The step-by-step guide to an effective UX audit

4 min read
Nate Sonnenberg
  •  Dec 19, 2016
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This step-by-step guide will teach you how to audit your user experience. But before we dive in, let’s first understand:

What are the benefits of a UX audit?

If you know there’s pain or friction in your user experience, a review of your current UX can help create a short-term roadmap. Through a UX audit you’ll discover why conversions are low, how to enhance onboarding, why retention may be low, or any other issue you’re currently experiencing. The ROI of user experience is clear, so auditing to find out where you’re deficient will pay dividends.

All of this results in empathy with your customer. You’ll have a more clear understanding of who is using your product, so there will be a fundamental shift in what you know about the people using your product once it’s all said and done.

After this audit you’ll be able to definitively say “We found this opportunity for improvement, so let’s use those learnings when we redesign.”

Who should perform a UX audit?

Most people can definitely benefit from a UX audit, but we wanted to identify those who benefit the most from completing a UX assessment. Generally, we’ve found that anyone without a UX team in place benefits from this type of assessment. Always keep your users in mind—even if you don’t have a dedicated UX team.Twitter Logo

We’ve found that companies who already have a product that they want to grow will greatly benefit from a UX audit, as it helps them realize the friction points that users are currently experiencing, thus addressing those problems head on and removing barriers leading to a goal. This is especially true for startups with investors as the pressure is on to grow. We’ve also seen success with startups with new products that are ready to launch but want a gut check to ensure that the MVP process is seamless and focused on the user.

“UX audits allow you to better understand who is using your product.”

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The do’s and don’ts of conducting a UX audit

Before we get into the actual audit process, let’s first go over what you should and should not do when conducting an audit of your user experience.

  • Don’t assume you know what users are thinkingTwitter Logo
  • Do try to give yourself the directive/motivations of your users: Understand your personas and try to embody them throughout your audit
  • Do conduct usability testing by recording your users’ screens: This will help you see what their actual experience was after the fact. As a bonus, it’s easy to grab screenshots from there as well so you don’t have to keep creating new user accounts.
  • Don’t conduct the usability test yourself: It’s practically impossible for you to have a raw experience since you’re so familiar with your product. However, if you must conduct it yourself…
  • Don’t be biased: When conducting the audit, act like a typical user, not your ideal super user who goes straight to the goal. Click around a bit, immerse yourself in the experience. Also, be sure to record your own screen.
  • Do keep to a timeline: It’s easy to get carried away and commit too much time, or to not set aside enough time. By setting timeline goals you will find the happy medium
  • Do a content audit: This can help uncover inconsistencies and duplications
  • Do conduct contextual testing: This helps you experience connections speeds firsthand to mimic what users experience
  • If your product is a web and native mobile app, do make sure there’s a consistent UX through your product’s eco-system

“Don’t assume you know what users are thinking.”

Twitter Logo

Before you start

Make sure you have everything you need in order to conduct a UX audit. Typically, we make sure that we have the following:

An understanding of your current and target users.
What are your current users’ goals? Where are they coming from? What is their intended action? What’s the bigger picture that this experience fits into? If you’re not sure about these questions then you may want to go back and research so that you have an understanding of who your users are and the goal that you want them to complete.

You also have to consider whether your current users are your actual target audience. If not, why is that? Do you have a clearly defined target audience? You should also have a clear idea of whether or not your current users are the users that you want to be coming in. Additionally, you should also anticipate additional users coming in that may not be on either of these lists. Regardless of where you are with current and target audience, you should always know what you want your outcome to be.

Clearly defined goals.
As with any project, you need to make sure you have a baseline and goals. If you don’t know your end goal, how do you know what was successful? You definitely need to have a main objective for conducting this audit and what you want out of this. Some other important goals to have are revenue goals, conversion goals, and anything else that’s important to your business.

Who should be involved?
In most UX audits, you’d want to involve strategists, designers, and developers. Awesome stuff happens when you get multiple departments in the same room.Twitter Logo You also want to make sure that you have a decision-maker involved. Walk the decision-maker down the path to let them see friction points at all levels and validate ideas. You don’t want your colleagues proposing ideas without first understanding the full experience.

One good tactic to ensure that everyone is heard is to implement internal/anonymous UX surveys to discover known pain points.

Resources available.
Make sure you know who will be conducting the audit. Are they available? Do they know how much time is required of them? Make sure you’ve set expectations before beginning the process. Once you know who to invovle, be sure that everyone understands expectations and has the time to commit. Avoid bottlenecks due to availability or lack of planning.

Set a due date and make sure you have a well-constructed timeline to keep everything on track. It’s also helpful to have an overall timeline with milestones set for specific dates as well as individual timelines containing tasks and clear ownership.

“Are your current users your actual target audience?”

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Do you have a budget set aside for this? This is especially important if you seek a third party to conduct the audit. The expected cost for this type of project will depend on how in depth you want to go. You can get a 2-day audit from a freelancer for roughly $1,500, with the output being a short design checklist that you can tick off as you go. For around $7,500 you can hire a professional UX consultant who will give you a checklist of even deeper insights—and it’ll take about a week.

If you want something that’s custom created and aligned with your goals and much more actionable from a team of UX professionals, you’re looking to pay around $9,000-$10,000 with the deliverables being extremely actionable insights pointing to the problems that you should address, prioritized based on your goals. These typically take 2 weeks to a month.

When conducting the UX audit

Make sure you get a real experience of what the user would do on your site, leading them to a certain behavior. Don’t forget to record your screen. It may be difficult to get an objective experience of your own site since you designed it, so try to get an outside opinion. You must also keep the full experience in mind. A user won’t just appear on your site looking to convert—imagine where they came from and what they might want or expect from your company. Play to that mindset.

Recommended tools

Kissmetrics helps you track, analyze, and optimize your digital marketing performance. We really like it because it takes the entire user journey into account—not just their web behavior—by tracking across both web and mobile behavior.

Quicktime: We use this to record ourselves going through the user experience so that we get a video of the experience we actually had in real time. It also makes it a lot simpler to grab screenshots of each step rather than continuously creating user accounts.

Good tools for beginners

Hotjar is another heatmapping tool we like. Since there’s no customization involved, it’s ready out of the box so you can begin using it right away.

Mixpanel is best for analytics around mobile apps. It captures specific behaviors that you set, like clicking, tapping on the comments section, etc.

These are all tools that you can use to identify the common visitor flows towards a goal, whether it’s signup, purchase, etc. The insights gleaned from these tools will tell you which parts of the user journey to prioritize. We recommend screenshotting each step in each of these flows and annotate that way.

“A user won’t just appear on your site looking to convert.”

Twitter Logo

When do you know you’re “done”?

These types of audits are never really complete since a user experience is a moving target, so how do you know when you’ve actually finished your audit?

Our best advice is to set a time limit for yourself, otherwise you can end up going down the rabbit hole and taking too long to make any real impact. Generally within 2-3 weeks of dedicated auditing, you’ll find 80% of what you need to get going.

Is it better for internal folks to do a UX audit, or should you hire a third party?

As with all UX questions, our answer is: It depends.

If you need speed, it’s best to hire a third party. UX audits are extremely time consuming, and many companies simply don’t have the bandwidth. Additionally, third parties are more objective, and not emotionally invested. They will truly be able to look at your product with “new eyes.”

There are also positives for doing this internally. Your team has a better/more in-depth background on your product or service, and it generally costs less. And take into account opportunity cost if you do it yourself: How much is your time worth? Also, while you have good insight into your own brand/product, it could give you a blindspot. Lastly, keep in mind that if you’ve never done a UX audit before, there’s definitely a learning curve—so it’ll take longer and require a great deal of learning.

Now what?

Decide on an action plan! If you try this yourself, we’d love to hear about your progress.

Alternatively, we at Digital Telepathy recently launched Compass, a service that can run a full UX assessment for you in 2 weeks—and provide you with an actionable roadmap and insights that will address your biggest challenges. Learn more about Compass here.

This was originally published on the Digital Telepathy blog.

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