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Five steps to understanding your website audience

From analytics to testing, there's a lot you can learn about who's clicking on your links...

five-steps-to-understanding-your-website-audience
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Maddie
Posted by Maddie
23 March 2016
   

Website designers and marketers have to think more about user behaviour than ever before. Not least because usability and profitability are two sides of the same coin - a well-designed website can lead to better engagement and more customers, but also because we know Google is now considering users’ engagement when deciding how to rank a site.

We are a tech-savvy generation who have incredibly high expectations from what we see online. It has become commonplace for us to flick between websites quickly - in fact, 45% of all internet users will spend less than 15 seconds on a page before moving onto another. This highlights the importance of delivering a positive user experience from the outset, whether this is to attract, convert or promote your products or services.

You may know your audience; you probably have a good idea of what motivates them, even delights them. But have you ever really scrutinised how they interact with your online experience? Sometimes having a little more information can be the game changer, simply seeing the website through their eyes can unearth little idiosyncrasies, which if dealt with, can change the way the site is used.

We've put together a five-step plan designed to help you gain insight and understand more about your users’ behaviour.

 

Step 1 - Understanding Google Analytics

Life changed for digital marketers in 2005 when Google acquired Urchin and created the freemium web analytics package. It transformed the way in which we worked, for we no longer spent efforts just trying to increase our visitors; we could now start to understand them - the pages they were looking at and how long they spent on the site. The tool has since grown and we now have a whole host of metrics at our fingertips.

Whether your business is B2B or B2C, using conversion tracking is a must. Ecommerce tracking will allow you to collect data on product sales, purchase amount and billing locations. And Goals, if set up with the optional funnels, can provide valuable insight into the journey your users are taking to arrive at the desired location – this could be an enquiry form or landing page for some value-added content.

With so much data in Analytics, there are many ways to flag areas of the site that might affect the user’s experience.

Download our guide to creating an effective user experience

 

Step 2 - Heat mapping and scroll mapping

Much of Google Analytics’ data is derived from the link and page metrics. However, understanding more about in-page activity can put an all-new perspective on what is valuable content. We can gain this insight though heat mapping tools. There are several on the market – Crazy Egg is a favourite of ours because it shows where everyone has clicked, whether it was on a link or not. This highlights usability errors and, often, areas that could result in an improvement in conversions.

With Crazy Egg, we can compare both desktop and mobile versions of a site. Typically, menus and site structures can vary and so it’s useful to understand how audiences react to both. In addition to this, we are able to drill down and see how users from different channels, browsers – even new and returning visitors – interact with the site.

By cross referencing our findings back with Google Analytics, we can create a picture of how a website is being used.

Confetti

 

Step 3 - User testing

A designer or marketer may have a bias towards a website. Simply being close to a digital project and the development process can cloud judgement on how usable a website is - if you built it, you know where everything is!

Observing someone while they carry out a series of tasks can help to understand how easy, or difficult, it is for them to follow the typical user journey. User testing can draw attention to anything they find difficult or confusing. This feedback can lead to further web development that can help to improve the user experience.

Using a remote usability testing platform like What Users Do is a highly efficient way of getting normal people to test a website. By vetting the people who subscribe to test websites, What Users Do can match the users with your chosen demographic - how old they are, their gender and even their profession. The company boast that you need only five tests in order to fully understand user behaviour.

But it’s worth bearing in mind that it could be the user's profession to test websites, so if you need to see the experience of someone less savvy, you might want to handpick your testers. In this case, you can create a controlled environment and observe how a select group of people use your website. We use a tool called Silverback, but there are other tools, like Camtasia, that will record the users’ experiences in real time. Silverback will record the on-screen behaviour and show exactly where the user clicks; in addition, the webcam will record their reactions to the site. If well-primed, the user should narrate their experience during the session. This will highlight any objections they might have.

 

Step 4 - User surveys

Online surveys are commonly used to gather feedback on a user experience. A typical survey will consist of a set of questions designed to assess a participant's preference - in this case, how they rate their online experience.

The benefits of online survey include:

  • Reaching a much wider audience than with user testing - you can gather a larger sample size
  • Providing an understanding of the end user’s experience and being able to adapt the online experience accordingly

It is important that you know exactly the type of information you wish to obtain from the survey. User surveys help to quantify the assumptions you have made from the insight gathered in steps one to three, so the questions should be weighted to getting a finite answer.

 

Step 5 - A /B testing

The final step is to put into practice what you have discovered from your user behaviour research. That doesn't mean ditching your website and creating a whole new experience - wholesale changes can be difficult to monitor, resulting in you finding yourself in a worse situation than when you started!

Small, incremental changes are easy to keep an eye on. Through tools like Google Analytics and Crazy Egg, it’s easy to assess the impact of what, say, a change to a button, introduction of a new colour, or a new menu item, may have on the design.

However, if you are looking to make wholesale changes, you can consider using WhatUsersDo to test a beta site before launching - even if it’s just a sense check on your new design. It keeps the stakeholders happy in the knowledge that you have fully considered the impact on your marketing that the changes will make.

 

While customers’ behaviour constantly changes and your business is adapting, you should continue to use steps 1 to 5 as part of your marketing strategy.

If you think your website could do better, contact us to see how we can help you find out more about how your audience is interacting with your website and the steps you can take to improve.

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