Recently, I talked about measuring all the important behaviors and outcomes that happen on your site that directly affect your company's bottom line (not just people buying stuff), and giving each of them an economic value, if applicable.  You do this so that you've got the data you need to get a holistic picture of how your website is doing its job and the true economic impact it's having on your business.  Not only that, but you get to see what's working and what's not.  This way you make informed decisions about how to invest as your journey proceeds.

But, Are You Listening?

As every good website owner knows, collecting data and seeing what happens leaves out an all-important piece of the puzzle.  To truly take action on the data you've now collected, you need to know why it is the way it is.

Why Puzzle.jpg


You can dig into your data all day long, but much of the time you won't find it (the why).  You only find the why by actively listening to your customers and their experience with your site.  You may think you know what they're thinking and how they shop, but you'll find out that you're wrong.  If you really want to know how to make your site experience better, you can't just look at your data.  You've got to get the voice of your customer.

But, many don't know what's available in the online world for gathering this qualitative data.  So, here's a quick overview of some of your options...

1. Lab Usability Studies

This involves observing and monitoring how people interact with your website when you give them tasks to complete.  People are brought in to special usability labs that allow users to perform the tasks while others observe.  The environment is set for the users to complete the given task as they would on their own.  These tests can help you identify problems and create ideas pre-launch or post-launch in relation to what works and what doesn't on your site.

Did you involve your customers in the development process the last time you launched a new site?  Imagine that!  Think about all of the time, money and energy you'd save from finding out how your opinions about your site might differ from those who actually matter.  Then, you can take all those ideas, test them and see what the results are.  I hear it from clients all the time.  I give a recommendation and they say, "We think it's better this way."  Oh really?  That's nice.  Let's hope your customers do, too!

Yes, this option requires more resources to complete because you have to create the task, decide on what is success, find test subjects, pay them, conduct the test, etc.  But, if you have the ability to do this, there's no better way to listen to your customers than to actually physically observe them in action.

2.  Remote Usability Studies

If  full lab studies are not possible, there are a number of solutions that can help with recruiting actual people who visit your site to do usability studies remotely.

These solutions will place an invitation on your site with a value proposition for the user and allow them to decide to sign up as a candidate.  Once you identify users who meet your criteria, you can call them and conduct the test through screen-sharing.  Then, follow the same steps as in-lab usability studies.  This way you reduce your investment along with the artificiality of people being in a lab.  The trade-off is that you don't get to observe them physically.

If you don't have people to conduct this type of research, you can outsource it.  Companies like have panels of people that will go through your test.  You outline the test parameters, and they will then supply you with a video of the participant's experience and a summary of their thoughts.  You can then take this data, perform analysis and push to implement recommendations.  There are some downsides to total outsourcing (i.e. artificiality and lack of unstructured experiences for users), but if you want quick feedback that's cost-effective, then this works well.

3. Surveys

Surveys are an optimal tool for gaining insights about your visitors.  If you don't use them, you'll have a huge hole in your ability to understand your customers.  Also, they are an affordable solution that provides great qualitative data to mix together with your clickstream data.  There are 2 main types of surveys...

  1. Page-Level - These focus on individual pages or focused tasks on a page.  Although it's hard to get large sample sizes because of the typically subtle invitations, you will hear from your most upset or engaged customers - which is great.  These are not used to collect site-level data like intent or site experience.
  2. Site-Level - These collect macro-level data about customer experience and are increasingly becoming permission-based.  Visitors are asked at the beginning of their session if they'd like to participate when they leave the site.  You can control which visitors see the invitation, as well as control its exposure with cookies.  This type of invitation model gives you a more diverse response because it's more aggressive.

The single biggest survey mistake is asking too many questions.  You have to balance what is knowable with what is actionable so that you're not wasting time analyzing unimportant data and so that you communicate to your visitors that their time is valuable.  Here are the 3 questions you absolutely must ask people who come to your website...

  1. What is the purpose of your visit to our website today? - You might think you know, but you don't. You will be surprised at these answers.
  2. Were you able to complete your task? -  Task completion rate is the most important Web analytics metric.  If you improve this, your business will grow.
  3. If you were not able to complete your task today, why not? - The answers to these questions become your to-do list of issues to improve your website experience.

There is a free on-exit survey called 4Q from iPerceptions that contains these 3 questions.

4. Competitive Benchmarking Studies - You pick a task or process you want compared to your competitors and they get users to execute the tasks and provide you with data and analysis. (

5. Rapid Usability - You get open-text summaries of what people recalled on your site after a five-second view of it.  You can even do it with your competitors' sites.  It will tell you a lot. (

6. Online Card-Sorting - This shows you how your customers would organize the information on your site.  You create cards and then invite customers to sort them.  (,

March 14, 2012

Mike Fleming specializes in Analytics and Paid Search for Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. You can follow Mike on Twitter at @SEMFlem. Mike enjoys playing, writing and recording music along with playing basketball to get his workout in. He resides in Canton, Ohio with a girl who threw a snowball at him one day…then married him.

Mike and the team at Pole Position are available to help clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Contact them via their site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

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Search Engine Guide > Mike Fleming > Ways You Might Not Listen to Your Site's Customers