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UX Audits: Why do them?

There comes a time when every website requires a bit of love and attention. This could range from a fundamental update or small tweaks applied to elements of the interface. Prior to undertaking such a task, it’s quite common to carry out a UX audit.

What are UX audits?

Simply put, a user experience audit evaluates the website/application/program (for the purpose of this article I’ll use a website as the example) in question, finding areas of weakness or strength.

Various tools, methods and metrics can be used to analyse where a website is going wrong (or right). These can include:

  • Sales data and conversion metrics
  • Heatmaps
  • Traffic and engagement
  • Analytical information
  • Best practices
  • UI patterns
  • Mental modelling

As the audit tends to take place using a live environment, it usually tests a number of tools and elements on the site. Compare this with a usability test where problems tend to arise from user actions specifically, and the differences start to become clear.

What can they tell you?

UX audits are incredibly useful at informing site owners (usually) where aspects of their site is not performing, and evaluating why this may be the case.

A correctly structured UX audit not only outlines issues, it also provides insight on how to resolve them. This could be achieved by proposing a mock up design, a wireframe journey or providing simple examples along the way. For example:

This button would be clearer if the text on it were ‘Contact us’ rather than ‘Click here’“.

Who should carry out an audit?

An impartial viewpoint is beneficial when carrying these audits out. When users become familiar with an interface, they see past the problems involved with it.

As an example, it wouldn’t be beneficial for me to carry out a review on the Glasgow Science Centre website, as I was heavily involved in creating the interface. I could spot elements that don’t behave as expected, but I’m so familiar with the interface that my judgement would ultimately be clouded.

Let’s use another example. The hamburger menu. Many companies use it. Many people know what it is. However, changing to a different layout may benefit users without them knowing it.

If someone uses an app on a daily basis (lets call this fictional app BookFace) and accesses the menu through the hamburger, then they are not going to realise there’s a better way. They have become a creature of habit.

However, implement a change in UI so that the menu is fixed to the bottom of aforementioned users screen, and they’ll soon welcome the change.

Luke Wroblewski - Obvious always wins
Luke Wroblewski – Obvious always wins

Prior to this change being implemented, it’s likely a UX audit was carried out explaining the benefits of repurposing the menu. The change was then tested, iterated upon and put live.

The Results?

  • The user is happy. They don’t have to tap to open the menu drawer. It’s just there in front of them now. Less effort is required
  • Mr BookFace is happy. The engagement and discovery metrics increase
  • The UX auditor is happy. The changes he/she suggested are having a positive impact on the end user
  • Everyone is happy. Apart from the hamburger icon. He’s not happy. He’s gone.

What is needed for an audit?

Let’s assume that the website is a given. After that, there are a few useful bits of information to know before starting

  • What is the purpose of the audit? – To increase sales, conversions, signups, visit duration or just a ‘what do you think’ exercise
  • A time limit – Without one, the auditor could go into great detail and depth where the client only wanted a brief overview.

What tends to be tested?

In my experience, when carrying out an audit, a number of elements are tested:

  • How the interface looks – does it match the expectation of the websites users? Is it aligned somewhat with competition in the sector? Is the same font used throughout?
  • The language used – Is it explaining what the website does?
  • Do elements on the site behave as expected?
  • Does the system provide appropriate messaging? (error, success etc)
  • Do fields conform with user expectations? Is a date selector used for birthday or just a text field?
  • That functional elements of the interface perform their tasks as expected. For example, filtering items on a catalogue
  • That the relationship between controls and their actions is obvious
  • Much more…

The limit for an audit is endless. A time limit tends to determine the detail that will be given to the audit.

How is it reported?

UX audits are delivered in a document format. The document is split into several sections, usually based on the structure of the site. Images, links, drawings sketches, resources and quotes are used throughout the document to explain the rationale of findings.

An audit costs money. Is it worth it?

Whilst there may be an initial outlay in getting a UX audit carried out, the changes and suggestions that are made in it could enhance the experience for years to come.

Iterating the designs and interfaces based on the audit suggestions means they are constantly evolving and – more than likely – improving. Improvement tends to lead towards positive metrics. Positive metrics lead towards increased engagement. Engagement leads towards revenue. Revenue pays for the initial audit.

Should you carry out a UX audit?

Yes. Regardless of how new or old, failing or succeeding, UX audits uncover aspects of a web site that may well have gone un-noticed. An impartial perspective on how your website works will benefit everyone.