Online panel research can be utilized as a fast, fun and affordable way to gain insight about the user-friendliness of your website. It's a type of online research that utilizes actual site visitor participation or 'simulated panel' of like user bases in pre-planned, online research sessions.
Also referred to as listening panels, online panel research can simplify your web research needs by combining a Q&A sessions with interactive elicitation methods. Results are collected online in real-time, providing you with speedy, accurate insights that can be immediately acted upon.
Benefits of Online Panel Research
1. Aid in the development of a website, landing page, banner ad, or online demo
2. Identify information architecture or navigation nomenclature
3. Explore consumer needs, values, thoughts, and opinions
4. Test your creative designs prior to launch
5. Save time and money by identifying potential design & functionality flaws in advance
Usability expert, Craig Tomlin, had this to share about the importance of testing a site's design, "Because the primary interaction that takes place on your site is one-way visual, you must be zealous in your attempts to understand and evaluate how well you are communicating perceived affordance. Testing and optimization of elements that impact perceived affordance should be your number one goal, because it directly impacts your conversion rates, and thus your web site’s ROI."
Types of Online Panel Research Services
Sort-It: Participants are presented with a series of labeled cards and asked to sort them into like groups. They can also add their own cards and name the groups. Sort-It is an ideal first step in designing a website's information architecture, determining a site's navigation nomenclature, and optimizing a site for SEO.
"Information architecture and labeling should be the result of card sorts and ethnographic research regarding the typical user’s mental map of the content & flow," say Tomlin. "Matching the mental map of the users with the main navigation and drop downs is one of the most important ways to ensure good usability and a satisfying user experience."
Brainstorm-It: Participants are asked to list as many items as they can think of (within an optional time limit) around a designated question or topic. For example, a home loans website might ask an online panel to list all the content, features or actions they would expect to find on a mortgage website. This exercise can be an excellent first step in understanding user preferences such as website goals & needs, feature-functionality, information achitechture, navigation nomenclature, and identifying keywords that will resonate with both humans and search engine bots.
Divide-It: Participants are asked to spend virtual money for 'items' they value over other items. Each dollar spent on one item is a dollar they cannot spend on other items. Forcing the test subject to make hard choices can yield better research results, and better decision-making on your part. Divide-It can also be modified to help your determine the best price points for your products or services by eliciting consumer responses to hypothetical price points.
Stick-It: Understand how consumers react to a creative image--be it a website design, banner ad, landing page or some other creative marketing asset. Test subjects drag pre-made sticky notes, or create their own stickies, to express how they feel. They can even choose where to place the stickie on your design, which can provide added feedback on your designs. Think of Stick-It as human A/B testing of your designs.
As you can see, online panel research can make website research interactive and informative by utilizing fun elicitation methods. So what are you waiting for? Hire a usability consultant or find an online panel research firm to help you gain insights into your site visitor behavior.
Tomlin concurs, "Need a leg-up on your competition? Carefully examine the usability and functionality of your high level marketing pages with a detailed usability test, knowing that finding and fixing minor annoyances or functional issues could have beneficial impact on your conversion."