How to study users without doing public opinion research

Sometimes it is hard to find budget for user research. In a budget crunch, decisions can overlook the importance of user input in managing a user experience. Whether you manage a website or an application, you can’t be decisive without user input. We hope that by reading this you have already begun understanding your users’ tasks. But everybody needs to apply what they have learned. Budgets tighten. But you can’t just stop managing. Here we offer some coping mechanisms.

Build on your knowledge of your users’ top tasks

  • Prioritize the tasks your customers do on web pages
  • Substantiate them with goals for why users do them, and sub-tasks that are related
  • Know the destination pages for common search terms
  • Identify any pages that are not in top three search results, and re-word link labels to include the words users are scanning for
  • Put click tracking, such as ClickTale, on your site to watch mouse behaviour
  • Use Google Analytics Site Overlay to compare clicks on each page
  • Define a Goal Funnel in GoogleAnalytics


Keep up on the words your users scan for to do top tasks


  • Hyperlinks are the fundamental building blocks of the web, and the words in them help users know which to click
  • Study the search terms users type to arrive at your website to get to know their language
  • Study your search logs from your on-site search engines
  • If you use GoogleAnalytics prioritize the keywords used to arrive at each key page and make sure page titles, headers, and links reflect the most frequently-used search terms
  • Analyse competitor pages that rank high in Google Search results – use Google Keyword Tool to identify the search terms people use
  • Use GoogleTrends to compare terms to one another
  • If you have done a Customer Carewords analysis to identify words your users scan for, prioritize all the above activities around the words that got the most votes from users


Watch for alternatives that help users complete tasks


  • Do a comparative analysis of similar sites – compare the interaction mechanisms they use with your own
  • Mock up new ways to support tasks on paper – test them by asking colleagues to do tasks – to observe, not to gather opinions
  • Make them clickable and test the paper-prototypes or wireframes online
    Design before you code to minimize development costs
  • Test alternatives and compare the live traffic
  • Quantify the impact of usability errors – multiply frequency of use by unnecessary time-on-task

Better yet, make it a team effort. Gather your best colleagues during your next project with us and we’ll apply these specifically to you. We cover lots of these techniques during a normal project anyway. We’ll be happy to show you examples and work through these techniques in a hands-on workshop format.


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