Improving Digital Experiences with User Surveys

As a shop that advocates for user-centered design, we measure the success of the digital experiences we create in terms of user acceptance. With so much focus on the user, there are three questions that always need an answer:

  1. Who uses this?
  2. What are they looking for?
  3. And why?

Answers to these questions can help you understand what makes your website, service or other digital product successful. Working with real users helps to ensure the best experience is designed and built out. Here at Aten, we use multiple tools to connect with users to understand their needs and test our assumptions. One way to understand the users’ needs is to send out user surveys.

What is a User Survey?

A user survey is a series of questions that help you find out how a current experience is being used. They look at a sample of the actual users to get a clearer understanding of real needs, interests and pain points. Ideally, they cover both new and experienced users to give you a full range of perspectives.

Benefits of User Surveys

User surveys can directly benefit the structure and design of a digital platform. At a base level, they reaffirm known audience groups, as well as open your eyes to additional audiences that could play an important part in reaching your organization’s goals. With questions targeted directly at the content of your site, you’re able to discover what your users are looking for. And you’ll even be able to get a sense of why they want that content.

Sample Question for Defining Audience Groups

Which of these roles best describe you?

  1. Journalist
  2. Policymaker
  3. Funder
  4. Activist
  5. Other (with option to write in answer)

Sample Question for Content Needs

What information on the site is most important to you? Choose all that apply.

  1. News updates / press releases on human rights
  2. Stories about victims of human rights abuses
  3. Information about individuals that play a key part in protecting human rights
  4. Research reports and other in-depth publications
  5. Information about how to take action to help prevent human rights abuses
  6. Information about supporting the organization financially
  7. Videos, photos and other multimedia
  8. Background information about human rights
  9. Information about our staff and what they do
  10. Other (with option to write in answer)

In addition to giving you a better sense of who your users are and why they’re there, the surveys also help you discover how successful the current experience is. Well-designed surveys help you understand your users’ preferences, attitudes and opinions on the digital experience you are providing. This information helps you assess how positive the current experience is and identify ways that it can be improved.

Sample Questions

I can easily find the content I’m looking for.

  1. Strongly Agree
  2. Agree
  3. Disagree
  4. Strongly Disagree

Content loads quickly.

  1. Strongly Agree
  2. Agree
  3. Disagree
  4. Strongly Disagree

It is easy to share content from the site on my social networks.

  1. Strongly Agree
  2. Agree
  3. Disagree
  4. Strongly Disagree

Finally, user surveys help you understand how your users’ needs align with your business objectives. They instill confidence in key stakeholders that a design is effective. When new features or updates are requested, they can help you prioritize tasks and understand exactly who will be affected by the changes. And they mitigate the risk of building the wrong solution for a user.

Sample Questions

Which social networks do you share site content on?

  1. Twitter
  2. Facebook
  3. LinkedIn
  4. Google+
  5. Other (with option to write in answer)

What other websites do you use to find information similar content? If possible, please list the url.

Creating User Surveys

When creating your survey, keep the audience at the center of the process. All your questions should revolve around their preferences, including content they look at and actions they take on the site. You can ask questions about interactions, design and layout, organization of content and much more. When writing questions for the survey, keep the following in mind:

  1. Make sure your questions are clear and answerable.
  2. Only ask questions that your users are qualified to answer.
  3. If you include multiple choice questions, make sure at least one of the answers make sense to a user. If they don’t, consider adding an other / not applicable / don’t know option.
  4. Avoid double negatives that confuse the user or do not provide enough context.
  5. Make sure each question is only asking one thing; don’t try to ask two questions in one.

User surveys can be distributed through a variety of mediums—email, popups on websites, social media, over the phone. There are also a variety of tools you can use to create the survey itself. I’ve experimented with Google Forms, SurveyMonkey, Qualtrics and Typeform. Typeform has been my favorite so far because it provides a very modern and intuitive feel.

Now What?

Now that you know for sure who is using your site, what they’re looking for and why, you’re ready to take action. You’ve gathered all the survey data, and you’re ready to come up with a plan. So test it. You can use online tools, such as Treejack and Chalkmark, or real life tools, such as hallway usability testing to test your plan. If it’s still not right, rinse and repeat. Let your users lead the way through another round of user surveys.

Content Design Process User Experience