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What Users Do = How does it work?

This year, I've heard from quite a few companies and agencies recommending What Users Do for improving their sites and services. I was intrigued by the relatively low cost compared to traditional usability services, so thought it would be useful to share some background on the service.

Smart Insights are independent of companies providing tools to improve digital marketing, but are keen to share ideas of the options available and what people think of them - see for example our post reviewing website user feedback tool options. So, please share your experience on similar usability services. Thanks.

Over now to Lee Duddell of What Users Do. Here are my questions...

1 What is whatusersdo? Which types of sites/pages does it work best for?

whatusersdo makes it easy for website owners to improve User Experience by observing real people using their website (usability testing). We've taken care of the hard parts of setting-up and running usability tests - like getting participants to actually turn up and recording what they do, so that our clients can focus on the results and improving their websites.

Here's how it works: our clients order usability tests online and tap into our panel of normal internet users. We remotely record our testers' screens and spoken thoughts as they complete tasks on our clients' websites. Within 48 hours of ordering our clients get to watch online videos of real usability tests. Watch a sample user testing session.

We have had great results across a wide range of sites from e-commerce to local government, so far most tests have been consumer (or citizen) focussed. We've just started capturing career histories of our panel so we can now better support tests of B2B propositions. We're not limited to live sites - the earlier in the development cycle you test the easier it is to make changes, so many of our clients test mock-ups and sites while they are still being built.

In fact, sometimes we don't know which websites or pages our testers are going to use! With our Free-form tests the testers get to use the internet as they naturally would to complete a task. This gives insight into how people use search and which destination sites are front of mind given a specific task (like "book a holiday cottage in Wales for next weekend"). And yes, mostly people do start with Google and skip the sponsored links - because "they don't trust them".

2 What benefits does it offer site owners?

Ultimately whatusersdo helps website owners increase conversions. By observing normal people use their site our clients get valuable insight into what real people actually do on their website and discover what they find difficult and confusing. Not only can they see how to improve the User Experience, but also get a handle on common objections. And the great thing is you only need to run a test with 5 participants to get most of the problems.

For some clients it's about the "gotchas" - they are often so busy and wrapped up in the detail of their current release or latest iteration of their site that they miss the big things that only an external member of the public can point out. Our service lets them quickly run usability tests using normal people to reveal the "doh" forehead slapping moments that are so easy to miss when you are immersed in the detail.

Some of our larger clients use the usability testing videos as a weapon! Maybe that's a bit extreme. The usability videos are really powerful - watching someone struggle and hearing them get frustrated with your website is a very compelling way to tell the boss you need more resource to fix things or to convince your team to focus on making your website work rather than making it "shiny". We've made it easy to share the videos with colleagues and mark specific issues so it's easy for the whole team to jump straight to the action.

3 What sort of improvements are suggested - please give examples

When you're managing or working on a website you lose the perspective of a normal internet user - our service makes it easy to see things from a user's perspective and identify improvements that make things easier for your visitors.

We've seen all sorts of improvements implemented as a result of usability testing, some notable ones include:

  • an online fashion retailer who simplified their home page blurb and saw an immediate 4% increase in sales
  • an e-commerce site manager who (finally) convinced his boss to drop forced-registration (by showing him videos of real people getting frustrated)
  • a local authority improving the quality of their website copy by observing normal people struggle with terms that were only understood in-house

But there are things to be careful of when watching a usability test. Every single tester will say of almost any site: "It's a bit busy" when they arrive on the home page. Ignore this. Also ignore comments like "I don't like blue, I prefer green". It's important to focus on where they go and what they do to complete the task at hand.

4 How do you select a representative audience?

Our pay-as-you-go clients can select by age range and gender. Corporate Account clients get more filters including socioeconomic group, household income, career history and can also send out custom screeners (for very specific profiling).

We've people from all backgrounds on our panel and we've screened them to make sure they can speak while browsing. Almost all of our panel members have been recruited through word of mouth. All are UK residents and they use their own PCs (and Macs) from home when testing - their natural browsing environment.

5 Does it integrate with other tools?

Our clients can embed their usability videos in their own extranet and we'll soon be supporting direct sharing via Basecamp. They can download and edit the videos for offline presentation as well.

All of our clients are using the Usual Suspects of Quantitative tools (e.g. Google Analytics, Omniture etc) and many are starting to adopt Split testing tools. Our clients use whatusersdo to improve their understanding of the "why" (not just the "what" and "when") of user behaviour.

Many of our Conversion Rate consultant clients bundle usability testing as part of their conversion testing services. We've also Agencies using whatusersdo as a pitching tool to demonstrate what's wrong with a prospect's site before pitching how they would fix it.

By Dave Chaffey

Digital strategist Dr Dave Chaffey is co-founder and Content Director of Smart Insights. Dave is editor of the 100+ templates, ebooks and courses in the digital marketing resource library created by our team of 25+ Digital Marketing experts. Our resources are used by our Premium members in more than 100 countries to Plan, Manage and Optimize their digital marketing. Free members can access our sample templates here. Please connect on LinkedIn to receive updates or ask me a question. For my full profile and other social networks, see the Dave Chaffey profile page on Smart Insights. Dave is a keynote speaker, trainer and consultant who is author of 5 bestselling books on digital marketing including Digital Marketing Excellence and Digital Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice. In 2004 he was recognised by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of 50 marketing ‘gurus’ worldwide who have helped shape the future of marketing.

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