Usability Research 101 for Solopreneurs


You’ve started your own business, and you’re doing everything right.

  • You started your email list.
  • You created an e-course.
  • You offer freebies and goodies for visitors and subscribers.
  • You created landing pages for your products and services.
  • You put some money behind ads on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.
  • You set up Google Analytics.

So that’s it, right? Now you can just relax, and look at the numbers — visitors, subscribers, customers, dollars — as they roll in.

But we both know that your target audience isn’t simply a number or a price tag. What if your efforts aren’t resulting in the success you imagined?

My guess is that it’s because you’re forgetting one key piece of the puzzle: research.

Everyone who is trying to run a business that is largely web-based (even if you’re selling physical products) needs to embrace usability research.

Usability research is the process of finding out how people are interacting and using your website or digital tool.

How do you find this out? By asking them.

I am an evangelist for mixed-methods research: meaning, I want to understand the what (numbers and analytics) AND the why (decision-making and thought process). Analytics don’t tell me the whole story, so I can supplement that by talking to people.

So here’s how you, as a solopreneur or side-hustler, can test your products and services to make your dent in the universe.

Usability research basics

  • Be a guerrilla researcher. UX researcher and trailblazer Jaime Levy conducts what she calls “guerrilla user tests.” She’ll set up shop in a cafe, and recruit people on Craigslist to come in and talk with her team about an idea. While I don’t necessarily recommend using Craigslist, you can make research a simple conversation with another person in a comfortable environment. That’s essentially all it is!
  • Write simple notes. You don’t need to employ complex statistical analysis on your feedback; simply write basic notes that are meant for you. I also recommend using screen-recording software (like Quicktime) and a recording app on your phone, or you can recruit a friend to take notes while you chat with the participant.
  • Stick to small sample groups. Effective results can come from groups as small as 5 people. When you do in-person (or remote live video) usability tests, you don’t need to do it with 1,000 people. In fact, 5 to 8 people is the recommended amount of people per usability test. Their feedback is enough for you to make changes to your website or service.
  • Be an exceptional listener. When you are talking with someone face-to-face, you’ll want to be as objective as possible. This means listening more than talking. You may hear input from the participant that you disagree with and want to clarify, but it helps to think of it like this: what would they think/do about X if I wasn’t sitting in front of them?

Start with these two usability tests

Once you start understanding the importance and necessity of testing, it can quickly become overwhelming. Instead of falling down the rabbit hole, start by conducting these two types of tests.

The discovery process

How are people finding you or your brand? Sure, you can spend hours trudging away at SEO, and it’s certainly important to make sure that you know which keywords work best for your brand. However, what’s really insightful is asking someone how they would search for a service like yours. What words would they use? Do these words differ from the types of keywords you swear by?

Because our searches are impacted by our activity on the web, observe what shows up when people search for your brand on Google (or Bing, or whatever search engine you use). What you see and what they see often differ, and this can give you some perspective on what you can add to your website to bump up your discoverability.

Observe how people navigate on your website or landing page

Landing page optimization sounds stuffy and technical, but all it really means is: how easy is it for visitors to achieve the goal? The goal may be signing up for your newsletter, registering for your e-course, or buying your product. Are there additional steps or pages getting in the way of the checkout process? Are there too many fields in the form they need to fill out? (For example, your newsletter signup likely doesn’t need an address and phone number field.)

Ready to start your usability research journey? Download the free accompanying workbook with recommended questions to ask during your tests.