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UX Audits That Drive User Satisfaction

Explore tips for planning and executing a UX audit on your website or app to ensure it’s performing as you intended and as your customers expect.

In today’s hypercompetitive marketplace, your product must perform or risk being left behind. Usability, consistency, accessibility, and continuity are just some of the ways performance is expressed and evaluated. You must reliably deliver on all counts.

In some cases, a product’s key performance issues may be easy to spot. Perhaps it’s a bug that predictably shows itself in the interface. But what about the problems you can’t see? You need a strategy for rooting out these hidden issues to ensure your customers always receive a superior user experience (UX). A UX audit can help get you there.

What is a user experience audit?

A user experience audit or UX review is an in-depth, data-driven assessment of the experience users can expect from your mobile app, software platform, digital product, or website. This methodical evaluation seeks to ensure its subject is performing as intended and is meeting your business, UX, and accessibility goals.

Think of the audit as a quality assurance (QA) process for identifying not only operational issues, but also points of friction for the user and their impacts on business value or revenue opportunities. The aim is to find areas of improvement or redesign that can enhance the user’s experience to drive satisfaction and sales.

Depending on what’s being looked at, the UX auditor might measure, test, and analyze any or all of the following:

  • Branding and messaging
  • Design elements (e.g., fonts, color palette)
  • Layout and hierarchy
  • Content relevancy
  • User obstacles or bottlenecks
  • Accessibility
  • Usability heuristics
  • Embedded links
  • Product design (relative to business and UX objectives)
  • User traffic
  • Engagement and conversion
  • Retention
  • Legal compliance (e.g., General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA))

The process commonly ends with a UX audit report that identifies actionable recommendations for fixing issues and helping the product better meet standard principles of usability.

Types of UX audit tools that deliver valuable insights

There is no one size fits all when it comes to UX audits. Your particular audit will depend on what you’re evaluating and your established goals for the process. As you develop your plan, note that there are a variety of different models you can draw on, each with its own benefits and limitations.

Usability audit

This approach is built around observing and analyzing how people use your product. The auditors will often create specific scenarios for users or ask them to perform set tasks. In this way, they can see in real time any obstacles or points of friction.

Usability issues might include poor instructions and unclear navigation. Functional problems might also be discovered. The users themselves may offer useful feedback as well. Though potentially time-consuming, this type of audit can return a great deal of valuable information.

User interviews

The strategy here is to engage directly with users about their product experience. Based around interviews, this practice aims to dig more deeply into the user’s perspective, asking about pain points, areas of confusion, and opportunities for improvement.

Practitioners of this approach believe user interviews can lead to intelligence that might not be observable when watching the product in use. Users can be great resources for recommendations for features and enhancements. The challenge is they may not always know how to articulate their ideas in a way that designers can understand and then apply.

Session recordings

To see how users interact with your product, you might want to record them interacting with it. By capturing their real behaviors, you’ll have a record of key elements like clicks, scrolling, page view duration, and ease of navigation. These are important details for UX designers.

Because the sessions are recorded, you can return to them multiple times for review and additional insight. Unfortunately, unlike usability testing, you don’t have the benefit of asking the user questions about their experience or requesting particular user paths to see how behavior is impacted.

Analytics data research

This audit approach is all rooted in the data. The quantitative data is collected from a range of sources spanning product analytics, user behavior, website analytics tools, and heat map results, all valuable information as you seek to learn more about your UX.

Such an audit can spotlight key facets of your UX, including your most and least popular features, how users connect with your content, the areas where people most frequently drop off, and confusion around navigation. If your data sets are small, it’s probably wise to augment this effort with another audit type to access qualitative data as well. In both these cases, you could also consider employing Google Analytics.

Competitor UX research

Evaluating your competitors’ UX can be a useful addition to almost any other UX audit practice. Knowing how your product stacks up against your competitors’ offerings is a key step for most businesses, providing vital insights about how your products compare.

Gaining a clearer understanding of your competitors’ product UX can also reveal broader industry practices and trends you should be aware of. It can highlight new opportunities for product enhancement and differentiation to help you sharpen your competitive advantage.

Heuristic evaluation

Let’s start with a quick definition. According to the Nielsen Norman Group, a heuristic evaluation is a “method for identifying design problems in a user interface. Evaluators judge the design against a set of guidelines (called heuristics) that make systems easy to use.” 

Usability heuristics represent a common tool for identifying issues based on established best practices, typically Jakob Nielsen’s 10 usability heuristics. With this practice, a team familiar with your product looks at key features like your information and visual design, consistency, and accessibility to find opportunities for improvement based on your user personas.

New target user testing

If you’re looking to attract a new or additional audience, this option focuses on testing with a specific user group in mind. Evaluating the UX through that lens can unearth challenges this new audience is likely to encounter with your product.

Another upside of a new user audit is your ability to develop a more inclusive user experience suitable for all kinds of users. This improved accessibility can deliver powerful insights for product improvement regardless of your other UX audit goals.

Why conduct a UX audit and usability tests

What its interface looks like and how it operates is likely what your customer experiences first. It’s their introduction to your brand. Done well, it can lead to lower customer acquisition and support costs, improved customer retention, and, ultimately, greater market share.

Conversely, a poorly realized design and user experience can impact you in negative ways. Bad design can cost you users, click-through rate, and sales. The necessary redesigns will also require time and money you could be applying elsewhere.

Here are just a few of the benefits you can expect from conducting a UX audit.

Solve business issues through UX improvements

When you identify where your users are struggling with your product, you can also find opportunities for advancing your business. Fixing the problems encountered by your users can help you resolve unsatisfactory conversion rates and address the stubbornly high customer churn you’ve been seeing but didn’t know how to resolve.

Find and fix error messages and user flow problems

The source of your product problem isn’t always immediately discernible, making it difficult and more time intensive to troubleshoot. UX audits help you identify problems early, ideally before they become issues. If you publish a lot of updates or routinely introduce new features, but don’t have much time for testing, audits can be especially useful for you.

Understand user segments, user behavior, and how users interact

Your product’s success relies on a deep and evolving understanding of your customers’ needs, preferences, and goals. UX audits deliver crucial insights about your audiences, including where your product is falling short and why customer retention is so difficult. The data informs your decision-making from your product roadmap to how and where you communicate with your audience.

Identify usability issues and user pain points with your digital product

Your users are the real experts about the effectiveness of your product. When you conduct UX audits it can help shine a light on the impediments they’re finding when interacting with your product. Removing those barriers and areas of confusion can create a smoother, more intuitive experience marked by improved usability and greater customer satisfaction.

Grow conversion rates among target audience

Your product’s usability reflects how easy it is for your prospects to become paying customers or subscribers. Apps or websites with complicated user flows and poor design can frustrate visitors and undermine conversion rates. A UX audit helps determine the where and why of these breakdowns so you can refine and build a clearer path to purchase.

When to conduct a UX audit process

Now that it’s clear what conducting UX audits entails and the possible benefits, you might wonder about the optimal time to conduct one. The short answer is that additional intelligence about the performance of your product is always welcome. But the longer answer is that there are all kinds of signs and milestones that suggest the time is now.

If you’re unsure when to undertake a UX audit in your company, here’s a helpful cheat sheet of cues to guide your thinking. If any of the below are true for you, it could be time to consider an audit.

Before a product launch

It makes sense that before you introduce a new product you want to make sure it’s truly viable and ready for prime time. A UX audit provides that critical QA step to help ensure your audience is going to be greeted by a positive user experience. Launching without this step can cost you customers and require time-consuming retooling and an expensive relaunch.

When you haven’t recently tested an existing product

When was the last time you tested your products? Even if they’re performing within acceptable limits, complacency can mean missing overlooked opportunities for improvement and growth. The more you know about your product’s performance and the changing needs and preferences of your users, the better able you’ll be to optimize even longstanding products.

Sales are down

This one’s a given. If you’re seeing a drop in sales, conversions, or user engagement, it’s time for a UX audit. The insights drawn from the process can help you home in on the spots in your UX that are contributing to the unwanted downturn. The lessons learned can give you a clearer picture of your key performance indicators (KPIs) and point you to actionable remedies.

Retention is low

You attract users but can’t seem to hold on to them. You’re witnessing a lot of churn on your user journeys with people abandoning in greater numbers than is acceptable or normal for the industry. Determining why is a fundamental question for your success and one that a UX design audit can help answer by watching and querying users and investigating competitors’ UX.  

Onboarding numbers are poor

If you offer a free version of your product or a free trial and are failing to generate the kind of momentum you’d hoped, it’s time to review your UX design. According to Userpilot, if the percentage of users taking action and deriving value from your free offerings is under 15%, the problem could be hidden in your UX. Finding the problem could drive improved numbers.

Customer complaints are up

There may be no clearer sign that a UX audit is in order than when your customers themselves begin to tell you there’s a problem. If you’re seeing an uptick in complaints or questions, an audit will help you determine if the issues have anything in common and where in the customer journey they tend to occur.

Modernizing an app

It sometimes happens that external forces like changing technologies, platforms, or best practices require an update to your product. A UX audit can go a long way toward guaranteeing that the rebuild delivers a product that will work for your target audience. Start by evaluating your current product as that is almost sure to return valuable information you can apply before and during the update.

As part of a regular UX review schedule

The best solution to any problem is preventing its occurrence in the first place. By instituting regularly scheduled UX audits, you can help avoid unwanted surprises down the road. Design a schedule that works for you. A predictable, systemized audit process can save you time and headaches and equip your team to more efficiently implement fixes.

Preparing your UX team for a UX audit

As noted earlier, UX audits come in a variety of flavors based on the intent and focus. Many companies will combine options to get as complete a picture as possible of their product. Regardless of the strategies you use, audits commonly include user research, interviews, usability testing, and a heuristic evaluation.

You’ll also want to create or revisit your UX strategy. It’s important that auditors understand your product’s goals, KPIs, and competitors. Once these are established, the audit can get underway, likely taking a few weeks to complete before a final report is issued.

Here are 5 tips to help ready your team for your UX design audit:

Tip #1: Develop user personas to identify target users

You want to confirm before you get started that your current customers, as shown by your user data, actually match the target user or user personas that market research has identified as most open to your product. If the 2 don’t align, the testing will have to determine if you are in fact meeting the needs of your current audience.

Tip #2: Clarify your business goals

Your broader business objectives as a company necessarily inform how you should position your product. Those executing your audit will need to know what larger business goals the product should be contributing to before determining if the design is hurting or hampering that effort.

Tip #3: Harness your analytics data

Gather and prepare your analytics data for the auditors. Analytics such as click tracking, heat maps, click-through rate (CTR), and other performance metrics offer invaluable context for the audit. Data touching on revenue, retention, and how the product is performing against goals will further contribute to the auditor’s final actionable recommendations.  

Tip #4: Review previous UX audit reports

If you’ve conducted other UX audits, share the results with those undertaking this next evaluation. Auditors will want to see if the problems are the same, what changes were implemented previously, and how they did or didn’t improve the user experience. The appearance of new problems will be instructive as well.

Tip #5: Discuss key considerations or restrictions

Communicate with the auditor about any limitations or constraints you see with the audit. Highlight any budget or resource restrictions before initiating the audit to prevent issues later. Providing this background from the outset will equip the auditor to organize the process in line with your expectations.

Conducting your UX audit

You’ve done your preparation. Now you’re ready to launch your UX audit. You’ll watch users engage with your products, ask them about where they’re struggling, find trends in their behavior, and locate any design or technical bugs.

With careful planning and thoughtful execution of the following steps, you can learn more about your audience, your product, and the improvements you need to make to better serve both.

Step 1: Conduct stakeholder interviews to understand pain points

Stakeholder interviews are a good place to start your audit. Survey your Management team and executive leadership first as they can provide critical background and context. This could include clarity on business challenges, a changing market, or upcoming technology investments.

For the most complete understanding, include others in the interview process. Especially with larger audits, you can benefit from speaking to the Design, Product Development, and Marketing departments as well. Each one brings a perspective, helping you formulate a comprehensive list of goals and priorities.

Step 2: Conduct usability heuristics evaluation

Give your designers an opportunity to do a thorough evaluation of the product or website. Following recommendations like those noted earlier from the Nielsen Norman Group provides helpful guidelines for conducting usability heuristics testing.

Heuristics are the usability principles alongside which the investigation is undertaken. With Nielsen, these include everything from consistency to user control to error prevention. The process typically uses in-depth tests run by several usability experts at a time.

Step 3: Identify user flows and usability issues

Some of your product’s issues are bound to be discovered during the heuristic testing. But it’s important to remember that to stop there is to risk missing other problems that aren’t immediately apparent or are missed due to designer bias or oversight. That’s where a usability audit comes in.

To uncover other issues, you want to engage users themselves. Organizing and executing up to 5 user recording sessions can deliver important results. Watch them interact with your design and see where they get hung up. Ask them to perform specified tasks to see if your design delivers the planned user flow.

Step 4: Undertake user surveys to determine user needs

Now that you’ve watched how users engage with your product, it’s instructive to also interview them about their experience with your design and interface. This step can return some of the most meaningful information to auditors and provide a path to improvement.

Inviting users to weigh in delivers unbiased feedback on the effectiveness of the product, enabling you to compare the results against your objectives. Make sure to take notes or otherwise capture these details to include as part of your audit record. Admittedly, this can be a time-consuming and potentially expensive step, but the rewards can be great.

Step 5: Do traffic analysis

Data is your friend when it comes to UX audits. The more you can gather, the more you’ll be able to learn about your product and improve it. The traffic on your website can be analyzed to unlock a range of useful data points that speak to user behavior.

Carefully studying a website’s traffic can reveal much about the product. Metrics like time on page, bounce rates, and CTR can tell you a lot about the experience users are having, including if your CTAs are working and whether or not your content is truly resonating with your audience. Google Analytics can be a useful resource in this step.

Step 6: Address accessibility needs

Accessibility is a very important consideration in your product design. You want to be sure that people with disabilities can enjoy your offering without significant difficulties or discomfort. This step should be an ongoing objective as you seek to continually improve your interface.

Testing for accessibility offers a couple of options. You can employ separate usability tests focused on users with sight or hearing limitations. You can also call on different tools designed to aid in addressing accessibility, including screen readers, color contrast aids, and development tools for browsers.

Step 7: Analyze product requirements

When you originally built your product, the development was organized around a large set of specific requirements. This list captured key product fundamentals spanning design parameters, coding details, and security provisions.

Auditors will want access to these requirements as they audit the current iteration of the product. Not only do the requirements provide context around certain design decisions, but they also reveal possible inconsistencies. In both cases, clarifying the requirements will enable better recommendations for changes or improvements.

Step 8: Seek outside help if necessary

You are deeply familiar with and devoted to your product. You’ve spent countless hours engaged with it or thinking about it. That can sometimes make it difficult to see its shortcomings the way a neutral party might. For this reason, bringing on an unbiased third party can be beneficial.

To ensure objectivity, especially during the heuristic analysis step, consider calling on the help of an external UX consultant. They can offer a fresh set of eyes and a broader industry perspective as they evaluate your product against your goals and the UX of your competitors. 

Step 9: Capture and present recommendations

Once the audit process is complete, it’s time for what may be the most important step of all: recording, organizing, and presenting the recommendations for addressing the issues found. After all the time, work, and expense, this is where you visualize what an improved product looks like and build a plan for getting there.

The clearer and more actionable you make your recommendations for stakeholders, the easier they’ll be to review and, ultimately, execute. So, in addition to listing your suggestions, prioritize them as well. Depending on the number and severity of the issues, many companies are likely to adopt a phased approach to addressing improvements, making the prioritization all the more important.

Spurring continuous improvement with your UX audit

The design and interface of your product are central to the experience your users will have when engaging with that product. Fail to offer a seamless user path and your users may be  unlikely to return. A UX audit provides a powerful tool for better understanding your user. With greater user knowledge and empathy, you can ensure you’re delivering a product that brings real and sustained value to their life—all while helping grow your bottom line.

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