User research should be the basis of every website development process, from setting goals and mapping user expectations to testing the website. There is a wide range of methods for communicating with users and getting their feedback.
Integrating customer feedback analysis to everyday work is an excellent idea. Nuffic (The Netherlands) benefited from asking customers over the phone how they succeeded or failed in finding information on the website (see The Netherlands 2). Local Contact Points can provide a lot of information about the usability of both portal navigation and content.
Additionally, we recommend putting an online survey or feedback form on your portal. As discussed in the Best Practice Portal workshop organised as part of the EURAXESS TOP Project last September 2010, website users are more eager to answer our questions if these are focused on current matters. For example, the feedback form should ask specifically about the usefulness of the content on the relevant page; more general surveys tend to get fewer responses. A risk analysis (see Romania) can help identify areas that need special attention or further development.
Although we do not recommend relying too heavily on user intermediaries, they can still benefit your portal. In Norway the use of advisory groups, made up of stakeholders, has turned out to be useful; they help to set website goals and ensure that the portal covers the most relevant topics (see Norway 1 and Norway 2).
Before making further improvements to your portal, we recommend conducting focus groups with potential users (see Italy 2) or sending out surveys. To develop a search function, the Academic Transfer (The Netherlands) questioned 30 students to identify the most appropriate keywords and user interface (see The Netherlands 1). The international scope of the EURAXESS network gives you the opportunity to contact ESCs abroad and ask them to look for local researchers who are willing to test your portal or answer your survey.
As most of the national portals have installed Google Analytics, we recommend making an effort to get useful data out of this powerful statistics tool. Setting traffic goals in Google Analytics and performing regular analyses is a good starting point. Since mastering Google Analytics may take quite some time, we recommend outsourcing to an expert to set up the analytics. Based on the statistics, you can improve your navigation, content and design decisions (see Spain 1 for working with Google Analytics and Spain 5 for an example of how to use the portal to gather statistics from ESCs and LoCPs).