It’s no surprise that a digital product is never really “done.” Even after completing a site build, replatform, or a series of enhancements, there will still be opportunities to improve or optimize the experience of a digital product. We identify these opportunities a number of ways, such as evaluating usage analytics, analyzing a site’s SEO performance, gathering user feedback, or even by witnessing the rise of new best practices or effective new design paradigms.
The Case for UX Audits
In the User Experience world, user testing is often seen as the gold standard for identifying how to improve an experience. However, coordinating and conducting intensive testing can be costly, both in terms of money (participant incentives, testing platforms) and time. There are also some limitations to user testing, like test scripts, which are designed to address specific scenarios or user flows, and therefore, are often not comprehensive. While we know that even just a few users can identify a significant number of issues during user testing, the issues they identify are only specific to the elements and pages with which they interact in the course of their script.
Another effective way to identify user experience optimization opportunities is by undergoing a user experience audit. These audits can be conducted at any time, can be used to evaluate any (or all) aspects of a product, and can be highly tailored to your goals and priorities. A UX audit involves a user experience expert pressure testing your experience, replicating common user paths, keeping a critical eye on usability, and fusing the findings with industry best practices. Then, the expert will generate a list of specific issues to address in order to improve your experience.
UX audits are beneficial for a multitude of reasons, including:
- There is little formal preparation required to begin an audit
- Audits are flexible; the size and scope of an audit can range from a single page or path to an entire website
- During the audit, we test common user flows, so you get some of the same benefits of traditional user testing
- The audit also involves comprehensive functional testing. Therefore, it is not uncommon to identify technical issues or bugs in these audits that may have otherwise been overlooked or missed
- Audits produce both objective insights (regarding usability, accessibility, and design) in addition to more subjective, experiential insights (leveraging user behavior and psychology, evaluating clarity and quality of content, etc.)
- The outcome of an audit is a specific, prioritized, actionable list of issues and opportunities for improvement
Preparing for a UX Audit
It is not uncommon for our clients to come to us expressing concern over, or interest in, improving certain aspects of their user experience. They may have a variety of topics for us to investigate, like why their abandonment rates in checkout are high, what causes users to bounce from a particular page, why add-to-cart rates are low despite high site volume, or how they can improve their overall experience for conversion rate optimization. An audit can help us identify these challenges, understand specific experience-level issues, and provide recommendations for improvement.
We begin each UX audit process by talking to our clients about:
- What issues they have observed: We ask clients to tell us where their users are bouncing or abandoning, places where users are not behaving as expected, what feedback or frustration users are expressing about the site, or any known “problem areas”
- Who’s affected by the issues: Customer personas and user analytics can help give us a better understanding of our target audience, may help illustrate the issues we’re addressing, and help us determine the impact and priority of the issues identified throughout the audit on the users
- What their intended outcomes are: We want to be clear about what we want to accomplish through remediation. Clients may seek to increase clicks of the “Add to Cart” button, lower bounce rates from specific pages, or reducing cart abandonment, for example
- The scope of the work: Together, we establish an appropriate, agreed-upon scope for the work, which helps us ensure that we are focusing on and investigating all pages and components in the experience that are relevant to our goals
How We Conduct UX Audits
Much like user testing, a UX audit involves the manual testing of an experience. Manual testing focuses on interacting with and critically assessing all key features and functions within the scope of the UX audit.
For example, if we’re auditing the checkout flow of a site, we will engage with and evaluate:
- All cart elements and states (mini cart, quantity controls, promo or coupon codes, messaging variants, etc.)
- Checkout forms and controls, including address type-ahead and payment method validation
- Navigation backward and forward through checkout
- Success and error states
For each issue identified during the audit, we capture and document the impact that the issue has on the user experience, the device(s) affected by the issue, its approximate level of priority, and the recommended fix or next step for the issue.
The manual and functional testing in the audit are supplemented with best practice examples, platform-specific considerations, experience benchmarks from organizations like Baymard Institute, and user research insights from organizations like Nielsen. These examples help make moving from the audit findings to designing and developing the specific solutions seamless.
The UX audit work culminates in a report documenting each issue identified, as well as the recommended prioritization of – and suggested fixes for – those issues. These suggested solutions will be informed by the client’s audience and goals.
In order to help our clients determine how to tackle the identified issues, we assign a priority level to each issue identified according to how critical they are to the experience:
- Low / Optional: An enhancement or solution for further consideration
- Low: Could create some friction for the user or would benefit from some minor adjustment
- Medium: Could cause frustration, confusion, or make key tasks difficult for the user to complete
- High: Blockers or issues that directly and significantly affect the ability of the user to successfully complete their task or goal
UX Audit Outcome
Upon the completion of a UX audit, our clients receive the full audit findings that have been prioritized based on their specific goals, best practices, benchmark recommendations, and implementation examples. CQL’s designers and developers are then able to begin collaboratively designing and building the solutions in order to help our clients turn the audit results into an improved, optimized experience.
If you think you would benefit from a user experience audit or have any questions about the process, contact us today. One of our Experience Design professionals will be happy to assist you!