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Understanding Online Behaviour

One of the keys to having a successful website is having a good understanding of your user’s expectations. Find out how you can discover what they are expecting here.

Understanding Online Behaviour

Regardless of whether we want to or not, everyone enters any kind of experience with an expectation. It might be of our day when we wake up in the morning, to a journey, or an online buying experience.

Being able to understand customer expectations is central to the success of your website because if a user’s expectations aren’t met the likelihood is that they will not want to use your website – it is of course more effective to surprise someone with a website which exceeds their expectations, than falls short.

Researching user expectations in the best way to really understand what they are, and there are a number of research and analysis methods which can be employed to get this knowledge. By using a one or a combination of these methods, you will find that understanding customer expectations becomes much easier.

Task Analysis and Observation

Task analysis is one of the most useful of the user research methods if it is done properly. It involves a detailed analysis of a user’s task – from their perspective. It is about discovering the decision points in a process -points at which specific knowledge is required by the user to be able to continue to the next step.

Some best practises for task analysis and observation include:

  • Be sure to know what your goal is – you can’t find a solution if you don’t know what exactly it is that you want to find out.
  • Start by conducting observational user research. This will free you from what you already know about your product and you can
  • begin to see things from a user’s perspective.
  • The five factors to look for in user observation are: What gets the user to start the task, how the user will know when the task has been completed, what knowledge the users will be expected to have at the beginning of the task, what the users will need to know to complete the task, what tools or information users will need during the task.
  • Once that you have made your observations you can begin to make you task flow. Use different coloured sticky notes to represent different parts of the task – for example – Colour 1 – Actions that users must do, Colour 2 – Actions that the system can do, Colour 3 – Tools, information or objects that users need, Colour 4 – Questions or issues about the task.
  • When you are analysing and optimising the system, the key is to try to turn Colour 1 to Colour 2.

Planning and Conducting In-Depth User Research
For any kind of research, it is important that you properly plan for what you are trying to do. It can be divided into five steps –

  • Objectives
  • Hypotheses
  • Methods
  • Conduct
  • Synthesis

User focus groups are an excellent resource for information. Here, relevant people are gathered and group discussions are had in a structured manner – following the above plan. The people involved in a focus group should all have had the same experiences with the topic of discussion.

Focus groups usually comprise of between 5 and 10 people – just enough for them to all have been in the same situation but large enough to have had perhaps diverse experiences.

Individual interviews are an alternative to focus groups – where each person is individually interviewed. Depending on the situation, a decision needs to be made into whether a focus group or individual interview is best.

For example, a focus group wouldn’t be suitable where:

  • ‘Users’ are not close by
  • The subject matter is sensitive or can be difficult to talk about
  • Opinions could cause bias or have other effects outside of the group
  • ‘Users’ need preparation to be able to respond accurately

Card Sorts
Card sorting for web design involves using a set of cards in understanding how a person sees the significance of various aspects of your website. It can be carried out in a focus group, or individual environment.

The basic steps to a card sort are as follows:

  • The person or group receives a set of cards with the terms written on them
  • The terms are then grouped into the best way that the person thinks possible. Each group is then named – either with something already existing or by the group or individual themselves.
  • This is repeated across a group of test subjects
  • The results are then analysed to look for patterns

You have the option of both open card sorting and closed card sorting. In open sorting, you allow the group or individual to come up with their own term group names – this is helpful in understanding how the mind works, and what your users would actually call them.

In closed card sorting, the group names are already given – meaning that you are able to determine what the user would consider to be best under each category.

Essentially, the analysis of card sorting is about looking for patterns. A lot of people decide to use a dendogram – like a tree diagram, to help to evaluate the data.

User Personas
To be able to understand who your users are – in addition to using ‘real people’ it can be useful to create ‘user personas’. Group everything that you know about your customers into sections. You can then look at this data to devise ‘typical’ user personas.

When you are focussing on your user personas, you should think about what their goals would be, pain points and current behaviour.

It often helps to make these personas as real as possible – try giving them names, jobs, and visual appearances to help with this.

By using user personas, you can get a great idea of how the experience of navigating your website is for your users.

There are a number of methods to conducting in-depth user research and analysis to help in the design of your website, and whilst it is not necessary to use all of them, it is a good idea to use some.

If you have any questions about understanding user experiences, research techniques, and applying it to your business and website, get in touch with Studioworx either via email ([email protected]), telephone +44 (0)1603 274285 or the website (

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