How to Use Remote Data Strategically in UX

One of the challenges UX practitioners can face is how to communicate much of the data that’s out there. The key word is “communicate.” Since many of us are used to qualitative findings, making the jump to “hard data” can be a challenge. There are tools out there that make this easier, but we still need some explanations and/or translations.

A keyboard key has a green button with a bar chart on it.

First, let me be clear that I am not endorsing any product or technique. At our agency, we now use Google Analytics. We previously used WebTrends. In the past, this data had to be gathered through server logs, and it was up to the individual to make it understandable.

As long as the data collection is set up for the site, the data should be there to be analyzed; if it hasn’t been set up, you will need to communicate to the client why it should be, and why you want to look at it. I have found this information useful in:

  • Strategic planning (who to target, what to ask/what to focus on, when to look for data (date ranges)
  • Where your users are located
  • How they access your content (devices/operating systems). If this information has been collected you can use it to help you isolate areas of interest

So, how can we as UX folks use this to our advantage? In my experience much of this information (the “how” and “where”) can be useful as up-front research (for existing, web-based services). It can be used to identify:

  • Where usability issues may exist (bottle necks, etc.)
  • Overly long processes (pathing, average times, drop-out pages)
  • Most popular pages/services (you don’t want to take anything away…)

Now, it still takes some speculation on our part to come up with the proper questions to ask, (the WHY questions) but at least we’re not flailing around in the dark. I’m not a marketing expert, nor do I claim to be, but by using this data we can at least identify what parts of the site to focus on (in terms of redesign), and what parts could be left alone (we don’t want to fix what isn’t broken!). It might be tempting to speculate about this to come up with the answers for the “how” questions, but remember: “Correlation does not equal causation.” We don’t know WHY until we ask the users.

In order to make the most of this information, first, find out who “owns” it. If your organization is large—like mine is, you will need to request access to it. Building a relationship with that group or person can be helpful. Have some idea of what you are going to look for before you start. Since I work on EXISTING sites, entry/exit pages can give you an idea of what sections are the most popular/most used. Also, comparing returning visitors vs. new visitors can help you identify popular/most accessed content. If you are building a new site, or if this kind of information isn’t being collected yet—put it in as one of the recommendations. Think longer term here—this is a good way to stay involved with a project after you hand it off, and it will make future work easier. You may use this to inform redesign or back up recommendations. These tools collect a lot of information, so keeping your objectives clear is important: Who are your users, what are they looking for/are they accessing, where are they (geographically), how are they coming to you site (OS/device)—much of this info can be gathered through these tools.

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Once you have your info, these tools most often put it into charts or graphics; if it doesn’t tailor to what you are trying to communicate, look to your graphics department.

In terms of what to do next, well, that is really up to you and your client. Remember—these are TOOLS, not solutions. The key here is to work smarter, not harder—but you still need to work…