A successful, mobile-friendly Web or app project hinges on determining the unique requirements of your customers and marrying these with the business objectives.
You don’t need to rely on generic industry assumptions about mobile stereotypes or guesswork about your mobile customers; most businesses already have a wealth of unique and relevant data – perhaps used for sales, marketing, or SEO purposes – ready to be mined for insight about mobile customers.
Conducting research and using it to create customer segments, personas, profiles, and user journeys before embarking on your mobile project allows you to make more educated decisions about what that project requires in terms of design, user experience (UX), content, navigation, resources, budget, the go-to market strategy and so on.
It’s better, quicker, and cheaper to expose your misconceptions now then to have them dropped like a bombshell later in the project, when user testing starts.
Customer research is only part of the aptly-named discovery or analysis stage of a mobile project. Other elements include stakeholder consultation and a viability/competitive landscape study, both of which will be covered in a future column.
The purpose of customer research
The point is to answer all those who, what, where, how, and – most importantly – why questions identified at the strategy stage of your mobile project.
1. Device type
Identify: The number customers engaging with your business via mobile devices and the types of devices used – smartphone, feature phone, tablet, as well as the brand, version, model, and capabilities of the handsets.
Why this matters:
- The proportion of customers using mobile determines the need not just for a mobile-friendly website, but also mobile email alerts and advertising.
- The spread of device types and capabilities influences the design and functions of the site.
- It helps determine if a mobile app is viable – native apps usually only work on newer Android or iOS smartphones.
- Assumptions can be made about people based on their device, like the most expensive models could suggest wealthier or trend conscious users.
2. Audience demographics
Identify: Key features that define customer demographics include:
- Language(s) spoken
Why this matters: Experts love to claim demographics are dead (see the 3,750,000 search results on Google), but in the real world, demographics are still very useful.
If your website is attracting a high proportion of one demographic, then you can either target them or ask why the rest of your target audience is under-indexing. For instance, a high or unexpectedly low proportion of Hispanic visitors might indicate a requirement for Spanish-language version of the site.
3. Mobile context
Identify: How or what methods customers are searching, what they are they looking for, when or what time of day they are looking, and where your customers are located when they use mobile to engage with your business.
Why this matters: People use mobile devices differently PCs. Typically PCs are used at a desk, indoors, at work or home, during the day. Mobile use occurs anytime, anywhere, whether consumers are in or out; when they are commuting, while they are shopping in-store, or when they are watching TV.
Additionally, mobile use is often equated with immediacy, as users want to find an item, place, or information that is relevant to what they are doing directly in the moment or in the near future. Comparing the behavior of mobile users to PC users provides a unique insight into their habits and therefore how you can serve them better.
4. What they want from your mobile site or app
Identify: What it is that customers are trying to achieve today, and what they would like to achieve if your website let them. How well aligned are customer goals with the business goals?
Why this matters: Analysis of user behavior trends – such as peaks in traffic, origins of traffic, most popular pages, and point of exit – helps to identify user goals and whether you are meeting them.
How to conduct customer research
If your company engages customers via website, email, SMS, or social media campaigns and records details of sales, you are already collecting more unique data about your customer than you realize – with the potential to collect a lot more.
Analyzing this data will deliver critical insights for your mobile project. Then you can verify and enhance this data by asking customers what they actually want.
“If you’re looking at existing products, then the best sources are your own data and analytics tools – Google Analytics, Omniture, and so forth. Look at what’s important for your KPIs like traffic data, page views, unique users, and revenue,” advises Russell Stopford, product development director at Perform, a provider of sports content and owner of Goal.
1. Website traffic
Whether you monitor your website with free tools, such as Google Analytics, or paid tools, such as Adobe/Omniture and Webtrends, you have access to a wealth of data.
This tells you PC versus tablet versus mobile phone traffic, with a breakdown of mobile devices by type, operating system, and screen resolution. For each device type analytics provides demographic information like age, country, language, and location and compares these for mobile and PC.
Use analytics to track the behavior of mobile users and compare these to PC users. Look for:
- Peak times for visits
- Page views per visit
- Length of visits
- Sources of entry or the point of entry
- Most popular pages
- The flow from one page to the next
- Point of exit
Set up ‘events’ to monitor conversions like purchases, sign-ups, and calls. Analytics also can highlight pages that are slow to load on a mobile device.
Heatmap tools like ClickTale or Crazy Egg help visualize how visitors interact with your site.
According to Andrew Martin, senior inbound marketing executive at Cambridge University Press, “I use Crazy Egg for exploring where users click or swipe and how far they scroll, segmenting that data based on a number of facets, including device type. Unlike Google Analytics’ reporting, this tool shows users’ clicks regardless of whether it actually is clickable, so you can see what users actually did. It helps to modify designs to meet user expectations and improve call-to-actions. In one case, we discovered that a simple icon on our site that wasn’t clickable needed to be clickable, because a heavy percentage of users were ignoring the text and clicking on an inactive icon.”
2. A/B and multivariate testing
A/B and multivariate testing allows companies to test out hypotheses like, “What works best for links icons or text?” Half the visitors are shown the changed page, while the rest are shown the original.
A host of tools can be used for A/B testing. Some tools can be integrated with heatmaps for greater insight. Use A/B and multivariate testing to prove the case for mobile and utilize web analytics to highlight key pages that are popular with mobile visitors or are slow to load and have mobile usability issues.
Make this page or these pages mobile-friendly by reducing image sizes, using legible font, making links clickable and easy to tap, and formatting content into a single column. Perhaps start with your contacts page by introducing click-to-call/email/navigate features.
3. Social media accounts
While social tools don’t tend to distinguish between mobile and PC users, they are still a rich source of data. There are a plethora of paid and free tools to help manage your presence and listen to what people are saying about your brand or related topics.
One tool that is useful when building profiles and personas is DemographicsPro; it mines your Twitter or Instagram account for insight into your followers’ occupations, demographics, interests, and favorite brands.
4. Keyword analysis
Keywords are not just for SEO; people search differently on mobile devices than on PCs and searches tend to be more relevant to their particular context or current situation.
As of 2014, mobile surpassed desktop for searches with local intent, according to BIA/Kelsey.
Increasingly SEO/keyword tools – like Moz and Google – differentiate between mobile and desktop searches. Knowing the search phrases used helps to identify mobile users’ goals, enabling you to better plan content and navigation.
Cyrus Shepard, director of audience development at Moz says, “Google’s mobile-friendly update ranks mobile-friendly pages differently in their mobile search results. This means you can rank well for desktop searches and miserably for mobile, based entirely on what your competition is doing. That’s why we now measure two separate sets of results when tracking our keyword rankings; mobile and desktop. When we find large discrepancies between the two, we know there’s room for improvement.
People typically search for things on mobile that are far different from what they search for on desktop. Yet most of us still optimize our pages for a single browsing experience. When researching keywords, it’s important to look at the different volumes for search queries across multiple devices as well as different intents. For example, mobile search queries are more often associated with a local intent – for example, ‘Pizza shops near me.’ It’s important to understand this data and optimize your pages accordingly.”
5. Email, SMS, QR codes and other sources of data
Research suggests that email is frequently, or even primarily, opened on mobile devices. Not only does this mean that your email newsletter should be optimized for mobile, but it also it provides you with a valuable source of data including the proportion of emails opened on mobile devices, and what content and promotions they click most.
Adding QR codes to print outdoor or in-store marketing is a good way to gauge customers’ interest in mobile engagement and to test out different mobile web landing pages.
Similarly use SMS programs for insights. Study the readiness to opt-ins for alerts e.g. for delivery details or promotions; the click-through rates for various offers; and behavior on the mobile landing page.
6. Surveys, focus groups, and interviews
While automated tools are excellent for delivering consumer insights, there is no substitute for actually asking people about what they actually think or want. The easiest and quickest way to do this is via a short multiple-choice survey on the website or mailed to the opt-in email or SMS database.
It’s possible to ask simple questions about demographics, mobile use, mobile experiences, or the purpose for a visit. However, because surveys are typically quantitative and answers must be yes/no or multiple choice, designing surveys that elicit the right answers to the right questions can be challenging.
Ideally you want a web survey tool that can distinguish between device types or – even better – target mobile devices alone. Unfortunately finding this might be a challenge (recommendations in the comments will be appreciated). For instance, SurveyMonkey’s Website Collectors tool doesn’t even work on mobile devices (though SurveyMonkey tells us it is possible with a hack).
Qualitative research solicits people’s opinions in their own words. Rather than being restricted to multiple choice answers, this may involve focus groups, face-to-face interviews, and fly-on-the-wall observations, but it can also be collected through online feedback forms. Do note that administration and processing responses tends to be more expensive than quantitative research.
A number of companies are reinventing web feedback as “the voice of the customers.” Usabilla, a Dutch software as a service company, places floating feedback tags within the margin of each page that, when clicked, invites visitors to give feedback about a specific part of the page, such as reporting a bug or a comment about the site.
The form gives invites a smiley face rating, then a feedback box, followed by a final radio-button response to do things like rate site speed or share a recommendation.
7. Additional internal and external data sources
All this research should be weighed up against the customer data and amassed through all other channels, including loyalty programs, email sign-ups, media campaigns, and sales records – like retail, phone, mail-order or through distribution and so on – to check, enhance and/or compare demographics, behavioral profiling, and so forth.
Similarly, comparisons with aggregate data about people who fit the customer profile from third-parties, such as comScore or Nielson, can highlight issues or opportunities.
What to do with it
Once you have amassed and analyzed your treasure trove of data, you need to turn it into something meaningful that all stakeholders will understand. These are common approaches.
Market segmentation slices up the company’s customer base or target market into chunks of people with a similar characteristics and similar requirements.
So the Web customer base can be broadly sliced between those that engage via mobile, those that do not, and those that are multichannel. Of the mobile and multichannel audience, segmentation can occur along demographics (sex, age, occupation, location), mobile characteristics or device types, and behavioral data (pages visited, email opt-ins, or purchases).
Personas – sometimes called pen portraits – are the embodiment of the segments identified above, combined with the use cases below. These are often given names and photographs, with a short biography or description pinned to notice boards.
Personas help focus people’s attention on and create empathy with core customer types, as they develop marketing or customer-facing technology. They are commonly found in IT or marketing departments and are often jealously guarded.
The following table will help you build personas. It was provided by Steve Rayson, the director of BuzzSumo, which is a social media tool for identifying the most shared content by topic or publisher.
3. Use cases and user journeys (or customer journeys)
Use cases identify the purpose of the mobile users visit. These will be unique to your business and may not match business expectations. For example, in retail, the obvious use case is finding and buying a product online, but there could be many other reasons including researching a purchase to be made in the retail store, searching for a coupon, checking for in-store product availability or price, or searching for details regarding physical store locations, opening times, or contact details.
Once the use cases are identified, the user journey tracks the mobile user’s progression towards that goal; it establishes if process was achieved and, if so, assesses if it was easy, pleasant, and as efficient as possible.
Similarly, if mobile site is just part of a much more complicated customer journey, perhaps ending in purchase in the retail store, then the analysis will focus on optimizing mobile’s role in the process.
As Perform’s Russell Stopford explains, “We use pen portraits. We use pictures of people who represent the segment and test the hypothesis of segmentation through market research. Similarly, we hypothesize use cases and then test rigorously during the user-research and testing phase. It’s the testing that really helps us understand the use case and thus the user journey.”
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