Stop. Don’t answer immediately, take a couple of seconds to think about what that question entails and the smaller questions that come with it:
- Who are your users?
- How would they describe themselves?
- Why do they visit your site?
- What are the different types of users that you are building your site for?
- Which are more important to you?
- Which are more or less likely to visit, stay and use the tools you build?
- Which don’t stay as long as you would like?
So, do you know your users? If not, here are a few methods to learn more. Some are fast, cheap and easy, others require a bit more work, but provide far more information.
You’d be amazed at what you could learn by a single poll question, especially over time.
Create a series of questions to gain information you don’t already have about your users. This may vary widely, but here are some ideas:
- Are you male or female?
- How old are you?
- What is your favorite part of the site?
- What part of the site is your least favorite?
- Is this your first time to the site?
- How often do you visit the site?
The key is to only show one question at a time. Ideally the poll is placed prominently and consistently on the site. Placing the poll in the same spot in the sidebar and rotating the question every couple of weeks will pay rich rewards over time. Most users are much more likely to answer one short question every so often than they are to answer a full survey, which takes a larger investment of time up front.
This longer form is useful for getting information quickly, but you may not reach everyone you’d like to. It does have the very real benefit of branching questions. If the user says they are a regular visitor, you can dig in a little deeper to determine why they come back.
Standard analytics that report on your site’s traffic is important when you need to find the popular areas of the site. We’re going to skip that for now as I expect you already have most of that defined or can get your hands on it easily enough.
The more interesting data comes from user-specific analytics that will help you answer questions such as the average age of your visitors, whether they are male or female and how interested they are in participating in the community. Working with this data will allow you to decide which groups of users visit one area of the site more often or take part in you discussions more regularly.
If you’re able to talk to your users directly, you can gain a wealth of information. This can be a complex undertaking requiring a lot of effort, so I recommend working with your passive data before you decide to invest the time and money interviewing your customers and prospects. Additionally, you won’t capture data from those casual visitors who stumble upon your site through a search result, so the data is incomplete when thinking about the largest area for growth.
Tie it Together
The best of all possible worlds would be to tie your direct questions (polls and surveys) with the information gathered from your analytics. If you can determine which questions to show a user based on how often they visit, you’ll have better data. If you can present questions based on how many friends the user has connected with on your site, you have a whole new axis of data to learn from.
Now That You Have Data
With the information you gathered you can prioritize where you spend your time and effort. Revisit the questions at the beginning of this piece to see how your answers differ and think about how you can use this knowledge to craft your site so it delights your users and achieves your business goals.
What Have I Missed?
This is by no means a comprehensive list of methods and ideas, and I bet that some of you have other (better?) ideas and experience to share. I’d love to hear what you think in the comments!