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When it comes to converting casual visitors into long-time customers, few things are more important than the user experience (UX) of a website.
While it’s natural to see your website through the lens of your business, you really need a way to see it through the eyes of your would-be customers. A UX audit helps you get inside the user experience of your website (or other digital apps) to see what's working and what isn't so you can make changes and improve your conversions.
Without a UX audit, you're simply left guessing as to why people aren't sticking around when they land on your website. You may be tweaking all the wrong things about your campaigns or your page design and not even know it.
The good news is that conducting a UX audit is a relatively straightforward process. We'll look at what you can learn from one and how to pull it off so you can start making meaningful changes.
In an ideal world, all it would take to land customers would be to make a great product or service and give them a way to buy it. Unfortunately, that isn’t how it works in the real world.
In the real world, people are quick to judge — not necessarily because they're harsh, but because their time is valuable. In a digital sea of options, they're looking for brands that stand out quickly and get to the point clearly and concisely. That's why 75% of visitors judge a website's credibility by how it looks. It's why 90% of users stop using an app if it performs poorly. And it's why 88% of online shoppers won't return if they have a frustrating experience on your site.
Consider, too, that a 1-second delay in page load time can drop your conversion rate by 7%. You can easily do the math to find out what that means for your sales.
Ultimately, countless factors influence the user experience of a website. Ignore any of them and you may be letting sales slip away without a clue. That's why learning to run a UX audit is critical.
A UX audit allows you to quantify various aspects of the user experience so you can evaluate how well each component of your website (or any digital product) is working — individually and collectively. It looks at your business's goals and your understanding of your users and examines data to explore how well you are executing on both fronts.
To run an effective audit, you need access to as much data as possible. This, of course, includes analytics about how users are getting to and moving through your website as well as sales figures and conversion rates. It also incorporates direct user feedback and your own attempts to experience your site from their perspective, especially as compared with your competition.
Essentially, your goal should be to pick apart your website and evaluate all 6 key aspects of user experience. According to Usability.gov, the federal government’s guide for UX best practices as set by the Digital Communications Division are:
An effective UX audit will help you evaluate all of these areas and how they work together to create (or hinder) an enjoyable user experience.
A thorough UX audit takes the guesswork out of a website, page or app redesign. It helps you to see exactly where user pain points are so you can address them with your changes.
It's easy for designers to become so familiar with their product that they don't notice the little nuisances. Even if you aren’t the designer but you just use your website a lot, you can become desensitized. The annoying popup. The slow-loading home page. The confusing menu. Dissonant design elements. They all become white noise when you're used to them. But new users — or even returning customers — notice these things immediately.
As you collect user feedback and pore over data, you’ll begin to get a clearer picture of your users and how they behave on your site. You’ll learn what they are looking for and where your site isn't providing it. You’ll also see which aspects of your brand identity are getting lost in translation.
All of these result in a positive impact on your bottom line. We've already looked at some of the ways a poor UX can lead to missed opportunities. But, more specifically, an investment in UX development can yield a return of $100 for every dollar spent. Further still, it will cost you 100 times less to fix issues before you redesign a site than it will to wait and correct problems after the fact.
Before you get swept up in the momentum of a redesign, slow down and do an audit first. It will add time in the beginning but save you much more in the end.
Here are 5 steps to follow to conduct your UX audit:
Yes, UX is supposed to be focused on the user. But you have to start this process by looking at the goals you have for your brand. Why? You can't evaluate whether a product is serving the user if you don't know what the goals are for that specific product.
When it comes to websites, specifically, your goals will be brand- and page-specific. One brand may build a website that's primarily intended as a storefront. Another may build a site to share useful content and elevate brand authority within a specific industry. It all depends on their unique brand identities and what purpose their websites serve within those identities.
Digging in further, you might have one landing page that's intended to generate newsletter subscribers and another that's meant to be shared on social media. The analytics you need to evaluate in your UX audit will be different for each, so be sure you are clear on any specific goals you have for any page or features you're evaluating.
At this point, there are a plethora of UX audit tools available. None of them is optimized for every type of data you need, so you'll likely want to have a few different types of software on hand.
Google Analytics is essential. It's free (with some paid upgrades available) and allows you to track a vast amount of information about UX. Look at everything from traffic sources and session duration to conversions and bounce rates. This is your core data-gathering tool for your user experience audit.
Optimizely is one of the most popular options for split-testing, which allows you to test how users are interacting with different variations of your website, landing pages, site features and more. When you're weighing a few different options, this is the best way to get clear answers about which works best. For instance, if you want to audit how your current menu navigation is working, you can split-test a different version of it and compare results.
You also will need a heat-mapping tool such as Crazy Egg. This shows you where users are clicking on your webpages, which is a valuable insight to have as you're comparing your goals for a page against what users are actually doing. Heat maps tell you how your design and layout are drawing users' eyes across the page, giving you insights into how you might tweak where you're placing your most valuable content.
For real-time, direct feedback, Qualaroo is a great choice. It prompts users with questions while they're on the site and an exit survey after they leave to determine why they didn't convert.
Part of your UX audit should include an accessibility evaluation to see what aspects of your site aren't accessible to all users. There are plenty of great tools for this, and the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative has compiled a comprehensive list.
Once you have the tools to collect the data, the challenge is analyzing it. Again, the metrics you choose to focus on will depend on your goals for various pages and types of content.
You'll always want basic user data, which is available by default in Google and includes a live view of active page visits, along with bounce rate and average session time. This is an essential starting point for evaluating user experience.
Beyond that basic information, you should look at critical data for various types of content:
You can access vast amounts of data, so find the most valuable metrics for your own audit and focus on those.
You can't create a user-centered design if you don't know who your users are. This is where all that direct feedback comes in handy alongside your analytics. By collecting your visitors' descriptions of themselves and their experience on your site and comparing it to traffic and sales data, you can start to build user personas for your primary targets.
User personas should cover personal backgrounds and family status along with socio-economic and career information. They also should include details about the user's work environment and the typical digital tools they use to interact with your site.
Finally, no persona is complete without a picture of what drives that person. Psychographics get at what they value, how they want to spend their time and what they most want out of life. This is best gathered through direct feedback, but you can look at your data: What types of offers have been effective in the past? What kinds of CTA buttons have worked? These are clues to valuable emotional insights.
At this point in your audit, you're already getting a clearer picture of your user personas and how they're interacting with your site. Your competition is another window into what your users are looking for — and may be finding elsewhere — and this helps you add more detail.
Consider the following persona:
Amy is buying her first home and thus in the market for home insurance for the first time. Which of the following provider pages do you think is more likely to grab her attention?
The top page is text-heavy and overloaded with options. It confirms the idea that insurance is complex and overwhelming. Lemonade, a newer provider on the market, dispels this idea and makes the user feel at ease immediately. Amy, a millennial with an eye for aesthetics and likely a little stressed over her first home purchase, likely will choose Lemonade if these are her options.
These kinds of competitive analyses can help you use your UX audit to decide on a new direction.
With this comprehensive view of your UX in place, you can take the next steps in user experience design. Make specific plans for what you can change based on what you've found. Whether it's simplifying the design and layout, changing CTA language or reworking the headings on your pages, plan changes that are clear, actionable and measurable.
Whatever you do in response to your UX audit, aim to make the experience easier and more enjoyable for those who visit your website — and more in line with your brand's goals and identity.