I’m a data nerd who loves crunching numbers, and I’ve used some space on this blog to talk about the benefits of quantitative research for your projects. But conducting quantitative research isn’t always the best way to go when you have strategic questions that you need answered — many times, qualitative research is the better way to go.

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research is less focused on boiling everything down into numerical values or dividing responses into discrete categories; if quantitative research is about what someone does or thinks, qualitative research is about why they do so.

When should you use qualitative research?

Clearly there is value in hearing any kind of feedback from your clients and your target audiences, and when you need a greater depth of knowledge about what they think or feel about something, qualitative is the way to learn how to improve your website. You might conduct a series of in-depth interviews with key stakeholders to get their opinions on a particular issue, or you could pull together a focus group to bounce ideas around. Here are a few real-world instances when qualitative research would be useful.

  • Branding. Before you begin a redesign, bring together several of your current clients for a focus group. Ask them what their perceptions of your company are, what they really love about you, and what you offer that is the most useful. This will provide insight for both the direction of the creative for your site, as well as what content to feature. Plus, you get the added benefit of having additional face time with your clients, and letting them know that their opinions are important to you.
  • Ease of use. When laying out your new site, conduct a usability study to see how well visitors are able to navigate your site and find the information they’re looking for. Bring in a few people, give them a task to accomplish on your new site, and see if and how they are able to complete it. You want your site to be simple for folks to use, even when it has a lot of content or is conveying a complex idea.
  • Messaging. Immediately after your redesign, or even during the process, reach out to a few target clients or other key external audiences. Conduct semi-structured interviews to learn about what feelings and messages they take from your new site, and compare their thoughts to what you’d intended for the site to convey.

Should you use qualitative or quantitative research?

There are several benefits and drawbacks to using qualitative research over quantitative research, which are shown below. In any case, your methodology should be determined on a case-by-case basis, customized to suit your particular needs (not a a boilerplate solution), and led by a seasoned researcher when at all possible.

BENEFITS DRAWBACKS
You will usually just be hearing from a few people, so the price can be lower than an extensive quantitative project. Because you are only talking to a few folks, the results are less generalizable to the larger population.
The data collection does not have to be structured, leaving a lot of room for brainstorming and taking useful tangents. There are not set response ranges, so some responses are more subjective and open to the interpretation of the researcher.
The conversations lend depth to respondents’ answers, and help you understand the reasoning behind their responses. Tracking results over time can be more difficult without directly comparable questions, response ranges, and numbers.

Author Rusty Parker

Rusty Parker is the director of data and analytics for SHERPA Global. He has a doctoral degree in Applied Sociology from Baylor University, with an emphasis on survey methodology and data analysis. He has led data collection projects for corporate, government, and nonprofit clients for more than 10 years.

More posts by Rusty Parker

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