When planning a new website, do you usually think about what the new design might look like, or what features you and the team would like to see?

This is unfortunately one of the most fundamental mistakes that you can make. Fall into the trap of creating a website based on assumptions and opinions, and your website will not deliver you the best results. To create a truly effective, customer-centric digital experience you need to take a step back.

In this article, we take a look at one of the most important aspects of web project planning – research. Whether you are planning a new website, web application or any other online user interactions, it is vital that you build your digital experience based on strong foundations.

If your business goals are to increase user engagement and drive online conversions (whether that is a form completion, an online purchase or content download), you need to ensure that your decisions are based on actual insight in order to achieve real impact.

At DotLabel, we undertake research for every digital project we do and that’s because we know that it improves the end results. As part of our UX methodology, we have defined four distinct ‘Pillars of research’ that together provide a balanced collection of relevant insights that can be applied to all projects.

Four pillars of research

1. User research

What is it?
The most important element of UX insights is user research. By speaking with users directly you are able to gain firsthand feedback to provide a greater and clearer understanding of users’ needs, wants, expectations, frustrations and pain points.

Why is it valuable?
It is only through direct interaction with your users that you will fully understand their expectations of your product or service. This direct contact with the identified user types also means that any personas that have been created based on assumptions and perceptions can be validated and fleshed out. This insight then provides a powerful, invaluable tool that can be applied across all processes of the digital project, as well as to other non-digital activities, such as offline marketing strategies or operational improvements.

2. Stakeholder research

What is it?
You and your colleagues understand your business, your marketplace and your competitors, plus you also have a perceived knowledge of your users.

Through stakeholder research, the knowledge spread across your organisation can be tapped into and consolidated. Conversing with individuals across multiple departments and disciplines, including those with firsthand contact with your users, can provide a valuable source of intelligence.

Stakeholder research not only works to define your business’ goals, objectives and processes, but will also get to the heart of identifying and defining your user types and their perceived goals, tasks, the relevant scenarios that affect their behavior and decision making, and the journeys they undertake.

Why is it valuable?
Involving internal stakeholders at this stage will help you to identify and understand the challenges, goals and opportunities that are faced by the people within your business. Plus, offering the chance to provide input early on in the process will help with gaining support and buy-in for the project and the end result.

How is it done?
There are a variety of research methods that can be implemented depending on the circumstances of the business or the scope of the project. One of the best and most popular ways of gaining stakeholder insight is through a discovery workshop.

Inviting key personnel, including senior management and customer-facing staff, is one of the most efficient ways to capture relevant feedback from across the organisation. Alternatively, or in addition, one-to-one stakeholder interview sessions can provide more detailed unbiased feedback, this works particularly well for remote or contextual interviews.

Importantly, having an independent external facilitator can help get the most insight from your meeting and avoid the inevitable tangents that come with internal meetings.

3. UX expert insight

What is it?
Your business operates within a digital marketplace where your potential users have their expectations of features, content and functionality established, not only by the digital presence of your competitors, but also by every other websites they visit on the Internet.

A review of your organisation’s online presence from an experienced UX professional will benchmark your business’ performance against the current cutting-edge and relevant best practice techniques that are influencing the expectations of your users.

Why is it valuable?
A UX expert can bring a fresh pair of eyes to your project and your business. Not only can this expertise ensure that a user-centric approach is taken when evaluating your digital presence, but undertaking an expert review in the context of your competitors will reveal further possibilities and opportunities.

How is it done?
A UX professional would usually conduct an expert review and competitor benchmarking exercise and then present findings in either a summary or detailed recommendations report depending on your requirements.

4. Raw data

What is it?
Raw data is the statistical (fact-based) data that is collated using analytics tools, such as Google Analytics, to tracks users’ online behaviour. Other tools and techniques, such as heat maps, cursor movements and click paths can also provide data for analysis.

Why is it valuable?
Raw data is useful to understand what your users are doing online. Understanding what webpages people are viewing, the routes they are taking and where they are landing and leaving will provide useful insight into their behaviour. This insight is used to feed into a digital project to gain a better understanding of the content performance, as well as what and how visitors use the existing site.

However, it is important to note that while this type of data is helpful to demonstrate what users are doing, it offers no insight that explains why they are doing it. A high bounce rate on a particular page doesn’t necessarily mean a page is performing badly. From a UX perspective if visitors are able to quickly find the information they need and then leave, a good user experience may lead to a higher bounce rate. Read more on this

How is it done?
Most analytics packages have reporting tools, however the amount of data that is available can be enormous and overwhelming. A UX expert would identify the most relevant insights and then review the data from a user-centric perspective. The findings would then be presented as actionable recommendations that would feed into the web project.


How is the research used?

Research, ideally from all four of the pillars, is collated and analysed to provide a body of balanced, actionable insight that will influence future decision-making and the overall direction of the project. 

The outputs from the research and analysis phase will directly impact the choices made regarding content strategy, information structure, the user journeys created from the user goals, tasks and scenarios, as well as the creative web design and web development work.

Testing is an ongoing process that is implemented throughout a web project, and with the research at hand, all decisions are tested against the insight gained to ensure that the project is on track to deliver a user experience that meets (or exceed) users’ expectations.

So, if you are planning a new digital project, then investing in the four pillars of research should be your first step when starting your new web project.

Next steps – more expert tips…

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