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 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:
- Issue description
- Issue location
- Associated usability heuristics or metrics
- Impact severity
- Impact reach
- UX design resolution difficulty
- Software development resolution difficulty
- Issue priority
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.