User Research: What Is It and How to Do It in SaaS

User Research: What Is It and How to Do It in SaaS cover

Looking for the best ways to conduct user research and gather actionable insights?

Whether you’re building a product from scratch, updating something on your platform, or just want to listen to users and create better experiences, this article provides the guide you need.

We covered:

  • The benefits of proper user research.
  • A detailed 5-step process for conducting effective research.
  • Types of user research and different methods to implement.


  • User research employs various qualitative and quantitative methods to investigate and understand users better. It helps you create a user-centered design process and ensure your final product is what customers love.

Effective user research helps you:

Implement this user research process to gather data that’s exhaustive and actionable:

  1. Define your main objective and build a hypothesis.
  2. Choose research participants that represent your target audience.
  3. Choose the appropriate research method.
  4. Start collecting data.
  5. Analyze and form a conclusion.

User research methods for SaaS:

  1. Usability testing
  2. User testing
  3. User interviews
  4. Focus groups
  5. Session replays
  6. First click testing
  7. User feedback surveys
  8. Card sorting
  9. A/B testing
  10. Product analytics
  11. Heatmaps
  • Userpilot can help you conduct user experience (UX) research and easily interpret the data. Book a demo to discuss your needs with our team and get tailored solutions.

What is user research?

User research employs various qualitative and quantitative methods to investigate and understand users.

It’s a critical part of the product development process that helps inform design decisions and ensure the final product aligns with user expectations.

Why is conducting user research important?

Without effective user research, you’ll be building or updating your product based on assumptions, and that’s not a good place to be.

It’s like trying to construct a bridge without ever stepping onto the riverbank. You might craft something impressive, but without understanding the water’s flow, depth, and potential hazards, your bridge risks being unusable or, worse, dangerous.

Effective user research helps you:

Understand user behaviors, needs, and preferences

By conducting proper user research, you’ll gain data showing how users interact with your tool and their underlying needs and motivations.

This knowledge forms the foundation for designing products that resonate with users. It ensures what you build not only meets functional requirements but also aligns with the specific desires of your target audience.

Identify experience gaps and remove friction

An experience gap refers to the disparity between users’ expectations and their actual experience with your product. Such gaps can lead to customer dissatisfaction, as user needs are not adequately met.

User experience research is pivotal in closing experience gaps and removing friction from the user journey. By identifying pain points through methods like usability testing and feedback collection, you can pinpoint areas for improvement.

This proactive approach allows you to implement targeted enhancements, ensuring a smoother and more satisfying user experience. Ultimately, addressing these gaps not only boosts user satisfaction but also cultivates customer loyalty and positive brand perception.

Increase product value and improve user experience

Continuous user experience research ensures your product keeps adding more value and enhancing the user experience. With this, users will be more comfortable interacting with your product regularly.

As they incorporate your tool into their workflows and increase engagement, they’ll have more reasons to expand their accounts, leading to higher revenue for your business.

How to conduct user research to improve user experience

Ready to start conducting user research? Here’s a five-step process to follow:

1. Define your main objective and build a hypothesis

Before diving into user research, clearly define your primary objective. Whether it’s improving onboarding processes, enhancing navigation, or refining a specific feature, having a focused goal is crucial.

Use the objective to create a hypothesis of the results you hope to get. The research will then confirm or reject this hypothesis.

For instance, if your objective is to enhance your app’s usability, a hypothesis might be that simplifying the navigation will lead to a higher user satisfaction score. You can then design user feedback surveys to collect user opinions and see if your hypothesis is correct.

2. Choose your research participants

Identifying the right participants is key to obtaining relevant insights. Define segments based on characteristics like user type (current users, new users), demographics, or usage patterns.

For example, if you’re improving a feature specific to premium users, draw research participants from users who have engaged with the feature enough to provide valuable feedback. Taking this targeted approach ensures the data you obtain is relevant and actionable.

Design in-app flows like this to collect valuable user feedback.
Design in-app flows like this to collect valuable user feedback.

3. Choose the appropriate research method

There are many user research methods, but what you use generally depends on your objective. For example:

  • Usability testing: Helps assess how easily users can accomplish specific tasks within the app.
  • Features heatmap: Visually highlights user interaction with specific elements or features of your tool.
  • First click testing: Focuses on the first click users make, revealing initial impressions and navigational challenges.
  • User feedback surveys: Collects user opinions, preferences, and suggestions, providing valuable qualitative data.
  • Card sorting: Helps understand how users categorize information, aiding in intuitive information architecture and a user-centered design process.

Depending on your objectives, you can employ several other types of user research methods. We’ll provide an extensive list in a later section.

4. Start collecting data

After deciding on your objective and choosing a suitable user research approach, it’s time to execute and gather valuable data.

Ensure you have the necessary resources (user research tools, participants, and the like) and clearly define the steps for data collection.

For instance, let’s return to the example we discussed in step 1. Recall the objective was to enhance app usability, and the user research technique was customer feedback surveys. Now that you have those two settled, it’s time to begin collecting data.

You want to keep the survey short and concise to get the best result. Combine various question types, including multiple-choice, open-ended, and rating scales. This provides a more comprehensive view of user opinions and allows for both quantitative and qualitative user research.

For example, you can ask: “How would you rate the overall usability of [your app] on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is very poor, and 5 is excellent?” and follow up with, “Please share any specific challenges or difficulties you encountered while using the app, and if you have any suggestions for improving the usability, feel free to provide them here.”

Imagine your objective is broader—you want to understand usability, then decide which of two features to prioritize for an update. After the initial survey, you can ask what feature they prefer and the reason for their choice. Make a decision based on the data you obtain.

Build in-app surveys with ease.
Build in-app surveys with ease.

5. Analyze and form a conclusion

Once data collection is complete, the next step is to analyze the gathered information. Bring together all the data you’ve collected and form a comprehensive understanding of user behavior. Identify patterns, trends, and pain points within the data.

When you’re done, it’s time to implement changes to improve the user experience. For instance, imagine your research data shows your onboarding takes too long and results in drop-offs due to several unnecessary steps.

Your product team can work on identifying areas of the onboarding flow they can cut off. Also, you can implement an onboarding checklist to reduce the time to value and boost adoption rates.

Build checklists and other components of your onboarding flow with Userpilot.

Types of user research

User research is quite broad, but when you look at it closely, anybody researching users is either implementing quantitative or qualitative methods—or both.

Quantitative research

This user research type involves collecting numerical data to measure and analyze specific aspects of user behavior and preferences.

It uses surveys, analytics, and A/B testing to uncover user data.

Qualitative research

While quantitative research asks the what questions, qualitative research focuses on uncovering the why behind user behavior. For example, realizing that users are dissatisfied with a new feature is just the first step in your research process. You still don’t have sufficient data to make the changes your users will love.

But by conducting research that asks users why they don’t like the feature, you can identify changes to make. Examples of qualitative research methods include interviews, focus groups, and open-ended user feedback surveys.

User research can be both attitudinal and behavioral:

  • Attitudinal research helps uncover user attitudes, opinions, and emotional responses to your product.
  • Behavioral research focuses on observing and analyzing actual human behavior and interactions with your product.

User research methods

Combine any of the following qualitative and quantitative research methods to collect comprehensive user data and make informed development decisions:

Usability testing

Usability tests involve observing users as they interact with a prototype or an existing product to identify challenges and assess the overall user experience. You can do this remotely using specialized usability testing tools or have testers come together in a physical test lab while a user researcher observes and records everything.

You can also implement think-aloud protocols, asking users to verbalize their thoughts while interacting with the product.

During the test, aim to identify how well your product performs against these usability components:

  • Learnability: The ease with which users can understand and navigate your product for the first time.
  • Efficiency: User speed and effectiveness in performing tasks—this says a lot about your UI.
  • Memorability: The extent to which users can remember how to use the product or feature after an initial encounter. Good memorability is a sign of a reduced learning curve.
  • Errors: The frequency and severity of user mistakes while interacting with your product. Too many test participants making errors is a sign of friction.
  • Satisfaction: The overall fulfillment and positive sentiment users experience when interacting with the product.

User testing

User testing and usability testing sound similar; people even use them interchangeably, but they’re not the same.

While the former is focused on evaluating functionality and ease of use, user or UX testing encompasses a broader spectrum, digging deep into user needs and preferences. Another way to put it is that usability testing is a subset of UX testing.

The specific approach you adopt when testing users depends on your research objectives, but just like any user research approach, you begin by deciding what feature, product, or prototype to test. Then, create the test task with a list of objectives and have it done remotely or in person.

Example of UX testing: create different interface designs, then ask users to interact with them and mention the one they find most appealing. Implement task analysis to analyze the data and uncover user user preferences.

If it were to be a usability test, you’d create a prototype and ask users to accomplish a specific task with it—e.g., schedule social media posts—then observe the steps they follow and how long it takes.

User interviews

User interviews involve one-on-one conversations between you and participants to gather in-depth qualitative insights into their experiences and collect relevant data.

Although it can be more tasking than a quick usability test, a user interview allows you to collect extensive data and get immediate responses to your follow-up questions.

The best way to conduct interviews for your SaaS is over video conferencing platforms like Zoom—the one-on-one interaction allows for easy communication.

Here’s an interview preparation template you can use when preparing to interview users:

Customize the template as desired.
Customize the template as desired.

Focus groups

This is a structured group research involving a small group of 6-12 users (you can do more if you have the resources). Usually, an experienced moderator is present to facilitate discussions and debates about your product.

While the discussion is ongoing, someone is recording user thoughts, opinions, and attitudes toward the topics raised. In the end, you’ll gather useful qualitative data from different participants and use it to advise your product design process.

Side note: you can also use focus groups if you’re conducting market research as part of your development process.

Session replays

This method involves using tools like Hotjar to record and analyze user sessions on your website or app.

By viewing clicks, scrolls, and keystrokes in a natural environment without users knowing someone is recording, you’ll gather quantitative data on click patterns and session duration, among other things. You can analyze the results to identify if users follow your tool’s happy path and see how they respond to your interface.

Session recording made with Hotjar.

First click testing

The first click test is an incredibly important component of user research. When users make the right first click, they’re more likely to achieve their goals faster and be satisfied with your tool than when they click several times on the wrong UI elements before finding the happy path.

First click testing helps you determine if your product is intuitive—and if it isn’t, you’ll see the errors users make and know what changes to implement.

To conduct this test, show users a mockup, screenshot, or prototype of your tool and ask them to verbally share their initial click choice and reasoning.

You can also have an interactive test where you share the task with users and have them click on what they think should be the first step. That’s what user researchers did in the example below:

They presented users with Bank of America’s homepage and tested to see where users click to find information. 82% of the test participants went to the right section of the homepage, demonstrating an intuitive design.

Source: Optimal workshop.
Source: Optimal workshop.

User feedback surveys

From quick quantitative questions to more in-depth qualitative research, user feedback surveys come in different forms.

The specific survey type you use depends on your objective. For instance, if you need to understand the ease of using your platform, trigger a customer effort score survey asking users to rate how much effort they put into using specific features. Other common survey types you might want to implement include NPS and CSAT surveys.

Userpilot can help you create in-app surveys, decide who sees them, and analyze the results quickly. Here’s what building your surveys with our tool looks like:

Start collecting and analyzing user feedback.
Start collecting and analyzing user feedback.

Card sorting

This research method comes in handy when testing your information architecture. Card sorting involves giving test participants cards representing various features, functions, or sections of your SaaS. For example, the cards might include “dashboard,” “reports,” “settings,” and so on.

You can ask participants to categorize the cards into predefined groups or tell them to do it as they deem fit. Choose the former if you already have a structure you wouldn’t want to change.

Take note of participants’ grouping patterns and any challenges or uncertainties they may encounter in the process. Once you’re done, implement task analysis to interpret the result and make data-driven decisions.

Card sorting with Miro.
Card sorting with Miro.

A/B testing

A/B testing compares two versions (A and B) of a webpage, email, or feature to determine which performs better in terms of user engagement or conversion.

With a tool like Userpilot, you can create different versions of the in-app flows or UI elements you want to test, and then run them through specific user segments. Userpilot also allows you to conduct multivariate tests where you compare more than two variables.

See how to run A/B tests with Userpilot and gather actionable quantitative data.
See how to run A/B tests with Userpilot and gather actionable quantitative data.

Product analytics

Product analytics involves collecting and analyzing data from user interactions with your platform to understand their behavior and preferences.

Userpilot’s robust analytics platform lets you track user actions extensively and generate different analytics reports to identify trends, patterns, and changes in user behavior. What’s more, you can visualize the results in a detailed analytics dashboard for easy interpretation and decision-making.

Implement advanced product analytics.
Implement advanced product analytics.


Heatmaps provide visual representations of user behavior. They’re generated based on data from user interactions, such as clicks, scrolls, or mouse movements, recorded during user sessions on a website or app.

As in the image below, heatmap tools assign colors ranging from warm to cool tones to demonstrate different engagement levels. Hotter colors (e.g., red) indicate high interaction, while cooler colors (e.g., blue) represent lower or no interaction.

Userpilot allows you to select the features of your product you want to track and generate real-time heatmap reports to see how users interact with your tool. This is useful when you want to make quick decisions about what features receive better engagement.

Generating features heatmap with Userpilot.


User research always pays off.

When you invest in understanding user needs, expectations, and pain points, you’ll build an exceptional user experience that drives retention and loyalty.

That’s not to mention the fact that your product will stay competitive, making it easy to expand your user base and offering.

Ready to start reaping these benefits? Book a demo now and see how Userpilot can help you implement different user research methods and easily interpret the results.

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