Doing research with limited resources

The value of user research in content design is something we talk about often.

It can help you to:

  • understand your users and their habits,
  • make sure the content you write is meeting your user’s needs,
  • know where your content might be failing.

It’s easy enough to tell content people to do user research. We understand its role and importance in helping create better content. But one challenge content people might face is how to do valuable research when they don’t have access to many resources.

If this is you, it might be because:

  • you don’t have access to a user research team,
  • your organisation doesn’t have platforms set up, like Google Analytics,
  • senior people in your organisation don’t see the value,
  • you don’t feel like you have the time or capacity to do research yourself.

Doing research now saves time later

With hard deadlines and pressure from stakeholders, you might be in a time crunch with designing content. We’ve all been there. Doing research now might feel like it’s taking crucial time away from creating content.

The easiest option is to forget the research and start writing based on best guesses of what content should include. But I’ve found doing that can often lead to business needs outweighing user needs.

Doing research will benefit everyone in the long run when it comes to reviewing old content and writing new content, as you will start to build a wider picture of who your audience is and what they need from you.

The good news is you don’t need a dedicated research team to find out about your users. There’s several things you can do which will help you create better, more informed content.

Plan in research time

If you take the time at the start of a content project to do research, it can make writing the easy part.

When starting out on a content project make sure you plan in time at the beginning to do research. This doesn’t need to be long and should be proportionate to the work you’re doing. You can start to discover a lot about your users within just a couple hours of research.

Make use of free online resources

While having a user research team to carry out interviews can be one of the best ways to gather information about your audience, it’s not the only way.

You can do desk research by using websites like:

These websites can give you quick insights in the language people are using and the questions they are asking. Within a few searches you will be able to start gathering common trends about your users.

You can also look at other websites who have a similar audience to you. This isn’t so you can just copy and paste their content, but so you can see the type of information they cover and:

  • decide what to cover in your own content,
  • decide when it’s best to signpost to other resources.

There might also be existing research from different organisations freely available which could help you get a better understanding of your audience.

Use knowledge within your organisation

Sometimes the biggest source of information about your audience can come from the people sitting next to you.

Make use of people in your organisation who are connected with your users. This might include:

  • helpline staff,
  • customer experience teams,
  • volunteers,
  • sales colleagues,
  • social media teams,
  • policy advisers.

Working with your users every day will have given them insights into common problems and questions they face. It could also help with identifying content gaps that need to be covered.

Getting these people involved and asking them for their insights can be invaluable, and sometimes only takes a meeting. But remember to make sure you differentiate between business needs and user needs when getting insights from internal people.

Plan for the long term

If your organisation doesn’t have tools set up, like Google Analytics, you should look at getting simple versions in place. You’ll then be able to start building a picture of user behaviour on your website over longer periods of time.

Once you feel like you’ve gotten to grips with the user research methods available to you, make it a long term goal to create better practices. This could be by improving your Google Analytics account so it tracks more data, or by documenting processes for doing consistent research in content projects. It could also be by regularly speaking to senior stakeholders to show them how the research you’ve done has improved the content you’ve created and the user experience.

Jack Garfinkel wrote a great blog post covering some of the ways you can measure your content.

Research can push your content to be better than ever. And it’s ok to not know everything, a little research is better than nothing.

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