You and your team are running an e-commerce website. Things work well: visitors discover you through search engines, engage with your homepage. They even begin the checkout process. However, somewhere along the way, many fall off and don’t make the final conversion. The question is, why does this happen? It might be time for a rethink of your information structure or user pathways. But how can you determine what needs adjustment and what’s already working fine?
Enter the User Experience Audit (UX Audit), a method to pinpoint areas in your digital product that need improvement. It sheds light on the parts of your site or app that might be causing user frustration and hindering conversions. Similar to financial audits, a UX audit employs practical methods to analyze the current situation and provides heuristic-based suggestions for enhancing the user experience. The ultimate goal? To enhance conversions by making it simpler for users to achieve their objectives on your platform.
This guide aims to introduce beginners to the world of UX audits, equipping teams with the basics needed to conduct their own audit or better understand the benefits and limitations of bringing in an external auditor.
What Happens During a UX Audit?
First things first, let’s delve into the details. What exactly goes on during a UX audit and how does it relate to usability testing? A UX auditor employs various methods, tools, and metrics to analyze where a product might be falling short or excelling:
- Review of business and user goals
- Conversion metrics
- Customer support data
- Sales figures
- Traffic and engagement data
- Adherence to UX standards
- Usability heuristics
- Mental models of users
- Wireframing and prototyping
- UX best practices
The key distinction between usability testing and a UX audit is the direction of information flow. An audit identifies problems based on established standards or goals, while testing identifies issues from user actions. In some cases, a ux expert might incorporate usability testing results if comprehensive metrics aren’t available. These results are weighed against long-term data and industry benchmarks.
What Can a UX Audit Reveal and What Are Its Limits? It’s important to note that a UX audit isn’t a magic solution for all UX problems. It’s only effective if the recommendations are actionable and followed up on. Moreover, it can require a significant investment of time and effort, potentially diverting resources from other tasks within your internal team.
What Are The Benefits Of A UX Audit
While a UX audit can’t fix all the issues of a struggling site or app, it can address significant questions:
- What’s working and what’s not?
- Which metrics are being tracked and which should be?
- What does the data reveal about user needs?
- What strategies were previously attempted, and how did they affect metrics?
A well-executed UX audit brings numerous benefits. It offers actionable steps based on concrete evidence, supports strategic design planning, generates metrics for future enhancements, and aids in forming hypotheses about user behavior. Most importantly, it contributes to increased conversions and ROI when followed by action.
Who Should Conduct a UX Audit and When
According to Tim Broadwater’s insights on LibUX, a UX audit is ideally performed during the initial stages of a website, web app, dedicated app, or similar redesign project. The term “redesign” is crucial here. Audits are typically conducted on products that have been live for some time and have accumulated data for analysis. New features and products are more apt for usability testing than comprehensive audits.
As a general rule, companies without a dedicated UX team stand to gain the most from a UX audit. Those with in-house teams are likely engaged in ongoing product evaluation and refinement.
If your budget allows, external auditors are recommended. They bring a fresh perspective that internal teams might lack due to familiarity with the product. Nate Sonnenberg offers cost estimates, ranging from $1000 for a brief engagement with a solo auditor to up to $10,000 for a comprehensive audit by a full UX team over several weeks. Nate suggests that within 2-3 weeks, around 80% of issues can be uncovered, providing a solid foundation for improvement.
However, if your budget doesn’t stretch to an external audit, there’s hope. You can conduct an internal audit by following an objective process, using available tools, and becoming familiar with UX best practices and standards.
How To Run A UX Audit Of Your Digital Product
Now, let’s dive into what you need to kickstart your UX audit.
Essentials for Starting a UX Audit To begin, involve a cross-functional team comprising designers, developers, product strategists, and business managers. It’s also helpful to designate an audit lead responsible for process and timelines.
Similar to any project, you need to establish the following from the outset:
- Audit goals (such as conversion rate, ROI)
- A time limit to prevent endless auditing
- Resources allocated to the audit (time, personnel, budget)
An Outline of the Process
Once the basics are in place, let’s outline the process. The UX audit typically encompasses six main stages:
- Gathering metrics and materials
- Validating results
- Organizing data
- Identifying trends and patterns
- Reporting findings
- Creating evidence-backed recommendations
Gathering Metrics and Materials
The initial phase of a UX audit, gathering relevant materials, can be challenging. Having well-defined goals prior to the audit helps determine the necessary information. Think about which metrics will provide insights. Involve team members in sharing existing data and identifying useful metrics that might be missing.
Here are sources of metrics and materials useful for an audit:
- Heuristic product evaluation: Walk through your product from a user’s perspective, noting potential obstacles to their goals. Base this process on established criteria like Nielsen’s heuristics.
- Website and mobile analytics: Use tools like Google Analytics, Kissmetrics, and Crazy Egg to gather quantitative data, traffic flows, conversion hotspots, and user behaviors.
- Conversion rates or sales figures: Especially useful for eCommerce, these figures provide insight into user behavior and satisfaction.
- Stakeholder interviews or user surveys: Interview internal stakeholders for insights on product goals and challenges. Survey feedback from marketing or sales departments can provide valuable insights categorized by severity.
- Previous product requirements: Understanding the history of design decisions aids in crafting viable recommendations.
At this stage, consider validating qualitative data with usability tests. For instance, if surveys indicated a complex checkout process, usability tests can confirm these findings.
Organizing Collected Materials
Use spreadsheets to organize all collected data. Create a collaborative document where questions, ideas, and relevant metrics are recorded. Templates from UserFocus and Usability.gov can assist in this process.
Identifying Trends and Patterns
This step involves transforming data into actionable insights. Techniques like data mining, card sorting, and insight incubation help uncover patterns in the information. Steve Baty’s article on UXmatters offers guidance on finding patterns in UX research.
Translate data into hypotheses about the user experience. Assess your findings against the pillars of successful products: relevance, value proposition, usability, and calls to action. Compare user behavior with stakeholder expectations to identify discrepancies.
Creating Evidence-Supported Recommendations
Finally, generate data-driven recommendations for improving the user experience. Make recommendations actionable and specific, accompanied by examples. Offer solutions rather than just highlighting issues. Joseph Dumas, Rolf Molich, and Robin Jeffries provide recommendations in their article ‘Describing Usability Problems: are we sending the right message?’
Basic UX Audit Resource Kit
While your UX audit toolkit depends on your specific product and goals, these resources and activities should help you get started:
- Advanced analytics tools (e.g., Omniture, Kissmetrics)
- Usability testing software (e.g., User Testing)
- Usability heuristics (e.g., Nielsen’s heuristics)
- ISO Principles
- Templates for measurement and usability goals
DIY vs. Professional UX Audit
You think your product needs a UX Audit? Your team posses an unparalleled knowledge about users, which can make it appealing to have an in-house UX audit. Yet there are few advantages in letting a professional do it for you:
1. A Fresh Eye on Things
An external UX auditor brings to the table a pair of fresh eyes. Often, internal teams become deeply entrenched in their understanding of the product, making it challenging to identify hidden pain points or potential improvements. By outsourcing the UX audit, you invite an unbiased perspective that can uncover nuances overlooked by your in-house team.
2. Specialization and Expertise
UX audit specialists possess a wealth of experience and expertise that comes from analyzing a multitude of digital products across various industries. Their exposure equips them with a keen understanding of best practices, emerging trends, and pitfalls to avoid. Outsourcing a UX audit taps into this specialized knowledge base, allowing you to tap into insights that might not be readily available within your internal team.
3. Speed and Uninterrupted Progress
One of the prominent advantages of outsourcing a UX audit is the speed at which it can be executed. External auditors come equipped with streamlined processes and tools honed over years of experience. This means that the audit process is swift, yielding comprehensive insights within a defined timeframe. Moreover, since the audit is conducted externally, it doesn’t interfere with your ongoing activities. There’s no postponement and no delay.
Undertaking a user experience audit is a significant endeavour, demanding time, effort, and possibly financial resources if outsourced. However, the benefits are clear, particularly for established sites seeking improvements. A well-executed UX audit can instigate meaningful changes, leading to enhanced user satisfaction and increased ROI.