When we embark on a new website redevelopment project at Sotic we’ll always carry out some research as part of the discovery process, for example taking a deep dive in to Google Analytics, heatmapping and meeting stakeholders.
We meet lots of clients who’ve been working in the industry for a long time and have acquired vast knowledge about digital sport and how their fans and participants interact online. But it can be really helpful to take a step back, and actually test your theories about your users by asking them what they want and why they come to your website, particularly if you’re thinking of embarking on a website revamp.
I recently had the opportunity to work with a client, England Netball, on a stand-alone piece of website user research to do just that. The project didn’t take months and it didn’t cost the earth so I wanted to use it as a case study to dispel fears that embarking on user research has to be a drawn out and expensive undertaking and highlight how the focus it can provide may ultimately save you money and time in the long run.
England Netball prides itself on being a fan-centric organisation. They had a good idea of who their core website users were, but wanted to back it up with some fact and really understand why they come to the website to help them (and us) make informed choices when it came to the new site design and layout.
There are a number of different ways to approach user research but in this particular case we felt that developing a set of user personas that typified the key online audiences would be most beneficial. Not just for the design and build process but longer-term, to assist with the creation and development of a content strategy too.
What is a persona?
A persona is a fictional character that communicates the primary characteristics of a major group of users. The development of user personas allows an organisation to shape their content and online presence in line with the needs and expectations of their users, increasing usability and customer centricity.
The usability.gov website is a useful resource for more information on this and it stresses how the goal of creating personas is not to meet the needs of every single website user, but to focus on the major needs of the most significant groups.
What did we do?
There are lots of options available when it comes to gathering information but in this particular case, time was a factor so we decided to employ a detailed online questionnaire to survey a large number of fans, quickly.
Alternatives would be to use focus groups or in-depth one-to-one interviews, or even a mix of all three depending on time and of course budget.
While a questionnaire may be the ‘quick’ way to gather information, there is a skill involved in developing a series of questions that are easy to understand, follow a sequence, are not too open ended or unintentionally lead your respondent into answers. Testing, tweaking and fine tuning the questionnaire definitely took longer than I thought it would.
It’s also important to think carefully about what sort of sample size you need to make sure the research stands up to scrutiny.
Our survey ran for around 10 days, after which we began to analyse the results. I knew this stage would require us to really roll up the sleeves and dig in, looking for common themes, segmenting responses based on involvement or roles, or age.
What we produced
At the end of the analysis we produced 4 detailed personas which represented the client’s core website users. We looked at their interest and how they categorised their involvement with the client’s sport, their goals and what they were most interested in accessing on the website, their frustrations and what other website and apps they used most.
In order to make the personas meaningful we gave each one a name, a photograph, an age and added some context around their life and lifestyle – all based in the analysis. I used a platform called Xtensio which allowed me to display the personas in an attractive, easy to view way when presenting them to England Netball.
The result of the research project is that the personas have really helped our team at Sotic hone in on designing for users. There were some interesting findings and it enabled the client to make decisions based on fact rather than on a whim of a particular department or because they think they know what users want.
And I’ve no doubt that planning content strategy has become more focused now that they know why different user groups come to the site and what they are most interested in.
From start to finish the whole process was complete within 6 weeks and cost less than you’d think.
Research doesn’t have to be long, drawn out and prohibitively expensive and the benefits may ultimately save you money and time in the long run.
If you are interested in talking to use about a user research or website redevelopment project please drop us a line on firstname.lastname@example.org