What is user testing and why should you do it?

Watching your (potential) clients use your website or use your products can give you plenty of new insights. Seeing how they navigate, search or click your site can give you information you wouldn’t get out of just analyzing your data. And, as you know your product inside out, you might have developed some blind spots. Are you ready to discover your blind spots? Start user testing!

Getting to know your audience is essential if you want to be successful in marketing and SEO. That’s why we regularly write about methods to learn more about your customers, users or readers. This is the fourth post in our user research series, you might want to check out our posts about top task surveys, exit surveys, and panel research too!

What is user testing?

User testing is a type of user research in which respondents don’t just give you answers to your questions. Your respondents will actually work with your website or products. This way, you can see what works well and what doesn’t.

When you get people to actually use your website, you’ll probably get some new insights you would’ve never thought of without the user testing because of your own blind spots. Imagine you have an online shop and you sell clothing. You saw in the analytics that the percentage of visitors adding a product to the cart is quite low, but you have no idea why. When you choose test persons who don’t know your website, you can see how your site is used. Maybe a test user can’t find the ‘add-to-cart’-button or there might be a lack of product information, which prevents users from adding the products to the cart, you’ll see them searching for more information which simply isn’t there. Then you’ll already know, there is some work to do!

Besides website testing, you can, of course, make people test your actual products as well. Whether you have physical products or you’re selling software, it doesn’t really matter: there is always a way to make people test your products!

Why and when?

It’s incredibly valuable to get user testing insights next to the data you already get from your analytics. Some outcomes might be very obvious and easy to change, others are more complicated and need some thinking, designing and/or developing. 

This is why it’s valuable to add user testing to your process at an early stage. For example, when you’re designing a new website or a product, you could create a staging website to test with. If you have a new product coming out, you could create a prototype to test with. You might understand that it’s much easier to change something to your design when it’s not completely developed and live on the market yet. 

However, user testing can be performed in all stages of your process. When you did some user testing a couple of years ago, it might be valuable to do this again. Technologies change a lot and so do users. A new generation might use your website/product differently compared to your users a couple of years ago. 

The last reason why you should do user testing next to sending surveys is that you’ll know for sure the results are ‘real’. With surveys, there is always a chance users fill out wrong answers because they overestimate themselves or because they want to fit in a specific answer although they probably don’t. With user testing, there is no chance to cheat!

Types of user testing

There are a couple of user testing tactics you can choose from. We’ll sum them up below:

Live user testing with a moderator 

When you perform a live user test, your testers, and a moderator actually come together at a place you choose at forehand. The place can differ, depending on the type of user test you will do. When you’re testing a website or a software-related product, you might choose a quiet office. However, when your tester should test an actual product other places might be more suitable. You might agree that for testing a bike, the office isn’t the best spot to choose.

Remote user testing with a moderator

The tester will not be at the same place as the moderator. They are in contact with a video call. The tester will follow your instructions and test your website or product and the moderator can watch along. This way, it’s easy to find testers because they don’t have to travel a long distance to actually meet you. But, with a moderator, you still have the chance to ask additional questions or to correct the tester when it seems necessary.

Remote user testing without a moderator

The testers will receive your instructions and will test in their own time, without someone watching along and helping/correcting them. The advantage is that you can make a lot of people test your website or product in a short period of time, which is good for the representativeness of your research. However, it will take a lot of time to view the recordings of all tests and to set up your report. We recommend using this tactic for small things or small changes to your product to keep it clear and to keep an overview. 

How to set up a user test

So, when you’ve decided what you want to test; when you want to start user testing; and what tactic you want to make use of, it’s time to start. 

  1. Create a plan of action

    Create a document in which you enumerate the goals of your user tests. Thinking of what you want to achieve at forehand will help you pick the right testers and to set up your test scenario.

  2. Create a user testing script

    Create testing scenarios which your testers will have to follow during testing. What questions need to be answered? What path do you want them to follow? What parts shouldn’t be missed? Make sure you get all the insights you’ll need for improvement.

  3. Decide what testers you’ll need

    Decide how many testers you want, what tactic you want to use and what type of testers you want. Think of gender, age, level of expertise etc. It can be valuable to recruit a diverse set of testers. Keep in mind that it’s also possible to use different user testing tactics at the same time.

  4. Create the first planning

    Decide when the tests need to take place and create a first planning.

  5. Recruit testers

    Start recruiting testers. Make use of email, social media, direct contact, use your creativity in here! An incentive can help when not enough people are responding to your call for testers.

  6. Create the final planning

    Set up the final planning. When you have recruited enough testers, you can create your final planning for the testing phase and for the reporting phase afterwards.

  7. User testing phase!

    Actual user testing. Make sure you record all user tests so you can watch everything back when reporting all findings and outcomes. It’s easy to forget things during all the user tests.

  8. Create the final report

    Create the final report with all the results. Report all important findings and report the level of representativeness for your group. A bigger group will be more representative compared to a small group of testers. 

  9. Need for additional research?

    Decide whether you’ll need to do additional research to increase the representativeness of your research. With the outcomes of the user tests, it might be easy to set up a survey for a bigger group of respondents. 

  10. Share results & implement improvements

    Share the results within your company or team. Others might have a valuable opinion on how to fix/improve things as well. After that, implement all the improvements you need to make! Some might be obvious and easy to implement, others need to roll in your design/developing process before they can be implemented.

Have you ever done some user testing? Or will you, after reading this post? Let us know in the comments below!

Read more: Panel research for your business: Benefits and tips »

Coming up next!

3 Responses to What is user testing and why should you do it?

  1. Chinmay Mittal
    Chinmay Mittal  • 5 years ago

    A great advice to check the loopholes and functions. I am going to take this advice and check where my website is lacking behind in acquiring customers.

  2. Zola Johnson
    Zola Johnson  • 5 years ago

    Sounds like a good strategy to see how things are going with my website. I had never thought about it, but I appreciate you making a review on this. Now I have a better idea of things to do for testing my website products. Thanks.

  3. Leonardo Candoza
    Leonardo Candoza  • 5 years ago

    Testing is undoubtedly the best way to understand the behavior of a visitor on your website, unfortunately I see so many beginners worrying about their stats and testing rather than putting in the work to grow their site. Just my 2 cents that there are positives and negatives of people doing user testing.