As much as you may try to envision how your users interact with your website, you can never really know unless you conduct user research. You can know who uses your website by checking your website demographics, you can know how many people click on a certain page by setting up Google Analytics, but you can’t know why and how they got to that point in complete detail. Knowing that something happens is useful, but it is much more useful to know the why and the how.
What Is User Research and How Is It Different Than Market Research?
To understand the benefits of user research, we first have to understand what exactly we’re talking about. A distinction can be made between user research and market research. The main distinction between the two is how large of a role the individual user plays in each.
Market research looks at things like the market environment, competition, statistics, trends, and demographics. The end goal of market research is usually something similar to selling more products or increasing brand loyalty. By attempting to understand users, market research can find useful information used to make decisions related to sales and marketing.
Instead of focusing on the market environment or general statistics and trends, user research takes a deep dive into the individual user. By looking specifically at user behavior, decisions can be made relating to the product itself, creating a better product with a better user experience. The end goal of user research is a better experience for the user, which will in turn complete the same sales- and marketing-related goals that market research aims to achieve.
What User Research Can Tell You About How People Use Your Website
What user research really focuses on is HOW people use your website (or whatever it is you’re testing). While market research will tell you what people do or when they do it, it can’t tell you much about the how and the why. User research is an attempt to dig deeper into the minds of your users.
While there are many types of user research, user testing is perhaps the most useful. User testing involves sitting down with a participant and having them walk through your website, completing predetermined tasks. Seeing how the user moves from page to page of your website and makes decisions is extremely valuable.
Actually watching someone use you website can be eye opening. Whereas a survey or interview may tell you what people think about your website, having them actually use the website gives you a whole new set of information. You can actually see how people use your website when trying to accomplish a goal. The user my surprise you by doing things a different way, or by getting stuck when the right path to take seemed obvious to you.
Alternatives to In-Person User Testing
While user testing is extremely valuable, it can also be expensive in both time and money. Luckily, there are cheaper alternatives to actually sitting down with a person for an hour and conducting a user-testing session.
Another alternative is to use an unmoderated user testing tool such as Loop 11 or TryMyUI . Tools such as these allow you to write out a list of tasks to be performed by participants. Your tasks will then be sent out to a pool of users be completed and the video recordings of their sessions will be sent to you.
Another option is the Recording feature in software like Crazy Egg or Hotjar. These programs will record users using your website, but they have no idea they are being recorded and have no set tasks to accomplish. Although it is better than nothing, this does leave a lot of questions unanswered. Did it take the user a long time to click on that button because it there wasn’t enough visual contrast? Were they just reading slowly? Or did they get up to refill their coffee cup?
If you have the resources, you should be conducting user testing on your website. It can tell you where your users struggle, where they excel, what motivates them, and show you opportunities to improve the experience of your website.