You might not have time or budget for full user testing. Here are three practical ways to get the info you need, quickly and on the cheap.

Content strategy begins with what your users want. No matter what type of website, users are visiting because they want to GET something: a piece of information, an interaction, a consumer good delivered straight to their front door. Knowing what your users need and want is the first and most critical step in designing a content strategy that will work.

So how do you get at this information? Most people would tell you that you need hundreds of hours of user testing. But, what if you don’t have the budget for that?

User testing is one way to learn more about your users. And there is no doubt that direct contact with your customer base will inform you to create and produce better content. But, you can find out this information without asking them—in fact, the data is right at your fingertips.

Here are three tried and true suggestions for learning more about your users:

1. Analytics

This is the gold standard for understanding user behavior on your site. Watch the way they move through your website. Pay attention to the bounce rates. See where they are clicking. No, it’s not the same as sitting there and asking them. But, it does give you clues as to easily travelled pathways to information, and pathways that seem to create obstacles. When you look at those pages, it may be obvious to you why they are bouncing.

2. Surveys

I’m not a huge fan of the electronic survey, but you may be able to offer something to a user who takes it -- maybe five percent off their next order with a special code. In any case, be clear you need information about improving your content and this is how long the survey will take.

For example:

Take our 3-minute survey to help us improve our website content.

For your time, we will give you a discount code worth 10% off your next purchase!

When constructing the survey, pick a real problem whose solution has evaded your team, or that your analytics have exposed. DO NOT write a survey that will attempt to get at every content problem you have. This is a waste of time. Remember that specificity is what you're after here.

Examples of things to focus on include:

  • this landing page isn’t converting
  • no one is requesting a print brochure
  • few people are commenting on your blog posts

Craft the questions and the answers such that you will get the information you need. Don’t ask: “Why didn’t you click on this link?” Instead: “Was it clear that this link would take you to the page where you can buy our product”? Or “Which label is clearer for you?” Give multiple choice options.

3. Tap the People Who Talk to the Website Users

Your sales staff, phone banks, customer complaint emails, etc. There’s so much FREE information out there -- you just need to find a way to tap into it.

I worked for the federal government for six years, and for part of my day I answered the customer service lines for the website. Talking to those users everyday forced me to log each and every call.

By examining the calls at the end of the month, we were able to spot troublesome patterns with our content, and we redesigned and rewrote pages. Without that information coming directly from our site users, I would have never known which pages on the site to target for improvement.

Someone in your organization has that information -- find out who they are and talk to them about the recurring problems. If possible, develop a long term channel for this information. It can be invaluable.

Do you have other tricks and tips? Tell us (in the comments) how you've successfully foraged for content strategy data in your organization.