Every website has a different user base, so the first thing to bear in mind is that your users are unique to your site. What works on other sites might not work for you and your audience, and visa-versa.
So who are your users?
Many companies make a lot of assumptions on who their users are. Assumptions are often based on internal opinions, who the company wants their user to be, or on outdated information which is no longer correct. The first thing you’ll need to do is work out who is coming to your site and why. This will help you form demographic reports and user profiles for your audience.
Once you have an idea of who your users are, you can use this data to decide who should take part in your user research. Try and represent your actual audience as much as possible when deciding who is likely to take part in your research, which leads me onto the big question…
Why do we want to talk to users?
- Your users are unique to you. You’ll need to understand your own audience, and what their needs are. What’s the intent behind their search query?
- Your company is unique. Users will have different expectations of you based on who you are, and what values your company holds.
- Users are not you, and everyone is unique. Users will likely not use your site in the same way you would. They enter the site for their own purpose – some will know the site well, for example returning users will be more familiar with your content than compared to new users.
- Users are unpredictable. Everyone has their own unique way of performing tasks, and navigating through a website. Having attended many user research sessions, I’ve found that there’s always something which surprises me. We all expect others to approach a problem in the same way we would, but this is often not the case!
- Discover usability issues. Because users will be browsing your site in a real-life way, they’re likely to find snags which wouldn’t be picked up internally. For example, company employees might rarely go through the checkout process.
- Understand users needs. Once you open discussions with users, you’ll begin to understand their needs and frustrations. Are your current development plans going to help improve the experience of your users?
- Help produce your strategy. Use the results of user research to plan your strategies for content, marketing, site development, or even changes to your offer.
- Meet users needs. As a result of your research, you can formulate a plan to meet users’ needs more effectively. This has huge rewards in terms of customer retention, conversion, brand perception, as well as the overall success of the website.
The different options for user research are numerous and varied, but don’t forget the data and knowledge which already exists from within your organisation. Stats from Google Analytics, online surveys, customer service centres, and other user feedback tools are great resources for insights. Look at what data you already have, and aim to fill the knowledge gaps with new research of your own.
Also bear in mind that over time your regular users will likely change, and so will the available technology to research them. Speak to your users frequently, keep up to date with the latest user research tools and stay informed on how your users evolve.