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User research

Knowing your users will help you create better web content.

User research is the process of studying your web users, including their:

  • needs and motivations;
  • behaviour on your website; and
  • context in which they're accessing information, including life and work influences.
The more you know about your users, the more likely you are to be able to create web content that meets their needs. 

When should you conduct user testing? 

It is essential to conduct user testing before any major changes to your content or if you're launching a new website. 

If your team has capacity, conducting user testing on a regular basis is a good idea. We can help you create a user testing plan. 


Talk to the communications contact for your program (internal link) before starting any major web projects, including conducting user testing or hiring consultants. If it seems like the right time to conduct user testing, we'll go through a four-step process together. 

Your tasks
  • Keep an open mind. Don’t make any assumptions about your users.
  • Learn about the different types of web testing. 
  • Define your project purpose, audiences and resources. 

Our task

  • Listen to you and help you define your project purpose, audience and resource.

Your tasks

Our tasks
  • Assist you in interpreting your web analytics. 
  • Recommend testing options available to you.
  • Refine the testing scenarios and questions you drafted. 
  • Give you possible timelines for the project. 
  • Provide guidance on how to run web strategy surveys or focus groups. 

Your task

  • Run surveys or focus groups if needed.

Our task


Your tasks

  • Email the results of your survey or focus groups if you have any.
  • Implement any changes recommended from user research.
  • Communicate web changes to stakeholders, including reminding them to update bookmarks if there are URL changes. 
Our tasks
  • Provide reports, review results and recommend changes.
  • Work with you on a plan for any structural changes for your webpages or a new website build. 
  • Help you prepare a URL re-direct plan if need be. 

Different types

Each research method has its intended purpose, similar to how a hammer is great at hitting nails, but terrible at cutting wood. 

Read the accordions below to learn more about different user research methods currently available. We'll help you determine the best options for your project.

Focus groups are in-person, moderated dicussions.

Why we use them

  • Typically conducted before other types of testing.
  • Gain an understanding of your audience and their needs. 
  • Find the words they use when interacting with your site. 
  • Uncover pain points for your users.
  • Find out how and when they interact with your website. 
Roles and responsibilities 

We’ll help you plan the focus groups. You and your team will conduct them. 


Surveys are questionnaires filled out by users. They're often conducted online, but can be done in-person and on paper. 

Why we use them
  • Receive quick, basic feedback on an existing site. 
  • Evaluate or validate changes you made.
Roles and responsibilities
  • We’ll help you formulate the survey. You’ll promote and conduct the survey. 

In tree-testing, participants are given scenario questions online and asked to navigate through the structure of your site. 

Why we use it

  • Learn how users interact with your current or proposed navigation. 
  • Use to validate ideas you have for your structure.
Roles and responsibilities 
This testing requires special software. We’ll work with you to: 
  • Determine the different audience groups you want to test with – e.g. health provider, patient, family etc.
  • Define the tasks you’ll be asking the participants to do. 
  • Send link out to your group(s) of testers.

During card-sorting, participants sort provided topic cards (typically the name of webpages) into groups so you can see how they would expect to see your info. There are three types: open, closed and hybrid. 

Why we use it

  • ‎Generate new ideas for the structure and labelling of your webpages

Roles and responsibilities

  • The roles and responsibilities will change depending on whether the card-sorting is done online or in-person with physical cards.  


Google Analytics provides statistics and analytical tools for websites. You can learn about your website's traffic including: 

  • The number of people looking at your pages
  • Percentage of people using mobile devices versus desktop
  • How your users are accessing your webpage, be it from search engines or other websites

The PHSA Google Analytics teamsite (internal link) provides instructions on how to use the dashboard set up for PHSA websites. ‎


Ready to start user research?

Don't forget, you need approval from your local communications representative  before we begin user research. If you're ready: 

  1. Fill out the web user reseach toolkit
  2. Email it to

External resources

We have a list of helpful links if you're interested in learning more about user research. Please keep in mind the subtle difference between the terms "service design", "usability research" and "user research".  

Service design can focus on digital services, but can also include in-person service delivery.

User research is about getting to know your web users.

Usability research is interaction-focused. It's about learning how your audience uses your website on a functional level.   

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