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Creating A Website Data Report: Three Degrees Of Separation

Having a comprehensive data report about your website is like having a Rosetta Stone to guide your decision-making process over the lifetime of the website. A powerful report combines data gathered from a variety of sources, including observation of and interviews with users, and analysis of the website’s analytics. Assembling this information into one place will help you to make effective design decisions and determine key priorities and will strengthen your position when working with stakeholders.

The goal is to put the key insights from your research of a website into a single document. The report would consolidate the most important discoveries from a variety of research techniques and would help you to identify trends. These trends would provide a more accurate view of your website than one research method alone could provide. Such a report is an extremely useful reference when redesigning a website or brainstorming about enhancements. It is also a deliverable that you can provide to your client, teammates or employer.

A well-rounded report is built with a combination of data gathered from three sources: personal (qualitative research), community (quantitative research) and network (website analytics). Gathering personal data is a boots-on-the-ground initiative that involves speaking to users and watching them test the website. Community data is gathered by reaching out to the user base with surveys and feedback forms. An analytics tool collects network data on your website automatically. While these types of data are gathered separately, they complement each other and give you a full picture of what is happening on the website. For this article, I’ve created a fictional Widgets website, which we’ll work on together to build a data report.

Data report for our fictional widgets website1
We’ll create a data report for our fictional Widgets website. (Large preview2)

Gathering Personal Data (Qualitative Research) Link

The key to getting qualitative data from users is to observe them as they use the website. The first step is to gather some users to work through the most common tasks on the website. (If you’re unable to get a user in person, try out a service like UserTesting3.) For our Widgets website, these tasks include finding a product, adding a product to the shopping cart, and finding a PDF download for one of the widgets.

To understand their thought process and experience their frustrations, have the user talk through what they are doing as you take notes. This qualitative data will tell you how users behave and help you understand why. When multiple users have the same good or bad experience, note the recurring comment. The benefit of observing users is that you can see them discover things that they might not mention in an interview (or even be conscious of). After walking all of the users through the testing process, sit down and create the report.

For this first section of our data report, list the action items from your notes. Multiple users found the same problem with our Widgets website, so we’ll mark that down, with a multiplier after the item to prioritize it in the list. A team is working on the Widgets website, so let’s break down the action items according to which groups would implement them. Only add to the report items that we might follow up on to update the website.

Action items from user testing4
Action items from user testing, sorted by functional area.

Reaching Out To The Community (Quantitative Research) Link

Next, let’s get input from a broader group of users by sending a survey to our community or by conducting some interviews. The benefit of a survey is that we can quickly gather a lot of data and identify trends. A high number of responses will also help us to find some unique ideas and issues. The survey could be supplemented with in-person or phone interviews, which are opportunities to ask follow-up questions or to go completely off topic if something interesting comes up.

To get started, let’s create a relatively short and simple survey about our website using Survey Monkey5. To formulate our questions, let’s think first about what we want to discover. For our Widgets website, we want to gather some fairly anonymous demographic information, including the user’s profession and how often they use the website, and then dive into particular areas of the website. Leave some questions open-ended to get feedback that you might not anticipate.

A survey created with Survey Monkey6
A survey created with Survey Monkey.

Having the user select from predefined answers will make it easier to compile results, but feedback is often better when the user enters their own thoughts. At the end of the survey, let’s ask some general questions, like what they like the most and the least about the website. These are all things that can be difficult to gather from analytics. Grow some thick skin because you might get some strong responses — but that’s what we’re looking for!

Then, email all of your user lists and link to the survey from your home page and social network pages to get as much feedback as possible. Let people know that your goal is to improve their experience of the website and that their input will make a difference. Once you’ve gotten enough feedback, add it to the report.

First, export all of the data from Survey Monkey into a spreadsheet and create some charts. For the open-ended questions, manually tally similar responses to show in a chart, or, if needed, list them as we did with individual testing.

Charts created from survey data7
Charts created from survey data. (Large preview8)

Open-ended questions listed and tallied9
Open-ended questions listed and tallied.

Tapping Into Our Network (Website Statistics) Link

For the third component of our report, we will tap our inner geek and gather some data from Google Analytics10, which has been running on our Widget website. Our users have already helped us understand how they use and experience the website, but analytics will give our report a foundation of solid data. Use analytics to track exactly how elements of the website are performing and to find some additional information about users. This data provides a perspective unclouded by emotion or opinion.

Start by listing things that would be useful to track (downloads, PDFs, button clicks, conversion rate, banners, outbound links), and then see whether that data is available. If it’s not, there is probably a way to start tracking it for future insight. Creating goals or dashboards with these key items will keep the report up to date.

The most interesting data points to track will depend on the type of website. If the website is content-driven, then categorize the content by topic or type (for example, infographic, review, press release, slideshow), and look at views, bounce rate and page duration. If it’s an e-commerce website, then set up some goal funnels, and compare the conversion rates of different products or pages. Look at your acquisitions to see where visitors are coming from (for example, social, search, email, direct, referral). This data will help you to identify where to focus your effort and will provide a point of comparison to measure the impact of that effort.

Additional ways to gather data include A/B testing, heat mapping, and social network analytics. For this report, we want not just a list of numbers, but powerful data that can be compared. When you’re figuring out what data would be helpful to have, consider these four common goals for a website:

  • Simplification
    What isn’t being used?
  • Effectiveness
    How do similar items perform?
  • Discovery
    What paths do users follow, and where do they stop?
  • Technology
    How do users access (and experience) your website?

For our Widgets website, let’s gather the following:

  • Simplification
    How often are some of the pages in the main navigation being viewed? (Or, more importantly, what isn’t being used?)
  • Effectiveness
    How popular are the various positions of the banner ads?
  • Discovery
    What percentage of users are browsing versus searching for products?
  • Discovery
    Where do users find news stories, and when do they read them?
  • Technology
    What types of devices are being used to view the website?

Find the data that answers these questions. Then, create dashboards in Analytics, or export the data to a spreadsheet and create charts to drop into the report. Let’s also include some brief descriptions below the charts to explain the data. Rely on a variety of charts; a report with only pie charts would look boring, and we want to use the type of chart that best represents each piece of data.

Charts representing data gathered from Google Analytics.11
Charts representing data gathered from Google Analytics. (Large preview12)

Finishing Our Report Link

Now that we’ve gathered all of this great data, let’s put the finishing touches on the report. In short, keep the content brief, use a lot of charts, and make the report easy to refer to; otherwise, you’ll cringe every time you have to dig in to find something.

We’ve got our three key sections now. Let’s briefly summarize at the very beginning of the report how we’ve gathered the data, how many people we’ve spoken to and what we’ve discovered. Here are some key headings:

  • Purpose
    What is our goal?
  • Method
    How did we find the information?
  • Findings
    What did we find?
  • Implementation
    What should we do with this information?

At the start of each section, briefly summarize the key discoveries, to make the section quicker to read through.

A summary of key discoveries across all sections of the report.13
A summary of key discoveries across all sections of the report. 14

Putting The Report To Use Link

Now that we’ve got an awesome data report, it’s time to put it to use. Share it around the company, hold a meeting to go over the findings, and print it out so that it’s handy.

This report would be a helpful refresher to a freelancer who is switching projects and would be invaluable to someone who has just joined the company. Remember that this is a living document, so update it as needed.

Having gathered data from these three sources, we’ve got a well-rounded view of our website. This triangulation of data will surface some common insights and will give you a truer picture of the state of the website than by using one research method alone. This combination of data is extremely helpful for brainstorming, too. For instance, we could gather the team and share a data point from each section — such as, testing revealed that widget accessories are hard to find; our survey showed that users would like to be walked through how to build a solution; and analytics show that most of our users are on a tablet or large display — and then brainstorm on how to meet these needs.

In a few meetings, I’ve opened such a report on my laptop for quick access. It keeps me from having to dig for the right data or, better yet, prevents a debate that would derail the meeting. Such discussions would otherwise rely on guesswork or would be dominated by the highest paid person in the room — but not anymore with a trusty report at your side.

(al, ml)

Footnotes Link

  1. 1 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/01-widget-website.jpg
  2. 2 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/01-widget-website.jpg
  3. 3 http://www.usertesting.com
  4. 4 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/02-step-1-testingoutcomes.jpg
  5. 5 http://www.surveymonkey.com
  6. 6 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/03-step-2-survey.jpg
  7. 7 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/04-step-2-results.jpg
  8. 8 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/04-step-2-results.jpg
  9. 9 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/05-step-2-openended.jpg
  10. 10 http://www.google.com/analytics
  11. 11 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/06-step-3-categories.jpg
  12. 12 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/06-step-3-categories.jpg
  13. 13 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/07-step-4-summary.jpg
  14. 14 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/07-step-4-summary.jpg
  15. 15 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/widgets-website-report.pdf
  16. 16 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/widgets-website-report.docx
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Kyle Larson is a UX designer and front-end developer. He is currently keeping busy writing, freelancing and working for AtTask. Kyle is the author of Website Optimization for Retina Displays, a guide to creating web graphics that look great on high-density (Retina) screens. Kyle blogs at kylejlarson.com and shares his work on dribbble.

  1. 1

    Great article! This will definitely come in handy when I have to put together the data report for our corporate web redesign project soon. Thanks!

    0
  2. 3

    Great article, very helpful indeed! Thanks for sharing.

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  3. 4

    Michelangelo

    March 12, 2014 8:38 am

    Excellent article! And timely for me. Do you have any thoughts on the practice of offering a small reward to increase participation in the survey? or do you think it is unnecessary?

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    • 5

      Thanks Michelangelo! I think the necessity of a reward really depends on the connection between your customer and the product or service. In cases where you have repeat visitors, I’d suggest appealing to them using a ‘help us help you’ message. Skip the boring ‘please fill out this survey’ default message and let them know why you’re sending the survey and how you want to (and will) make their experience better; make it personal and treat them as a partner and an expert. You can then use that approach and reach out to your customers in various locations including email, social media, a blog post, and links on your site.

      I think you’d probably also end up with better feedback overall if you can get people in the mindset that they are being helpful instead of just trying to complete the form just so they can get something free. However, if you do need to offer a reward to get responses you could do a coupon code or a contest (contests can be a pain as there are usually regulations that need to be followed). You could also possibly add a reward in the future if you’re not getting enough data. In that case I’d include people who have already responded in that reward so they don’t feel like they missed out (assuming they provided an email or other contact info).

      Ideally you’d get enough people to have some good feedback and start to see trends so you can eliminate some bias. Then adding in the two other research methods will really help take that further.

      P.S. For in-person user testing I’ve given them something for their help, like a gift card.

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