Skip to main content
8 minute read

User research on a budget is better than none at all!

How you can gain great user research insights on a small budget
Shutterstock 703648972
by Thomas Michalak
28 August 18
  • User Research

You’ve got a digital product and it’s doing OK, but you know you need to understand your users and what makes them tick if you want to take it to the next level. Only problem is UX research is expensive and time consuming, and as such your boss doesn’t feel like it’s essential because as long as the senior team think the product is working well enough that’s their job done. Sound familiar? We’ve spoken to plenty of businesses who have the best intentions around creating great digital products and services for their users, but ultimately come unstuck at the first mention of actually talking to them and getting their feedback.

If this is something you’ve experienced then we have good news, you can learn a surprising amount from relatively quick and cheap research tactics! Our team have put together some recommendations for quick and easy ways to learn from your customers …

Make the most of your existing data

“Typically there’s always more data than you might be aware of in the digital product space, but the trick is to get under the skin of the data - to use the tools & individual team skills to create tangible strategic actions. I’d go as far as to say that it is a ‘must-do’, a mandatory, a critical action, to consider and analyse existing data before looking anywhere else. There are obvious places to start, Google Analytics being the first place where you might be able to gain invaluable insight in the use of your product by its users. There’s another dimension to reconsidering the data and insights that exist; it’s an opportunity to self-learn, improve analytics skills and take a step back from what you think you know about your product users and your product!”

Alex Cootes, Account Director

Create a KPI dashboard that focuses effort on your core outcomes

There’s not a lot of point setting out on your UX research journey to collect loads of data if you don’t know why you are doing it in the first place and don’t have a plan for how the data will be used. We recommend ensuring that the data you collect can always be linked back to what you are trying to achieve - your defined success measures (that you hopefully have in place!). In our experience, when the time comes to report this back to the rest of the business, you can’t go wrong with setting up a KPI dashboard.

You can simply create a dashboard in your presentation tool of choice (we are fans of Google Slides) and commit to regularly updating it and publishing it, or sign up to a dashboard tool and automatically ingest numbers from across your business tools and present them securely to your colleagues directly from there. The process of creating and reporting against the KPIs will keep your research focused and give the business the vital information that it needs in order to make informed decisions about your product roadmap.

Jo Cooper, Senior Account Manager

Learn from on-site feedback, surveys and talk to your sales and support team

Understanding your current customers' experience can take you closer to discovering your product's “Aha” moment. There are many free ways to collect feedback. A Hotjar free account will allow you to pop a short survey or poll on your website after a certain length of inactivity. This contextual approach means you’re less likely to bother your users but remembered that with those tools, less is more! So please don’t harass your users. Surveys can also be a fantastic way to collect data, especially is face to face interviews are impossible. Just remember that surveys aren’t magic, they are time-consuming and as Erika Hall demonstrated, bad surveys can be more damaging than no data. Use surveys for what they are: A way to collect top-level data to build a case for more user research in specific areas.

Finally, talking to your support and sales team can be eye-opening! Especially if you cross reference their understanding of your customers with your research. They are on the front line and in direct contact with the core motivations and frustrations of your customers. During interviews or surveys, people often like to please you or fit in, it's a well-known phenomenon. But when it comes to spending money or getting your product to do what they want, let's say that people are often a lot more honest and blunt.

Thomas Michalak, Creative Director

Use A/B testing to maximise your solutions and eliminate inefficient patterns

“From dedicated software to free products like Google OptimizeA/B tests are usually relatively easy to put in place from a technical perspective. These tests are an inexpensive way to fine-tune or test ambitious ideas. But like every data related solution, there are a few requirements. You will need enough traffic and activity to make it worth your while. If your sample rate is too small, most experts will argue that A/B is a waste of time.  As Netflix puts it, A/B tests are scientific experiments, you need a control group, a timescale and clear metrics for measures. Ignoring those requirements will get you and your team staring at your data wondering how to draw conclusions from it.

The tests sometimes highlight such small changes that it can be hard to make a decision, even when using a confidence calculator. So use them with caution and as part of user research toolkit to diversify your data. If none of your A/B experiments generate any results, maybe it’s not about your UI or CTAs, maybe it’s time to rethink your content and value proposition.”

Thomas Michalak, Creative Director

Recruit a beta / test group from your existing users

“If your product is reasonably mature, then chances are you have a few users already - or at least have a plan in place to attract some more. It’s great practice to build into your approach some tools for continuing to solicit feedback from your existing users. They’ll know your product, and they can tell you what attracted them to it in the first place, and even let you know what’s missing. Asking just a few questions, but doing it on a regular basis (so you can track your progress) is cheap, quick and provides you with a constant source of fresh feedback.”

Jonny Davis, Client Engagement Manager

P.S. Actually speak to your colleagues in other departments

“Before you jump in to making a plan and spending your budget it’s worth checking in with colleagues in other departments to see what research has been done before that could be used as helpful background for your product. You might also find that someone has set up a UX research lab that is available for you to use (a favourite hobby of IT departments in big businesses in 2018 apparently) allowing you to get some users in for face to face research without having to spend a fortune getting set up.”

Jon Hume, Client Services Director

In our experience there is no obvious ‘best’ approach to upping your research game, other than to simply start doing it. Holding off and waiting for more budget or the perfect solution won’t help you now or in the future, so our overall recommendation is just to start! Creating a basic workflow that’s not just a one off activity, and gradually building on it over time until you have a regular cadence of talking to users is essential, and you’ll soon be reaping the benefits from understanding your users rather than building your product roadmap from assumptions and business ambitions.

If you’d like to discuss bringing user feedback and UX research into your digital product then we would love to help. Whether it’s developing ways to quickly receive feedback, working on new prototypes to test with a user group or running a Design Sprint, we can get you a better understanding of your users and your product. You can get in touch with us here.

Want more on user research?

User research remote testing 200128 100248
7 minute read

How to conduct remote user research

  • User research
Affinity mapping
3 minute read

5 tips for user research

  • User research