User experience (UX) audits are an essential part of any UX improvement project. You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken.
Considering that customer experience is now the key differentiator factor between competitors across all industries, your UX can literally make or break your company’s success during the design process.
In this guide, we show you what a UX audit is, how it can affect product design, when you should do it, and exactly how to do it thoroughly to yield data-driven recommendations for your UX and product team.
What is a UX audit?
A UX audit, also known as a usability audit or user interface audit, is a process designed to evaluate a software platform, mobile application, or website in order to discover any issues or confusion that users might face. UX audits require qualitative research in the form of user interviews as well as quantitative data like product analytics, website analytics, and workflow completion metrics.
Some common types of UX audit reports include:
Web app UX audits
Mobile app UX audits
Ecommerce website UX audits
Desktop app UX audits
IoT app UX audits
The purpose of a UX audit is to discover any major issues that could impact revenue and business goals, as well as to find small areas for improvement or redesign that will improve product stickiness. UX audits seek to uncover difficulties in navigation while also diving deeper into what users’ behavior can reveal about future development needs.
By conducting a heuristic evaluation, a team familiar with the product and the niche can assess the interface in the context of the user journey to provide actionable recommendations to help the product better comply with standard principles of usability. This is the heart of the user experience audit.
Unlike competitive analysis and market research, UX research is usually not focused on making big changes to a product’s core set of features and functionality. Rather, UX research attempts to discover how core functionality can be improved through design and layout tweaks and elimination of bottlenecks. However, during the research process, a UX auditor might come up with feature recommendations.
When to do a usability audit
When should you do a usability audit? There are several times when it’s a smart call. Here are some of them:
When your onboarding metrics are poor - Unimpressed with your freemium or free trial funnel metrics? If your user activation rate is below 15% (meaning that only 15% of new users take action and receive value from your product), there might a UX issue standing in the way.
When your retention suffers - Maybe your onboarding seems to be working just fine, but your app or website retention is not what it should be. If you’re dealing with an unhealthy amount of churn, frustration with your UX could be the cause. Users might be wowed by the better user experiences provided by your competitors.
When considering migrating or rebuilding an app - Sometimes, a product team has to deal with the major hassle of modernizing an application. Maybe you’re ready to rebuild your app in a lightweight framework like Laravel or Node.js. When you’re staring down the barrel of a rebuild, you should begin with a UX audit of your current application so you have a smart starting point for your new wireframes and prototype. You’ll discover and resolve a lot of issues before you even start developing the new app.
When customers are complaining about your UX - Maybe UX is a common pain point amongst your customers. Unless your audience is technical, they won’t complain about your “UX” directly. Instead they might submit customer service tickets with things like “this is hard to find” or “I can’t figure out how to do XYZ”—all complaints that signal problems in the customer journey. If you’re getting the same sorts of questions over and over again, your UX is probably to blame.
As part of your biannual app maintenance - You don’t have to wait until there are fires to put out before you audit your user experience. Your UX designer or UX researcher can audit UX routinely, such as twice per year. The more frequently you conduct UX audits, the better your team will be at systematizing the process and coming up with data-driven recommendations.
What are the limitations of a UX audit?
A UX audit could go on forever. There are always more user sessions to watch, more customer support tickets to read, and more product data to analyze. But to be helpful to the business, there needs to be some limitations and restraints around the research process so that the UX audit team can move on to making recommendations. You can limit your UX audit based on time—for example give yourself 2 or 3 weeks to collect and review data. Or, you can set a specific number of items you’ll review for each category, such as 50 user session recordings and 20 UX interviews.
In terms of the issues you can discover and the problems you can solve, there truly are no limitations.
A UX audit can help you…
Proactively lower the number of customer support tickets your team receives
Discover issues that are contributing to churn
Adjust your product strategy according to user feedback
Make your product more enjoyable to use than your competitors’ products
What are the types of a UX audit?
UX audits play a crucial role in evaluating and improving the user experience of digital products and services. They provide valuable insights into the strengths and weaknesses of a user interface, allowing businesses to make data-driven decisions to enhance user satisfaction.
There are several different types of UX audits, each with its own benefits and limitations.
Here are the 7 main types of UX audits:
1. Usability testing UX audits
Usability testing UX audits involve observing and analyzing how users interact with a product or service. You schedule virtual conference calls and observe users as they use various features. By setting up specific tasks and scenarios, researchers can observe users' actions within important product areas, gather feedback, and identify pain points. This type of audit mainly helps uncover usability issues, such as confusing navigation, unclear instructions, or functional errors, enabling designers to make informed improvements. However, sometimes users will offer overall product feedback and feature requests.
Pros and Cons: This type of UX audit is one of the most informative because you’re observing real behavior and finding UX pain points as they occur. But it’s also very time-consuming and if you don’t have a large user base, you might struggle to find enough users to agree to give you their time. If that happens, you can always incentive participation with gift cards.
2. Session recording UX audits
Session recording UX audits involve capturing and reviewing user sessions of your product. By recording user interactions, including mouse movements, clicks, and scrolling behavior, designers can gain insights into user behavior patterns and discover any confusion or frustration with the current UX. You can use a tool like Hotjar or to automatically record and watch these sessions.
Pros and Cons: In terms of benefits, session recordings allow for unfiltered feedback. By observing real behavior, you can find out exactly when users encounter difficulties. But because you can’t ask users questions or direct them to interact with a particular feature, it can be hard to gather data on the particular UX element or user flow you’re auditing.
3. User interview UX audits
User interview UX audits involve interviews with individuals who have used a product or service. Through open-ended discussions, UX designers can gain qualitative insights into user experiences, motivations, and pain points. User interviews help uncover valuable information that may not be easily observed through other audit methods, providing a deeper understanding of users' needs and expectations.
Pros and Cons: Users don’t always know what they need. If your target audience is non-technical, they might not be able to communicate their expectations for UX. However, user interviews can be helpful for collecting feature feedback and requests. But when it comes to UX audits, make sure to layer on another type of audit so you can discover UX issues.
4. Analytics research UX audits
Analytics research UX audits involve analyzing quantitative data collected from various sources, such as website analytics, product analytics, or user behavior tracking tools. By examining top-used features, user flow completion rates, and churn UX auditors can identify trends and uncover areas that require improvement.
Pros and Cons: This type of audit provides valuable insights for optimizing user flows and engagement. But if you have a small user base or you’re just starting out, you won’t be able to collect enough data to do this type of audit.
5. Heuristic evaluation UX audits
Heuristic evaluation UX audits involve assessing a product or service against a set of predefined usability principles or guidelines (typically Jakob Nielsen’s 10 usability heuristics). UX experts or evaluators review the interface and identify potential usability issues based on recognized best practices. This type of audit helps highlight areas that may require improvements in accessibility, information architecture, visual design, and interaction design.
Pros and Cons: With their predetermined criteria, heuristic evaluations make it a lot easier to be objective than if you were to examine your product without guidance. But even experienced UX auditors can struggle to be objective, particularly when they’re the ones who designed the product. So make sure to combine this type of internal audit with some form of user feedback.
6. Competitor research UX audits
Competitor research UX audits involve analyzing and benchmarking a product or service against its competitors. By exploring competitors' offerings, designers can gain insights into industry trends, identify unique features or experiences, and evaluate their own product's strengths and weaknesses. This type of audit helps in identifying opportunities for differentiation and improving the overall user experience.
Pros and Cons: It’s so important to take the time to look around at what your competitors are doing—and not just audit your own UX. You can discover where your competitors’ user flows and features are better than yours, and where your product excels. To make your research successful, try doing a heuristic analysis of your top 3 competitors. It can be hard to be objective though, so consider hiring a UX consultant to conduct the review for you.
7. New target user testing UX audits
You can also conduct UX audits to help you target new users. These types of UX audits involve testing a product with a specific target user group that’s different from your existing user base. By observing and gathering feedback from this new user segment, designers can identify potential barriers or areas for improvement that may have been overlooked.
Pros and Cons: With this UX audit, you can make your market expansion more successful by addressing UX issues before major marketing and sales campaigns. This type of audit can also ensure that the user experience is inclusive and caters to a diverse range of users. The only con is that it can be hard to recruit users, so make sure to have some sort of incentivization, such as a gift card or payment for their time.
Combining types of UX audits
For best results, you should combine a few different types of UX audits. For example, if you’re expanding into a new market, you might use new target user testing to learn how well your product satisfies the new target audience’s needs while also doing a heuristic evaluation of your current UX to make it better for your entire user base.
What happens during a UX audit?
As with any type of design audit, the bulk of the work lies in the research. UX auditors will spend dozens (if not hundreds) of hours pouring over user session recordings, interviewing users and members of the design team, and reviewing product data.
UX auditors, particularly those that audit more frequently, might also run UX optimization experiments and review the results of those experiments during the audit process. For example, a product manager might implement a solution (such as redesigning a user flow) from the previous audit. The UX auditor will review the results of that change and compare the results between the recent audits.
Who should do a UX audit?
UX audits can be undertaken by different roles, depending on the size and organization of the company. Very large digital or product teams might employ dedicated UX auditors or freelancers to supplement the existing team. This is particularly the case in ecommerce or other consumer companies, where UX issues can quickly result in millions of dollars in revenue loss.
At smaller companies and startups, and in B2B SaaS teams, UX audits are more commonly done by UX designers and UX researchers. Product managers might also conduct UX audits or partner with a UX designer or UX team to conduct one.
How do you conduct a usability audit?
Conducting a UX audit is a long process that can take one person a few weeks to complete. Here are the steps you’ll need to take to get it done.
1. Determine your criteria for a quality experience
The first step is to determine the criteria you’ll use to define a quality experience. This will make it easier to then know what sort of data to collect. It’s also important to get internal alignment on these criteria with the UX audit stakeholders. Before you move on to the next step, everyone should be in agreement about what matters to the target audience in terms of UX.
Usability heuristics - Developed in 1994, Jakob Nielsen’s 10 usability heuristics for UI design are still used today. UX designers rely on them to detect and describe usability issues. The 10 principles are: 1) Visibility of system stats; 2) Match between system and the real world; 3) User control and freedom; 4) Consistency and standards; 5) Error prevention; 6) Recognition rather than recall; 7) Flexibility and efficiency of use; 8) Aesthetic and minimalist design; 9) Helps users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors (referring to error messages); 10) Help and documentation.
Accessibility - Particularly for consumer digital products and experiences, accessibility is incredibly important. Companies need to determine how they will improve accessibility for the hearing impaired and seeing impaired, and the priority level this holds.
Metric benchmarks - Are there any benchmarks that you’re looking to see? Perhaps you want to see user activation, new user retention, and time-on-site per session hit specific benchmarks. Make sure to get alignment on which benchmarks matter so you know what data you need to collect.
Brand style - You’ll also need alignment on your brand guidelines. If there is no consensus on brand, it will be impossible for the UX auditor to identify potential brand mishaps. Make sure that you have very clear brand guidelines on hand so that issues can be more readily spotted.
With your criteria in place, it’s time to move on to the research roadmap.
2. Collect quantitative and qualitative data
This step is the most time-consuming piece of any UX audit.
Heuristic product evaluation - Keeping Jakob Nielsen’s 10 usability heuristics (listed above) in mind, do a run-through of the product from the perspective of every user type. If multiple users interact together, you’ll need to enlist the help of a colleague or two to act as different users. For example, if you’re testing a social media management platform, you might have one person act as the agency owner and the other as the client. Keep in mind that you need to review every element, from onboarding to error messages to product help documentation.
User testing and session recordings - User testing typically involves asking a user to engage with your product live while you watch what they do. This can be done in-person or virtually via Zoom or something similar. Or, you can watch recorded user sessions or collect screenshots to discover moments of rage clicks or confusion.
Current user interviews - You’ll also want to interview a representative batch of your current users. Ask them to share their screen and show you how they use the product. Ask them if they have any feedback, what they would like to see improved, and what they would miss the most if the website or app were to suddenly disappear. This will help you understand the opportunities and the non-negotiable core value of the product.
Target user interviews - You can also conduct stakeholder interviews of target users who are not users or customers yet. In a B2B environment, you’ll seek to understand their main pain points and what solution they currently use to address this. B2C companies will want to understand their favorite sites and games, why they like them, and what pet peeves they have when it comes to digital experiences.
Website analytics tools - Website analytics tools like Google Analytics and Hotjar can help you collect qualitative data about your user experience and start mapping out current benchmarks. You might want to discover which traffic channels offer the best conversion rates, which pages or features have the highest amount of traffic and interaction, and which pages and features are being abandoned.
Product analytics tools - Product analytics platforms go deeper than website analytics because they typically offer more features for understanding funnel metrics. For example, with Mixpanel, you can collect a variety of product metrics including activation rate, retention rate, average steps-to-completion for any user flow, feature completion rates, etc.
Optimization experiment data - If someone on the team is currently running UX experiments, you’ll also want to take a look at the recent results. These can help you make recommendations directly related to that feature or element as well as offer context and insight for related items.
QA testing data - Take a look at QA testing results from the last several sprints. You can look at common and large-impact bugs from both manual and automated QA testing in order to find trends and related issues.
Customer service data - You should also get in touch with the head of customer service or customer success at your company in order to access their reports. They likely have monthly data showing problematic features or areas of the website. You’ll want to spend extra attention testing and examining those areas.
Revenue metrics - You need to gain access to revenue metrics that might not be available in the website analytics or product analytics tools that you have access to. You’ll need access to conversion and retention data in order to quantify the severity of any known UX issues. For example, when you’re later presenting your findings, you can tie issues to direct revenue loss or calculate the ROI of potential improvements in onboarding.
Product owner interviews - Who’s the product visionary? Depending on the size and type of company, this might be the entrepreneur, product manager, chief of digital experience, or someone else. Make sure that you interview that person about their vision for UX and your company’s competitive advantage. This will help you when it comes to making overarching recommendations.
3. Validate and organize the data
By now, you’ve collected data in lots of different formats: interview notes and transcriptions, videos, spreadsheets, and reports.
It’s time organize that data in a way that will be easy to review in order to start coming to conclusions. You’ll also want this data easily accessible so that when the other stakeholders ask for proof and evidence of your findings, you’ll have that available.
Depending on what tools you and your company use to collaborate, you might make a Notion or ClickUp resource page to categorize and link to all of your research. Or, you might upload everything to a digital asset management system and ensure that it’s appropriately named and tagged.
As you organize your data, you should also be filling out a UX audit issue template for specific issues such as errors or user challenges. (We’ve put a template in Step 5, as this is largely part of the delivery stage. However, you might want to get started logging issues sooner.)
4. Review trends
The next step is to review the data.
Look for trends like:
Repeated brand guideline violations
Specific UX causes for known issues (such as poor retention)
Large usability concerns that span major user workflows
Common bugs or customer support tickets
Commonalities amongst user interviews or session recordings
5. Format and present your recommendations
Now it’s time to develop valuable recommendations that will have an impact on your user base. You should present your findings from an overarching perspective and provide details on specific issues.
You’ll want to include all of these in your deliverables for any UX review:
Project description - Describe the UX audit project and why the company decided to undertake it. What are the main goals and objectives of the audit? Were you looking for unknown issues only, or were there any known problems you were looking to solve? Detail these so that everyone is on the same page when reviewing your recommendations.
Methodology - Next state your methodology. Include the criteria that you expected the UX to have, as well as what sort of data you used to conduct the audit.
Test results - Were there any experiments involved? Create a separate section for optimization test results and list these out. This will allow stakeholders to quickly see what’s working and what’s not. This can add credibility to your recommendations.
Overall priorities and recommended approach - Create a section of your report or presentation for your overarching recommendations. Use this section to highlight the top priority issues, related sets of issues, and the overall direction for major UX improvements.
UX audit issue reports - In a spreadsheet or table, create one row for every issue. Your columns will include the issue description, impact severity, issue priority, and more (see our list directly below).
Need a UX audit template? Make sure to include all of these details in your UX audit issue report:
Associated usability heuristics or metrics
UX design resolution difficulty
Software development resolution difficulty
5 tips for performing a great UX audit
A UX audit can transform your product—and your profits—or it can be a complete waste of time.
To make sure that your audit is informative and actionable, follow these tips.
1. Involve stakeholders early on
Get all stakeholders involved as soon as you can. They’ll help you set accurate goals for your UX audit and help you decide which areas of the product to focus on.
Here are some potential stakeholders to consider:
UX designers: The designers responsible for creating the user experience can provide valuable insights and expertise during the audit process.
Product managers: Product managers have a deep understanding of the product goals, vision, and target audience, making their input invaluable during a UX audit.
Developers: Developers can provide insights into the technical aspects of the product and identify any limitations or challenges in implementing UX recommendations.
Business owners/executives: Involving key decision-makers and stakeholders from the business side ensures that the UX audit aligns with overall business objectives and strategies.
Marketing team: The marketing team can contribute insights regarding customer behavior, target audience analysis, and user acquisition strategies, helping identify areas for improvement.
Sales team: Sales representatives can provide insights into customer preferences, pain points, and objections they encounter during the sales process, helping identify areas for improvement.
Customer support: Customer support representatives interact directly with users, giving them unique insights into common pain points, usability issues, and user feedback.
Data analysts: Data analysts can provide quantitative insights based on user behavior metrics, conversion rates, and other relevant analytics, supporting data-driven decisions during the audit.
Accessibility experts: Including accessibility experts ensures that the UX audit considers the needs of users with disabilities, ensuring compliance with accessibility standards.
Quality assurance (QA) team: The QA team can contribute insights based on their experience in testing the product, identifying usability issues, and reporting bugs and glitches.
External experts: Sometimes, involving external UX consultants or experts can provide an objective perspective and bring in fresh insights and best practices from their industry experience.
Not everyone has to come to all of the audit meetings.
For many stakeholders, you might simply chat with them about any known UX issues that you should be aware of and dig deeper into. Others should be more actively involved with the audit strategy and execution.
2. Choose a few concrete goals for your UX audit
It’s smart to have a purpose for your UX audit. Are you looking to reduce churn? Improve accessibility? Get prepared to expand into a new market?
When you have a specific goal for your audit, it’s easier to make decisions about the audit methods and tools to utilize. Of course, you should also be open to unexpected feedback and findings.
In general, it’s better to conduct several, goal-oriented UX audits throughout the year than one large, unfocused audit.
3. Determine which areas of your product to audit
Based on your goals, you should narrow down your audit to specific areas of your product. For instance, you might only audit the features that were built for a particular user segment. Or, you might only audit the areas of the product that are known to contribute to churn (based on product analytics).
It can be helpful to narrow down the breadth of your audit so that you can go deeper in those areas, and review more session recordings for the areas that are the most relevant.
4. Enlist outside help where needed
It can be very, very difficult to be objective. Consider enlisting the help of an external UX consultant who can audit your product and how it stacks up against the UX of your competitors.
Learn more about DevSquad’s product strategy and UX design services.
5. Prioritize findings and next steps
You’ll probably uncover more issues than you were expecting, particularly if you’re interviewing users and reviewing session recordings. It can be overwhelming.
The fact is that some UX issues are far more important than others. Make sure you prioritize all of your findings so that you know what to fix, and in what order.
10 UX audit tools to try
The best UX researchers and auditors rely on powerful software to help them uncover trends, find funnel drops, and collect user sessions 24/7. Check out these UX audit tools:
Mixpanel is a product analytics tool that offers interactive reports, customizable dashboards, user segmentation, and alerts for major issues.
Hotjar is a popular tool amongst ecommerce companies and other high-traffic consumer sites. Top features include heatmaps, session recordings, and user sentiment surveys.
With Maze, UX and product researchers can conduct wireframe and usability tests and send surveys to segments of user personas in order to validate ideas before building them. UX auditors can use the tool to set up and monitor experiments.
With Lookback, you can run usability tests on apps and websites. The platform allows UX researchers and designers to talk directly with participants face-to-face, give step-by-step tasks for them to complete, record the user testing sessions, and capture all of the touch indicators and gestures.
With UserTesting, UX researchers can organize and run user testing sessions, collect feedback from their team, and collect inputs from user segments.
UsabilityHub, a remote user research platform, offers prototype tests, navigation tests, design surveys, design preference tests, and “five-second tests” that gauge comprehensibility by measuring first impressions.
UXcam is an app experience analytics platform. Core features include session recording, user analytics, heatmap analytics, funnel analytics, embedded event analytics, and issue analytics for product managers, UX designers, growth marketers, and software engineers.
Used by SaaS and ecommerce companies and SEO strategists, Kissmetrics is a website and app analytics platform. It can be used to capture conversion rates and retention rates in order to optimize pages and funnels.
9. Google Analytics
Google Analytics is the most popular free option for website analytics. You can use it to not only understand your traffic, but the actions people take on your website. Discover issues with your important pages and funnels.
10. Google Optimize
With Google Optimize, you can create website optimization experiments (both design and copy) and discover your best winners.
How much does a UX audit cost?
If you want to employ a full-time UX auditor, that’ll set you back anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000 for a US salary depending on the experience and seniority level of the person you want to hire.
A freelance UX designer might charge $1500 for a UX audit, but this wouldn’t cover the extensive research mentioned in Step 1. That price would likely only cover the designer’s evaluation and testing of your app or website.
To hire a software development agency to provide a UX audit for you (and conduct the user research and gather the product analytics data), you could be looking at a fee upwards of $15,000.
How to hire help for a UX audit
Need better UX? Want to uncover the issues the opportunities?
DevSquad is a SaaS product development company that offers fully-managed services. Every development squad is supported by a product manager, DevOps engineer, QA tester, and UX designer.