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Building a better website with audience research – Part three

In our previous two blog posts, we have looked at the best ways of carrying out effective audience research through the use of surveys, participatory discovery sessions and analytics data. But it’s not just what we know about our users and their wants and requirements that are important. In order to build a great website, we also need to understand how they actually behave in response to different aspects of our sites and how they will likely behave in the future. 

In this third and final post of the series, we will therefore concentrate on Method 3 – User behaviour.

Website user behaviour

Whilst the visitors to your site will be unique to you and have particular similarities and requirements, it is important to note that all website users share several general characteristics. Some of the more important to bear in mind when building a website are:

  • People don’t read (or even look at) banners or anything that looks like an advertisement. They have, in essence, become immune to web adverts (which is why advertising is becoming ever more subtle and text-based).
  • Users are creatures of habit and expect certain things to be on the page in a particular place. They often don’t find things when they are positioned somewhere else.
  • Unless your site is interesting, engaging and easily navigable, people will give up fairly easily. It’s not that they have short attention spans (they focus for a long time when engaged), but that they expect to find the answers to their questions quickly.
  • Web users don’t read all the copy, but scan text, looking for keywords. So content-wise, it makes sense for your text to be shorter, use lists or bullet points, clear subheadings, images and highlight important words or phrases.
  • Although it is often stated that users will only click through three levels in a website, this seems only to be true if the person is not making significant progress towards their goal. Users seem to be happy to click through many more levels if they feel as though they are getting somewhere.

Usability testing

In an earlier blog post, we focused on how you could harness the power of usability testing to gain insight into user behaviour. 

But put simply, the essential aim of website usability testing is to find out how easy it is for an average person to use a particular site to achieve certain, specific goals. Types of usability testing include:

  • Hallway testing – using members of the public who are not trained in website testing.
  • Remote usability testing – using people located in different parts of the world, perhaps using video conferencing.
  • Expert review – using a website testing expert to carry out an evaluation of the site.
  • Paper prototype testing – using sketches or drawings of a UI as a model of a web design, rather than an actual website.
  • Comparison studies – comparing two different websites or versions of the same website in a scientific manner

By carefully planning and systematically carrying out usability testing, it is possible to gain some real and sometimes surprising insights into the ways in which your audience interact and engage with your website.

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Visitor flow

How your users move through your site, which pages they visit, where they land and where they exit can all provide valuable information for the parts of your website that are the most and the least effective, and much of this information can be found in your existing analytics data. 

By drilling down into this data, you will be able to track visitors through your site and see where you need to boost content, improve design and so on. Whilst this type of analysis is less revealing than usability testing in-person and in real time, it is also very cost-effective and gives you large amounts of data across all users or by groups of user.

Engagement

It’s also revealing to look at how much time users spend on each page and what actions they take whilst they are there. These actions might include clicks, shares, downloads, purchases or completion of sign-up forms. Getting users actively involved in your site, whether on-site or through social media, is crucial to your conversion rate and essential to your bottom line. 

Combining usability testing with social media analysis and talking to your visitors will let you understand why users are (or aren’t) clicking, downloading or sharing, and understanding this will lead you to the development of a better, more effective site.

We hope you have enjoyed this series of three blog posts on audience research and have gained an idea of the ways in which you can develop knowledge and understanding of users, analytics and behaviours to drive change and create a more effective and productive website. 

As always, understanding your audience is central to website design and will allow you to create a site that your visitors will not only love, but will also share with their friends and return to time and time again.

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