Web Site Focus Groups 101

Est. Reading Time: 4 minutes

Focus groups can be a really helpful tool for gathering feedback about your current and future web site design, features and functionality.  It is an opportunity for the stakeholders of a project to quickly gather a sampling of visitors’ opinions and feelings about things.  My favorite author on web site usability, Steve Krug (author of “Don’t Make Me Think, A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability“), recommends focus groups in the following situations:

Focus groups can be great for determining what your audience wants, needs, and likes—in the abstract. They’re good for testing whether the idea behind the site makes sense and your value proposition is attractive. And they can be a good way to test the names you’re using for features of your site, and to find out how people feel about your competitors.

Here are several important dos and don’ts to remember:

  1. DO plan to have focus groups very early in the project.   It is a lot more costly to change direction after the coding has begun!
  2. DO keep the group to under 10 people or so (5-8 is ideal)
  3. DON’T let one individual dominate the conversation
  4. DO start with some “ground rules” like these (so that you DON’T end up with #3!)
    • There are no right or wrong answers!
    • Everyone is free to express their opinion
    • Everyone’s opinion is valuable and shall be respected
    • Session will be recorded so that all ideas and thoughts can be captured
    • Participation is voluntary.  You do not have to answer any question you do not wish to answer.  You may leave at any time you wish.
    • The information that you provide today will be shared with the management team in order to improve the current web site’s design and functionality
  5. DO clearly explain the purpose of the focus group:

    The purpose of this session is to gather feedback about customer’s experiences with regard to web sites in general as well as specifically the current web site. We are interested in what you like and don’t like about both the current web site and other sites that we will discuss.

    We hope that participants will feel free to discuss their thoughts in an open and constructive manner. Your input is important as we make improvements to the web site in the coming year. We very much appreciate your participation in this process!

  6. DO present everyone in the room to the participants and their reason for being there.  Provide contact information for at least one of the moderators of the group so that if participants have questions/concerns (or maybe further feedback!), they know who to contact.
  7. DON’T make the scheduled meeting time too short.  I’d advise no less than two hours and probably safe to plan for three and end early if necessary.  Scheduling too little time only makes people urgent to leave and may limit their participation in order to keep the meeting short.
  8. DO ask participants to complete an anonymous survey related to their web site usage and habits (“Do you primarily access the Internet from work or home?”, “Have you ever purchased a product on the Internet”).  Though you might not be able to specifically connect their open comments in the discussion phase to their surveys, you’ll be able to tell if the group as a whole fits in the target audience of your web site.
  9. DO allow the participants to provide their contact information if they wish on the survey.  If they liked participating in the session, they might be willing to do a follow-up with you later, when the site is fully developed.
  10. DON’T talk too much!  Given a few open-ended questions, most people are more than happy to share their opinions with you (and more!).  Don’t lead them too much or results will be skewed.

Other Resources

Need help setting up a focus group session for your web site or redesign project and/or want Beacon Technologies to moderate it?  Contact us now!