by Peter de Gosztonyi
User feedback is gold to the web designer. You get firsthand knowledge on what your user sees and more importantly how they will react to your message. As designers we know what we would like to get and our experience tells us what we would probably get but… the only way to really know is to ask the website visitor.
The best web strategists combine both direct and indirect data to build that “conversion rate” heaven.
Indirect methods include statistics, weblogs, cookies, user tracking, behaviour analysis, but there is danger in relying too much on these “what happens” tools and avoiding the much more difficult “why” tools. With the myriad of free analytic tools now available including Google analytics, log file analyzers, and click through tracking tools, you garner so much data that you can avoid talking directly to your website visitors and actually think that you understand them.
The main problem is that analytics represent historical patterns, and what took place, but not why. It’s like investing in a mutual fund whose past track record looked great, but unless you understand their future direction and strategy, you may not realize the same level of return.
For the same reason where visitors abandon your website can be very informative, and if you use the right tools such as Google Optimizer, you can try different web page architecture to see which one works the best to achieve your goals. The assumption in all of these cases is that you have properly interpreted and implemented a website that considers the target audiences goals and objectives.
This is where direct user feedback becomes essential. You need to know if your message is resonating with your visitors, and with that vital customer information, you can really optimize your website to meet their goals.
Direct user feedback is extremely valuable because it represents a real live visitors opinion of your website. It can answer questions like:
- Why did you come to the site?
- Why did you leave without visiting more of the site?
- What reason did you visit but not follow through?
- What is the first impression of the site? Is it positive or negative?
- Did you feel that you were the target user of the site? Why or Why not?
- Did the site appeal to you?
- Is the website credible?
- Would you complete a transaction on this site?
- Why did you abandon the site?
- What can be done to improve the site?
Many, if not all, of these questions can be answered only through direct customer feedback.
A well designed visitor feedback program will consider all aspects of the user experience and the interfaces with the organization. This should include the other customer touch points as well since the website can be used to reduce costs and overhead from other areas, while improving the overall customer satisfaction level.
1. Hire a marketing firm to analyze your entire customer contact strategy.
This option is for deep pockets and falls into the business transformation classification. Not a solution for the faint of heart but can transform an organization into a major success. This process would include all of the following customer feedback approaches plus some, as input into the overall strategy. The advantage of this type of approach, is that one addresses the entire business process from an integrated perspective, resulting in being able to capture the complete customer experience.
2. Usability testing
In the web environment usability testing means that different users will evaluate a website virtually page by page, their reactions are recorded and analyzed to produce recommendations for a much cleaner and smoother website. There are different degrees of usability testing and is limited only by one’s time and budget. Generally it can encompass from the search engine to the completion of a transaction. Although effective this approach can be costly and time consuming. This type of testing is best implemented during the testing phase of a website redesign.
3. Mystery Shopper
This approach is less rigourous than usability testing and has its appeal in being able to see what many different visitors think about your website. Generally a firm will provide a typical profile of their users, and a similar mystery shopper profile is selected from a large pool of eager testers. The background and observation techniques will vary considerably from shopper to shopper, but using statistical methodologies, patterns will emerge. Being presented with only the inputs but not an analysis of the data yields very little actionable information. The real value is how the data is interpreted and what recommendations are made that will improve your website. Since it can be done fairly inexpensively, performing a mystery shopper analysis on your existing website and then on your redesigned website will have value in both reducing the design cycle and return on investment.
4. Focus Groups
Focus groups are great if you can take the time and costs to organize them. Valuable input can be had but one has to be wary of the potential biased nature of this format. Testers know why they are there and that there is some form of compensation so they have a tendency to try to please the organizers or do the exact opposite. If you use an experienced and reputable firm then the results should be very useful.
5. Customer Councils
This is an excellent way to get feedback from your direct customers, since they also have a vested interest in making your website efficient. This type of input goes a long way in building lasting relationships and if you have a well defined user group can be very beneficial. What this group does not address are the new visitors and how to appeal to potentially new customers. Also if you do not have a well defined customer segment then it becomes difficult to set this type of group up.
6. User Feedback through analytics
With the introduction of Google analytics, it is a breeze finding out about who visits and where they go, you can set goals and of course measure the ever present bounce rate. If you haven’t tried it out it is worth the effort. Another source of user data is your sites weblogs which also give a plethora of data which takes a PhD to interpret, Lots of data but minimal information on why.
7. User feedback through online surveys and questions
We see these little requests usually at the end of an article – Was this useful?…. I don’t know about you but I never respond usually because it wasn’t useful. Surveys also have a tendency to drift across the screen at the most inopportune times – just out of spite, I kill those pop-ups. The response rate is abysmal. Just compare the number of responses to the number of visitors – not a pretty picture. You also have a tendency to get the complainers.
8. User feedback using personas
Personas are a well established method of identifying a user segment by determining what the goals or objectives are of a group of users, and building a profile of a typical user representing that segment. This approach allows a designer to view a website from that users perspective. Significant insight can be gained and this type of simplistic role playing can identify potential problem areas with minimal cost. Usually one needs three or four personas to represent a significant part of a user base. Usability testing as well as other user feedback mechanisms will round out the tool kit to produce a focused and user friendly website.
9. Third party direct user testing
This is another method to simulate users by having several experienced web evaluators experience the website form a first time visitors perspective. The benefit of this approach is that the evaluators are knowledgeable about best practices, and are experienced in noticing the fine points of the website design. They can also articulate their experience and have a well defined vocabulary that can be understood in the context of what to improve. Very specific actionable recommendations can be provided based on the observations and experience of the evaluators. This is a relatively inexpensive approach and can be very informative. The limitation is that the evaluators are not subject matter experts and may not be able to identify content accuracy or credibility.
10. Ask your friends and clients
Possibly the easiest and most direct way is to solicit feedback from the people you know. The observations may not be consistent and will be very broad, but listening to their observations will reflect what many of your users will experience, and honest feedback is much better than none.
There is nothing worse than thinking you have developed the perfect website and only finding out how wrong you were when your sales plummet – recovery from that is much harder and far more serious than if you had spent a bit of time and money using direct user testing up front.
People go to a website for a reason – it is your job to provide that reason and to persuade them to pick your site over the thousands of other similar websites. That’s why you have hired marketing experts whether in house or from your design company. Websites have to be designed for people, to met their goals and objectives and appeal to their emotional side. For a successful conversion, you must build a relationship even at the lowest transactional level.