How to Gather Qualitative Data for Insights by Jen Havice

In your last email lesson, you learned all about quantitative research.

Digging into your Google Analytics. Teasing apart quantifiable data.

When it comes to optimizing your website and landing pages, there’s nothing quite like being able to look at numbers. They help answer questions about what is or isn’t working, where problems are cropping up, and how much traffic a page is leaking.

Except, quantitative research can only take you so far. You need to understand the why behind the what, where, and how much in order to make changes your visitors will find meaningful.

Qualitative research does exactly that.

Find Out What Makes Your Customers Tick

Whenever you create copy for your site, determine the layout for a page, or the graphics to go along with it, your first concern should be how you can help your customers achieve their goals.


Because if your visitors get exactly what they need to move from Point A to Point Z – and everywhere in between – they’re a whole lot more likely to become customers.

The only way to do that is by understanding what drives their decision making process. Things like their:

  • Biggest pain points and reasons for seeking out your product/solution.
Motivations, wants, and desires
  • State of awareness of your solution
  • Concerns, doubts, and hesitations

Which means you’ll need to ask real, live human beings questions to get the kind of information that’s worth analyzing.

How Do You Get Inside Your Customers’ Heads?

There are several ways you can go about gathering qualitative data to make the most of your optimization efforts:

  • Online surveys sent via email – Ideally, these are sent to recent customers within the last 6 months so the buying experience is still fresh in their minds.
  • Onsite surveys (otherwise known as exit/intent surveys) – Even with one question popping up at the right time on the right page, you can get valuable information about why a visitor is leaving your site, has chosen not to buy, or can’t find something.
  • Personal interviews – Talking to prospects as well as current and past customers can help you dive deeper into how they feel about your product or service.
  • User testing – Watching people navigate your site while asking them to tackle particular tasks can show you why bottlenecks are occurring.
  • Customer support logs and live chats – Mine these to gain insights into what questions your customers are asking and what problems they might be having.

For an in depth discussion of the various tools you can use for qualitative research along with how they each work, check out The Advanced Guide to Qualitative Research on the XL blog.

Before You Start, Know What You Want Your Research to Accomplish

Whether you’re conducting interviews or asking your customers or prospects to take part in a survey, the most important place to start is with the goal you’re attempting to achieve.

Seems basic but it’s worth spelling out.

Let’s say you’re developing a new sales page for an existing product. You know where you’ll be driving traffic to get to the page but you could use some insights into how your customers perceive its value.

In this case, you’d focus your questions around how and why your customers seek out a solution such as yours. Knowing the words they use to describe the “how” and “why” can help you better reflect back to their reasons for seeking you out in the first place.

Getting Actionable Insights Means Asking the Right Questions

Once you’ve established your goal, your next step involves asking questions that will yield the best results. Here are some guidelines to help you do just that.

1. Keep the Number of Questions to a Minimum

Most people have a limited amount of time and patience – along with goodwill. So, keep an online survey in the range of 6 to 10 questions. You’ll want your website pop up surveys to be even shorter, 1 to 2 questions max.

You can glean quite a bit of valuable information even from a small number of questions. Keep the survey short, to the point, and…

2. Relevance Is Key

Make sure your questions are relevant to the task at hand. This brings us back to knowing what your goal is. Refrain from asking questions just because you’d like to know the answers. If they’re not going to serve your direct purposes – leave them out.

3. Focus on Open Ended Questions

When you’re interested in finding out the language your customers use, you need access to their actual words. This means asking questions that require more than a yes or no. You want them to express themselves as openly as possible.

Allowing them to merely tick a box will only give you so much, so keep yes/no and multiple choice questions to a minimum.

4. Bias Will Get You Nowhere

Repeat after me, “No leading questions.” Don’t do things like include superlatives in your questions. Asking what your respondents think about your bright and cheery website design plants an idea in their heads about the site.

Stay as neutral as possible in your wording to generate the most reliable answers.

5. As Steve Krug Says, “Don’t Make People Think!”

Just like good design and usability on a site, good questions should be easy to understand. If they’re vague or overly complicated, chances are you won’t get the answers you’re looking for.

For instance, I made the mistake of asking on a recent survey the question, “What types of online copywriting frustrate you the most?”

This question confused people. Without including the words “to write” at the end of the sentence, they seemed to think I was asking them about what types of pages are the most frustrating to read.

Needless to say, the answers did little to help in my research process.

What to Do Next

Qualitative research is all about helping you understand why people are taking certain actions (or not) on your site. Think of it as the yin to quantitative research’s yang. Both need to work in tandem so you can come up with hypotheses worth testing.

To gather your qualitative data you’ll want to:

  • Determine the goal of your research so you tailor your questions accordingly.
  • Choose the way or ways to conduct your research that will help you achieve that goal, i.e. online surveys, interviews, etc.
  • Go through the above guidelines to help ensure your questions generate the most reliable answers.

Then, dive in and start talking to your customers. You might just be surprised by what you learn.


  1. To find out why people are leaving your site, use on-site surveys on key pages to ask 1-3 questions (e.g. “What is the purpose of your visit today?” or “Were you able to complete your task today?” or “What prevented you from completing your task today?”).
  2. To find out why people buy from you, email a survey to customers who have purchased from you in the last 6 months. Ask high impact questions (e.g. “What are you using [product] for?” or “How is your life better thanks to [product]?”).
  3. To find out why bottlenecks occur, try user testing. You will be able to watch how real people interact with your site, uncovering UX issues and unknown points of friction.

For more from Jen, check out Make Mention Media.

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