your users to participate in a survey, though you may want to add some incentive or reward (offering exclusive content or site access is one good example). You should keep your surveys to just a few insightful questions (up to 10 would be a good figure), and keep your focus on two or three aspects of your product.
The aim of a good survey should be to investigate user behavior and targeted aspects of your product, but it should also be conscious not to ask too much of the participants. Keep questions short and easy to understand, with simple multiple choice answers and the option to comment. This will not only make the questions less demanding on your users but it will also make your data easier to process and analyze.
The questions you choose should ultimately be based on your research and assumptions, either confirming or dismissing beliefs and ideas you have about your product.
‘If your target audience is comfortably within your network, consider utilizing your social media networks to find a handful of participants cheaply. If you have any budget dedicated to user research, a well-constructed online ad could do the trick, too. Many firms also tack links to surveys on their website. Keep in mind that it may be wise to use a screener of preliminary questions to weed out participants outside your target.’
You may also want to use a survey tool or program. For some great survey software take a look at:
If you have more specific questions you wish to explore, or you require more detailed answers, you may prefer to do one-on-one interviews with some of your key users.
You’ll need to put in more effort and research when choosing and approaching target users for one-on-one interviews and you will also need to offer some incentive or reward in order to find participants who are willing to give you their time. Though interviews can be a little intimidating to the less experienced, they can offer far more in-depth and personal results, giving you the opportunity to ask follow up questions, immediately responding to answers and getting deeper into the thoughts and behavior of your users.
While you won’t be able to get a broad spectrum of data to analyze, as you would with a survey, you will get more specific information, and the ability to better understand the more complex movements and reactions of your users. While surveys are great for understanding general user behavior, interviews can better explore more emotional responses and become flexible to uncover more unique information and react to unexpected trends.
A/B testing is a great way to explore more specific user behavior and a way to more accurately predict how your users will react to future tweaks and changes to your product. Through A/B testing you can explore, in detail, how users react to certain actions or changes to your site, confirming or dismissing any predictions you have with regards to future improvements and changes you wish to make.
A/B testing essentially takes a small portion of your users and feeds them with an alternative version of your product, whether that simply be a few simple tweaked colors or design features, or with more dramatic changes, monitoring how they react and behave in comparison to other users who are continuing to use your existing (unchanged) product.
‘software like Optimizely and Unbounce make this extremely simple. With only a few minutes of setup, they begin splitting your web traffic and researching your hypotheses. Run a test for a few days and voilà: you have comprehendible results to pivot upon.’
Heatmapping is a great way to get live analysis and assess the general behavior of your entire traffic. This is a great form of user research for existing products which already have a significant amount of users and traffic.
Observing and analyzing the behavior of your traffic can immediately show you which areas and functions of your product are working successfully, and which areas are not functioning as expected. By seeing user patterns you will also get a good basis for making improvements, and through continuing to monitor heatmaps as you make tweaks and changes you can better gage their success.
There are several great heatmapping tools which you can install on your site and immediately monitor your users. We suggest checking out:
‘Heatmaps are great for analyzing the behavior of your visitors. They can lead to insights you can’t find using other methods, which can greatly increase your conversion rate.’
Live User Testing
User testing is a very hands-on way of gaining user research, and a good source of information and discovery when testing a new product or product lacking traffic.
Live testing basically means physically observing and monitoring users on your site or app. Not only can you get their unique responses and more exact reactions, but you can also follow this up with a direct interview based on your observations.
Rather than letting your test subjects roam aimlessly you should give them specific tasks and record their actions and reactions in a way you can quantify and compare your results.
The most difficult part of live user testing is finding a broad range of willing users, especially if on a tight budget. You may need to start by using friends, colleagues, and family members, but in order to get more effective results you will want to source further users who fit your target user base.