Users are everything.
And who are your users, you might ask?
You might have established your target audience and created your ideal customer profile. That’s a great start. But you still know nothing about your users, isn’t that right? The ones who are currently visiting your website – right now. Where do they come from? Which pages are they visiting? What are they hoping to achieve? Do they even understand what on earth your website is about?
To understand your users, you need to know them first. Until now, you’ve been making assumptions about these mystery users. You’ve done your part: defined your brand, your goals, your USP, your intended audience; and handed all this info to your designer. Except something is still missing: Data, data, data. As boring as it might sound, data will give you the answers you’re looking for. And the more answers you have, the smartest web design decisions you’ll make – Believe me, I’m a designer.
As part of any UX project, UX research is essential. But the harsh reality is that not many new businesses have the time or budget to invest in standard user research. It’s important to have a backup plan.
Whether you’re just starting out or you already have an established website, it’s never too late to start implementing ways to gather data. So let’s look at free and easy ways on how to exactly do that.
1) Google Analytics
Let’s start with the one that marketers already use. If you have a business website and you still haven’t set up Google Analytics, you are missing out, but not only from a marketing perspective. Google Analytics is not only super easy to set up, it’s one of the most powerful tools to gather quantitative data. And the best? What you get are all facts, no biased opinions. If done right, you’ll be amazed at how much you can get to know about your visitors and their behaviors by just analyzing objective data.
What are you waiting for? Go implement Google Analytics on your website now if you haven’t yet.
2) Record your users
Are you users not converting or not taking the action you want them to, and you still can’t figure out why? Want to see every tap and swipe, beyond the analytics data? Then you can give a try to user recording! You’ll be able to watch real user sessions and will have a better understanding of your audience – What are they struggling with? Where are they hesitating? Are they unable to perform certain tasks?
You can start with Hotjar that has a free forever basic personal plan and the option to upgrade to a business plan when you need to.
3) Create a survey or Conduct an interview
These methods can be practically useful if you already have a mailing list or customer database. Why not talk to your real customers and have them share their feedback and opinions? Many customers will appreciate that you’re willing to listen to their feedback.
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” – There’s no written evidence that Ford ever said this, but for the sake of this point, let’s just use it.
Wait a second Ana, all this talk about understanding my users and now you’re telling me to ignore them?
No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying that we, human beings, don’t always know what we want when we’re asked open-ended questions. And also, that is our job as a researcher to interpret these results. If Ford had in fact done the research quoted above, he would’ve had to come up with a set of more specific questions and it would’ve been also his job to understand the user requirements.
“I’ve asked what people wanted. They said faster horses. I gave them cars.” – Now that’s how we do it. Kind of.
4) Reviews, Testimonials and Customer Complaints
Positive reviews of existing customers are useful on their own because they’re helping your potential clients gaining trust in your brand. While no one likes a negative review or customer complaint, the truth is that not only they contribute to your brand credibility (you can’t please everyone but your reviews are genuine), they are also a free way of gaining user insights. Analyzing complaints or bad experiences can help you with future design decisions such as improving certain features or implementing new ones. Again, the same principle above applies.
“People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” – Steve Jobs
Heatmaps are incredibly useful because they give you quick insights on how your users are behaving. So without having to go through all the video recordings, you’ll have immediate knowledge about the hottest and cold areas of your website. Are your users scrolling enough? Are they clicking on where you want them to click? Is your call-to-action working?
Since I’ve promised I’d only show you free tools, I’ll recommend Hotjar once again for this purpose since their free plan includes up to three heatmaps.
6) Customer Service and Feature Requests
If you are not the one dealing directly with your customers, then you should obtain as much info as possible from your customer service team. Pay attention to their inquiries as they often reveal your customers’ struggles and pain points. Feature requests are to be taken carefully into account. Understanding that not every single request should be implemented doesn’t mean you’re ignoring your customers. It means you have carefully analyzed your user requirements and come up with a better solution. The same principles in #3 and #4 apply. Make notes as you interact with your customers. If you have a primarily online business, then you can apply much of this feedback to your website and user interface.
7) Social Media
Where does your target audience hang out? If you don’t have much of a following yet, find them on Social Media. Talk to them, provide value, ask them questions. Facebook groups are a great way to connect to your target audience and find more about their needs and pain points. They’ll happily talk about how they feel about a certain product or service, which is a good way of doing some quick market research and have a better overall idea of what can be done to fulfill their needs. You can easily combine this method with #3. Asking questions either on Facebook groups or on your Social Media pages is a great idea, and the best part is that it’s free.
Not having a budget doesn’t mean you can’t start gathering data right away. If you already have a website, even if it’s not a perfect one, implementing very simple things like the ones above will place you one step ahead of your competition. The more data you can gather at the moment, the better the decisions your designer (should you hire one in the future) will be able to make.
Isn’t that what web designers are for, you ask? Well, while a web designer will be able to create a website that takes design principles into account and should be optimized in terms of CRO best practices, they won’t be able to create something specifically targeted for your audience’s needs without data. Even if you can’t analyze the data on your own, the data you’ve gathered will be useful to us. Before we can address how your website will work, we need to understand ‘who’ and ‘why.’ Yes, you can certainly invest in expensive user research when the time comes, but wouldn’t be amazing to be able to achieve great results even on a budget knowing that you’ve done your homework beforehand? And let’s be honest, as much as you love your business and know your customers, you aren’t a mind reader. Data makes things easier for everyone.
“Even the most well thought out designs are assumptions until they are tested by real users. Leaving the user out is not an option.” – Hoa Loranger, Nielsen Norman Group
Focusing on user experience can and will differentiate you from your competitors, and user research will help you achieve your business goals. Remember, you want your users to be converted into customers. And we all want happy customers, right?
Users, users, users. Have you been thinking about them lately?