What is user research and why is it so important?

We thought you’d never ask!

I mean, we at UserZoom have been doing this user research and user experience thing for years and maybe we just assumed you already knew what we were talking about. I know! How terribly presumptive of us.

So here is a straightforward guide, answering the following questions:

  • What is user experience (UX)?
  • Why is UX so important?
  • What is user research and how can it improve UX?
  • What methods can I use?
  • How can user research help you?

What is user experience (UX)?

The user experience, often shortened to UX, is everything that happens to your users when they interact with your business or organisation via your website, application or online communications. It includes everything they see, hear and do as well as their emotional reactions.

Why is the user experience so important?

For many years, hugely successful companies like Google, Twitter, eBay and Amazon have recognised that the user experience has a direct impact on their bottom line. These companies didn’t succeed by chance. They continuously test every aspect of their business with real users to ensure high levels of customer satisfaction.

That’s because on the internet, the customer is king. At any point your visitors can opt to leave your website and go elsewhere – usually to a competitor. We have all experienced this when we’ve visited a website that was slow or buggy or simply made it difficult for us to achieve our objectives.

Common sense tells us that if your users can’t find information easily or have trouble buying your products they will quickly leave your website and shop elsewhere.

And they won’t come back.

Reducing the chance of that happening is what makes focusing on user experience so important. Positively though, an improved UX has many other benefits too. Econsultancy identified that a good user experience:

What is user research and how can it improve UX?

In order to design a truly relevant, useful and successful product, you need to clearly understand your potential audience. And the only way you’re going to understand the people who might use your product is if you talk to them first.

There are many different types of user research. You can go out to observe and interview people in their own natural environment, you could invite people in to your office to be part of a focus group or hold one-on-one interviews.

Alternatively you can run research on a prototype, in order to get some early insight into how people will use your product. Bear in mind it’s much easier and cheaper to change a prototype than a finished product.

Traditional user research involves individual test participants who are recruited to sit at a computer and be observed carrying out tasks that they are given. The process of watching and listening to real people carry out these tasks provides a great insight into what works and what doesn’t, and, critically—why.

Traditional user research and testing is very effective but it can be time consuming and expensive. We believe that everybody should be able to reap the benefits of user testing so UserZoom also has a remote user testing solution to make the whole process faster and easier for everyone.

It sounds simple. And it is. But it is an extremely effective way of helping you understand what you can do to improve your user experience and increase sales, build brand loyalty, and grow the number of customers coming to your website.

Everything you need to know about planning, running and analyzing user research

In this book you’ll discover:

Planning for UX Research
When to start, getting to know your users, making a UX research plan, choosing the best UX research method

Conducting UX Research
Asking actionable and relevant questions, observing participants and removing bias

Collecting and analyzing data for action
Prioritizing issues, selling your recommendations, telling a compelling story

Common user research methods

Here are just a few examples of some of the most common techniques used to carry out user research. For a complete guide, check out our comprehensive guide to quantitative and qualitative user research methods.

A/B Testing

A/B testing requires you to use a third-party piece of software that helps you set up two different webpages, where one page has an element that’s slightly altered from the other. For instance, if you can’t decide on the text for a ‘buy’ button, you could use an A/B test to present one version of the button that says ‘add to cart’ to half your traffic, and the other version that says ’buy now’ to the other half of your traffic.

Then you can then see whether or not changing the text of this button has made any difference to the number of people clicking on it.

Card sorting

In a card sorting test, participants are presented with a list of items (for example, all the products featured in an online supermarket) and asked to group them in a way that makes the most logical sense to them. Depending on the type of card sort, participants can also choose names for the groups they’ve put together, forming the potential categories and subcategories of a website.

Diary study

Diary studies gather information about a user experience over an extended period of time. Participants write about their experiences with a particular product or service in a diary. They may also take photos or perform other activities to record their experiences. Once the study period is over, the researcher analyses the findings.

Ethnographic study

Ethnographic studies involve talking with people and observing them perform their tasks in their own natural context. Its aim is not just to gather information on how people behave and interact, but also how their location, environment and other contexts affects their day-to-day lives. UX designers take this ethnographic research and use it to solve a problem through a product or technology.

Information architecture testing

Information Architecture (IA) refers to the way content is presented and accessed from any given page on your website – whether through menus, breadcrumbs, categories, links – whatever takes you from one page to another. Information architecture testing can help you define navigation, improve information taxonomy and maximize findability across your website.

Interviews (either one-on-one or as part of larger focus groups)

A researcher meets with participants to discuss in-depth what the participant thinks about the product.

Moderated testing

Here the participants are observed by a researcher, in-person. Moderated tests tend to be used when testing more complex websites or incomplete prototypes, as you can probe a little more and ask users more ‘in-depth’ questions.

Online surveys

You can get feedback from users, and collect satisfaction metrics and ratings, with online surveys. Users can be intercepted directly from your website or app, using advanced survey capabilities such as logic, conditioning and branching, task randomization and advanced screeners to gather actionable insights.

Tree testing

In tree testing, the main categories and subcategories for a website are already established. Test participants are asked to explore these categories in order to find a particular item or piece of content. They click through the various links until they find the category where they expect the item to reside.

Unmoderated testing

Unmoderated testing is how we describe unobserved tests, where a participant is left alone to complete tasks without the presence of a moderator. These sessions can be recorded for later viewing as part of a qualitative study, or the data is collected and analysed as part of quantitative research.

Our 6 reasons you should be using unmoderated testing online:

  1. To quantify your usability research: Consider you have a huge customer base. This customer base includes different personalities, different usage patterns, and different perspectives. Quantifying your usability is the only way you can ensure that you are reaching a true representation of your diverse population. Not only can you gain valuable data that solidifies your true population but also you can validate your lab findings or alternatively target which critical tasks you need to be probing in a lab-based study.
  2. To test users in their natural context: My computer and environment is different from my friend’s computer and environment and most likely different than a good portion of the population. Testing participants in their natural context accounts for different systems, configurations, and setups. The data you gain not only accounts for a mix of these various environments and setups but also encourages participants to act as they normally would, as they are not being “observed.”
  3. To understand users’ behavior: You want to understand why users are coming to your site and what they do once they come there. Usability Testing uses a combination of web analytics (where users go) and surveys (the why) to create a complete picture and provide valuable data in providing the best user experience for your site.
  4. To validate or define your lab-based research: You want to ensure that the research you are currently conducting is valid and a true representation. With online user testing not only do you gain valuable data that quantitatively solidifies your current research but also alternatively you can use unmoderated research to target key critical issues and tasks to bring in the lab for further probing.
  5. To test internationally without travelling: International research is very expensive and at times put aside due to the cost and time commitment. Remote user testing allows you the flexibility to conduct a study in many internationally locations without taking a step out of your home. Not only does it removes the expense of travel but also removes the need for all your data collected to be translated in order to analyze it. Online user testing removes the barriers that have traditionally impeded this very critical research.
  6. To conduct benchmark studies: Unmoderated user research allows researchers to obtain statistically significant usability metrics on how a website performs vs. other versions of the site or vs. competing sites. Therefore, it’s a great way to take usability testing a step further to actually measure user experience and compare results either across time or through ‘industry benchmarking’.

How can user research and testing help me?

UX testing lets you see your website (or any digital content) from the perspective of a real user. It’s about observing what people actually do, and hearing what they think as they interact with your website, application, or marketing content.

It’s the best way to discover what works (so you can do it more), what doesn’t work and WHY. Then using these insights to fix it.

If you use analytics software (like Google Analytics or Adobe Marketing Cloud) then your conversion goals, funnels, and statistics will tell you a great deal about what happens on your website. User experience will then tell you the ‘why’…

  • Why your users stay and why they leave
  • Why they buy and why they don’t
  • Why they pay and why they abandon their shopping carts
  • Why they buy from your competitors and not from you
  • In fact, you can test pretty much anything and find out what your users do and why they do it.

What the experts say:

“Improving user experience can increase both revenue and customer satisfaction while lowering costs.”

“For every dollar spent to resolve a problem during product design, $10 would be spent on the same problem during development, and multiply to $100 or more if the problem had to be solved after the product’s release.” Robert Pressman’s ‘Software Engineering: A Practitioner’s Approach’

“Usability rules the web. Simply stated, if the customer can’t find a product, then he or she will not buy it.” Jakob Nielsen’s ‘Designing Web Usability’.