User experience researchers and online analysts are no strangers to data. There is also no denying that it is a must-have element of conversion optimization specialist’s weaponry.
Data allows you to back up your decisions scientifically and predict their outcome. In this article we want to show you two types of data – quantitative and qualitative and convince you (if you are not doing that already) to collect them both for your benefit.
Two Types of Data: Quantitative and Qualitative
Before we dive into the use cases for quantitative and qualitative data let’s state some basic information about each type to better grasp the differences between them:
|Measuring things||Describing things|
|Fixed state||Negotiable state|
|Language of statistical analysis||Natural language of participants|
|Formulation of facts||Helps develop ideas|
|Closed questions in surveys||Open questions in surveys|
|Web analytics||Voice of customers tools|
Both types of data have their strengths and weaknesses. Quantitative insights constitute a great base for numbers-driven business decisions and are always perceived as “rock solid data”. Thus, the numbers are very convincing for stakeholders. On the other hand, quantitative data is usually difficult to interpret correctly since you only know that something happened (or didn’t happen), but you don’t know why. Because of this, people who want to rely solely on quantitative data should have solid knowledge of statistical analysis methods to avoid drawing wrong conclusions.
Qualitative data is perfect for illustrating the numerical analysis with individual studies. It uncovers the way people feel, the emotions and motivations behind their behavior. It’s really useful, for example, to plan and implement design/UI changes. However, a key weakness of qualitative data is that it is very difficult to automate its analysis and hence this is a time-consuming process. Due to the aforementioned constraints, one can only study a limited number of participants, which means less statistical power.
As you can see, each of these two types of data has clear pluses and relevant use cases. Sticking to just one of them can harm your research. This is why we suggest to combine both types to your advantage.
When used separately there is a danger that you will either have a large study with too many detailed and non-significant conclusions (when you focus on qualitative) or you will end up having very general conclusions without sufficient context (when you lean towards quantitative).
Combination of Quantitative and Qualitative Data
Since we have established that using quantitative and qualitative data in isolation might not necessarily bring the best results, let us figure out how you can use them together. There are several ways in which the two types of data can be combined.
1. Quantitative Research → Qualitative Research
Qualitative research can help you uncover variables and explain why certain things happen after you discover them through statistical analysis.
Let’s say you notice something out of the ordinary in your Google Analytics report – for example an unexpectedly high bounce rate on a page with web form. You can then use tools dedicated to web form analytics to gather even more detailed statistical data and pinpoint which text field in your web form is causing the abandonment.
You still, however, lack the context, so you can only rely on guesswork. Is the field too difficult to fill out? Is the label wording confusing? This kind of information can be only obtained at individual level, by means of user interviews, co-browsing sessions or through feedback tools.
In short, quantitative data gives you the what, but qualitative data gives you the why, providing you with all you need to make an informed decision.
2. Qualitative Research → Quantitative Research
This order allows you to uncover trends and/or preferences from individuals and then support these claims on larger samples.
If you are planning to redesign your landing page in order to improve conversion, you might want to run a series of qualitative studies to better know your target persona and check what the preferences of your audience are. Let us assume you notice that your users seem to like modern web solutions and you are leaning towards incorporating say innovative scrolling on your redesigned landing page.
You must keep in mind that, since you probably run your surveys on a small, yet representative sample, changing the design drastically without testing on larger group. The best way to do it would be to run an A/B test which will quickly give you the answer, whether the preferences you uncovered translate directly into improved conversion rate.
3. Quantitative and Qualitative Research Simultaneously
When preparing a user research study you might want to think of combining both quantitative and qualitative data upfront.
One simple way to obtain both types of data is to send a survey with closed and open questions. The former ones will give you statistical results, the latter provide you with descriptive answers from users.
You can also try tools (see below) that are specifically designed to let you combine these two types of studies.
How does one Combine Quantitative and Qualitative Data in Practice?
Combination of Quantitative and Qualitative data is possible in both offline and online conditions. When you are interviewing someone in person to gather qualitative data you can ask them to fill out a survey that would provide you with more numerical insights.
A case study done by UsabilityTools shows a nice example of how you can combine quantitative and qualitative data to uncover both ‘the what’ and ‘the why’. OptimalEnergy, an online price comparison website wanted to find out more about the conversion funnel on their website. The website featured a slider with images but they were not really clickable. Data gathered with click tracking through heatmaps revealed that 24% of the whole clicks were directed to the non-clickable items. A further inspection with form analysis also showed that 81% of the users left the website without completing the order submission form.
There are several tools on the market that allows you to gather both type of data:
For remote usability testing you have plenty of services that provide solutions to gather both kinds of data in the form of surveys (SurveyMonkey), A/B tests (Optimizely), Click Tracking (CrazyEgg) or various usability tests (UserZoom).
The most comfortable method is to find a way to integrate both types of tasks in one study so that you have the exact same people providing you with numerical analysis and descriptive insights. UsabilityTools is such service that provides you with this option.
Whether you are conducting user research, you work as a growth hacker, you are trying to improve marketing results or just developing a product, you need data to make informed decisions. The understanding of differences between quantitative and qualitative insights is the key to use them separately or combined in relevant scenarios. This improves the decision process and will ultimately affect your bottom line.
(Lead image source: Alberto G.)