If You Could Ask Only One Question of Your Visitors, What Should It Be?

Brian Massey posed a great question to me the other day: If you could ask your site visitors only one question, what should it be? I love this question because it distills pre-conversion user research down to its essence: how can you best glean the “why” motivations behind what your users are thinking – and, equally importantly, the concerns they may be feeling – early in their experience? And how can you choose a question that, after you analyze user responses, will be actionable – will allow you to confidently make and test design updates that better address these concerns and improve your conversions?
In this article I’ll focus on what question to ask, and in a future article I’ll unpack where and how you should ask this question.

Start with the research end in mind

Start with the insights goal you’re trying to achieve by asking the question. Are you trying to expose the general concerns or questions (what marketers call “objections”) your visitors may have, or are you more interested in learning something more specific, such as whether your Product Detail page is missing any key information? If you’re new to user experience research, or your website hasn’t undergone any significant usability testing, you should typically start with the “general” goal and ask more open-ended questions.
In this article I’ll assume that you are asking the question of a person who doesn’t yet know and trust your brand and is early in her shopping experience (e.g. just arrived on your website or landing page). A different question – or set of questions – would apply for your converted customers.

First, avoid asking the wrong questions

First, let’s talk about questions you shouldn’t ask. The prospect is already on your site, so clearly your marketing has worked (at least partially). So early in the experience you should avoid asking marketing questions like:

  • How did you first hear about us?
  • What prompted you to start looking for this type of service?
  • What other competitors are you considering?

Instead, focus on the questions most tied to your research goals, and that uncover questions and concerns that would negatively affect your visitor engagement and conversion. Save the marketing questions for further down your sales funnel – for example, on order confirmation pages, in your social media channels, or on your email response pages.

Some possible questions

OK, let’s finally get to the question you should ask. Based on my experience leading research projects for six Fortune 500 clients, and my recent survey of the latest user feedback solicitation tools, here are my top 5 possible questions (in no particular order), along with some pros and cons for each:

Drumroll, please…

In my opinion, the #1 question I would ask is Question #5. Coming in a “Close 2nd” is Question #4.
The two questions are really variations on the same theme. By asking either of them you are communicating, “I value you as a potential customer and am truly interested in learning where our website is missing the mark relative to your needs, wants and expectations. This question is specifically not calling attention to your offer, it’s not “going for the close”, and it’s not asking your visitors to be designers; it’s simply saying “we care, we want to improve your experience, and we’re listening.”
A key thing to remember: for many shopping scenarios, “making a positive brand impression” or “building brand memory” is as important as closing a sale or generating a lead. Connect with the visitor first; sell to her later. Another thing to bear in mind: with the rapid growth of mobile devices usage, prospect experiences are often multi-touch:  the prospect hits your website on their iPad the evening of Day 1, briefly visits your site during lunch on Day 2, and again visits your site during an afternoon coffee break on Day 2. So, except in some small dollar amount, single widget sales cases, it’s not a “once and done” interaction (or if it is, it shouldn’t be).

A sample scenario

Let’s say that Judy, a middle-aged woman from Austin, is shopping for a place to board her dog Max while she’s on vacation. She’s willing to pay extra for a better facility and service. After doing a web search for “dog boarders austin,” she lands on www.campbowwow.com.

Camp Bow Wow

Judy’s main concerns are:

  • Pricing – how much will it cost for the week?
  • How much play time her dog will get
  • How clean the kennel is kept

Judy sees that these questions are not answered on the top half of the home page. After about 10 seconds of scanning, she’s a bit disappointed and clicks her browser’s Back button. End of experience – for now and perhaps forever.
If our “one question” were asked, she’d have the choice (and who doesn’t like choices?!) to express her questions and concerns. Even if Judy decides to go with another dog boarder this time, there’s a decent chance that a thought like, “Ah yes… Camp Bow Wow… they were the ones who asked for my input,” will get lodged in her longer-term memory. If she were not completely satisfied with the other boarder’s services or staff, a couple weeks before her next trip she might just give Camp Bow Wow a call.

Summing up

Whether or not you consider your organization “customer centric”, you need to start a dialog with your prospects. And the sooner you can do this, the better (both in the experience, and on your website release roadmap). By doing so you’ll discover expectations that your site is not meeting so that you can better address them through user experience and copy updates, and thereby grow your bottom line.

About the Author

Mark is the Owner and Research Director at Hallmark Experience, an agency that focuses on voice of prospect research, usability testing and expert design reviews. He’s had the privilege to work with top brands like Macys, Kaiser Permanente, American Express and AutoZone, as well as smaller, fast-growing companies in the San Diego area. You can reach him here.

11 replies
      • Mark Hall says:

        Hi Brian – Good question – thanks. My clients typically use a tool like Qualaroo or iPerceptions to collect their online feedback, and these tools allow you to export the data in CSV format. I then pull this data into Excel and comb through it on 2 levels:
        1) I tally the number of visitors who responded “Yes” to having a question / concern, and then total the reasons checked in the follow-up “My questions and concerns include” question (if asked). This is the “metric” aspect of the data.
        Of course I’m aware of the “non reporting bias” inherent in such inquiries – that many people who DO have concerns do not choose to express them in written form, for various reasons. So I usually advise clients to also do in-person interviews with representative prospects to get people to verbalize these concerns (in words and/or body language).
        2) I read through all of the comments (optional field) to hear the specific “visitor voices”. While these are rational thought level words, they hint at the underlying emotion, the “real why” behind the question or concern – and ultimately all/part of the sales “objection”. It is essential to review this feedback at the granular level, and while wearing our “emotional sensitively cap.”
        I also highly recommend that the site owner, and others on the team, read through all responses so they can “hear” the feedback first hand. This is strategic “voice of prospect” data, so the more people in your organization listening to it, the better.
        There’s my long-ish answer to your short question. :-) As you know, Brian, it’s often the case with research and conversion optimization that the devil’s in the segmentation and analytical details. So we’ll need to further unpack the “technique” aspect of this method over time.
        Hope this helps! – Mark

          • Mark Hall says:

            Brian, I’ll have to pass on the unpacking for now since my clients generally ask me to keep their data sheets and insights confidential. That said, I do plan to explore the “how to ask” and “when to ask” aspects in a future article.

  1. John says:

    This is good! I’m just starting to get traffic to my site, I put a form on the homepage asking what I think is the most important question, but it’s more of a which direction I should go for product development kind of question.

    • Mark Hall says:

      Good to hear you’re using, John! I’m a little concerned, though, to hear that you’re using the question to clarify your product direction. The reason: Product offering(s) – based on brand and positioning strategy – should already be set when you launch a site, so asking about ‘preferred product’ may confuse your visitors (make them wonder if you’re confident in what you’re selling, and it’s value-add). That’s why I recommend limiting such home and top-level page questions to ‘clarifying intent’ and ‘exposing top questions and concerns.’ These questions tend to gather the most useful feedback . – Mark

    • Brian Massey says:

      Think about the answers. “I like it.” or “I find it difficult.” These aren’t very helpful responses. we have to ask our question so that it gets answers that are specific enough to act on.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Even more effective than online surveys at generating insights quickly, in my experience, are short, timely online polls. These are single questions presented to visitors at the places and times in the experience where you want to know a) what type of product they are seeking, b) why they are seeking it (motivations), and c) how and when they expect to make their decision. I talk in detail about early-stage-shopping poll questions here. […]

  2. […] one quick question, with a follow up. Tools like Qualaroo, HotJar and LuckyOrange let you do this. I did a guest post on this topic in 2013 if you want to check that […]

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