Research is a crucial step in web design and planning. Different methods of web research offer invaluable insight and data for websites. Web research data allows for effective site improvement, maintenance and redesign. I offer research to optimize page structure, appearance, user retention and site views and more. The methods used include:
Competitive analysis is simply a method of looking at similar or competitor websites, and seeing what they did right and wrong. It is a good source of both new ideas and of what not to do when designing your own site.
Heuristic analysis, a la Jakob Nielsen, involves having a knowledgeable expert in the field look at the project and give recommendations. It is one of the quickest ways to get quality feedback about a website.
Card sorting is a research method used for organizing pages, navigation and sections of a website. It involves having objective volunteers group the pages of a website by page title, according to their own logic.
When performed with enough participants, the aggregate results of a card sort exercise will offer a good idea of how average users will expect to use the site, and where they expect to find things. Page structure and navigation can then be made accordingly.
Usability studies also utilize objective participants, either volunteer or paid. The participants are given a set of specific tasks to complete on the website. They complete these tasks under observation by a researcher. Notes are taken on any difficulties, and the session is recorded for posterity.
Usability research can expose deeper problems with a website that the above methods are not as useful for finding.