What Is Usability Testing? Simple Tests You Should Be Using to Improve Your Business


When you create a product, whether it’s an eCommerce webshop or mobile app software, it’s important to test its usability before going public.

Usability testing can be an excellent way to find out what your potential customers think of your product or service. It can help you improve your product’s:

In order to understand what level of user experience and functionality your product has, it should be given to users to try out the most important components. While you can try to be objective when evaluating your product, you’ll never be as objective as outsourced users. 

They are not emotionally attached or invested in your project in any way, therefore they can give an evaluation with a clear mind. With the help of users completing tasks, you’ll be able to determine which parts might or might not work.

What is usability testing?

Usability testing can be defined as a way of measuring the usability and functionality of your product by having real users completing certain tasks and/or taking a survey.

These tasks could be paths from the homepage, main menu, or another starting position, all the way to the desired outcome. It could also be a sales funnel, from the landing page to the purchase.

Other tasks can be about finding particular valuable information or searching for items with the help of search filters.

The goal of usability testing is identifying problems in your product, learning how to improve your flaws, and studying your target audience’s behavior and habits.

Depending on your needs, you’ll know which tasks are meaningful to your business, so usability tests can focus strictly on them.

Understand the difference — usability testing vs. user experience

Usability testing shouldn’t be confused with user experience. While they are intertwined in many ways, there are some key differences.

The first difference is that usability testing wants to find out if the users are able to complete certain tasks, while user experience wants to know the overall experience of the consumer

This experience includes the level of satisfaction, how users perceive the product, what emotions are provoked, etc.

Another important distinction can be found in the main question these concepts are asking. 

Usability testing asks the question “Can the users accomplish their goal?”, whilst the user experience asks “Did the users have a pleasant experience using the product?”.

You can also compare the usability of a product and its interface, saying that usability testing revolves around “science”, and user experience reflects “art”.

The importance of usability testing

When working on a project, the whole team can dive so deep into it, that they tend to miss the tiniest flaws.

Bringing someone from the “outside” might help you understand if your potential customer can:

  • Complete the important actions
  • Figure out how your product works and can navigate through it
  • Not run into bugs and issues
  • Find all the valuable information
  • Reach their goal (sign up for the newsletter, complete the purchase, etc.)

Usability testing does not only improve the flow of the user interaction or the functionality. It can actually improve the user experience, by helping develop features that are bug-free and allows the user to have a stress-free route to their goal.

It’s important that you run usability tests so you can discover all possible flaws. Removing them can influence the user experience, which can lead to significantly increased conversion rates.

Usability testing allows you to understand which features are causing the most problems so you can fix all unwanted errors.

In this fast-paced era that we live in, even the slightest delays in your software or app can result in you losing customers.

To test usability with success, users are usually monitored and analyzed while performing tasks. 

You should observe their ability in completing them and track their decision-making while using your product. This way you can understand what elements are working well, and which require spending more time improving.

While you might feel like you’ve got everything covered, almost certainly, users can find something you might have overlooked. Users/testers could help you avoid any unwilling negative future experiences with actual users.

Determine the important tasks before choosing the right test

To gain the most out of these tests, you should plan out the whole process, from A to Z. This means that you need to determine which tasks are the most crucial, and choose the suitable tests.

Before diving into types of usability tests, we should quickly run through some actions that are worth testing:

  • Sign up for the newsletter
  • Complete a purchase
  • Find relevant information
  • Find reviews from other users
  • Request a demo
  • Start a free trial
  • Register an account
  • Download the product

…and so on. There are many more examples, it all depends on the nature of the business.

Define which tasks are integral for the success of your business, so you can move on to the next step.

“What should these tests look like?” you probably think. Well, we’ve got you covered!

Let’s get into it.

Different usability testing types

There are different types of test but most of them can fall into either of these groups:

  1. Moderated vs. unmoderated tests: Do you want users to be guided through the test, or do things on their own?
  1. Remote vs in-person tests: Can users test your product online, or do you want formal, live testing which allows the moderator to note the tester’s experience too?
  1. Explorative vs assessment vs comparative tests: Do you want to hear the comments and opinions of the tester, their level of satisfaction, or give them different options to compare?

Which method you should use depends on factors such as:

  • Target audience
  • Fundings (resources)
  • Research objectives

Let’s further explain the characteristics of these types of tests.

Moderated vs. unmoderated tests

Like we already mentioned, the moderated test includes a person administering the whole process, whether it was in person or remotely.

The moderator introduces the test to the users by explaining the procedure, gives them inputs on certain tasks and asks them follow-up questions.

A moderated test can give you a deeper understanding of the results because the moderator can analyze the users firsthand.

Although you are testing usability, you can still gain valuable info if you can observe user’s reactions and behavior while performing certain tasks. 

On the other hand, with an unmoderated test, there is no supervision. You aren’t able to ask follow-up questions, so their answers could feel trivial. Be sure to construct questions well enough to leave as little room as possible for sketchy answers.

Also, an unmoderated test is way less expensive in comparison to a moderated one, which requires securing a room (lab) and finding a trained researcher. We would always suggest using a moderated test, if possible.

Remote vs. in-person tests

This one is quite simple.

Remote usability tests are usually performed by phone or over the internet. Opposite of that, an in-person test means that the tester needs to be physically present, and mostly supervised.

Logically, an in-person test can produce more valuable information. Similar to a moderated test, the moderator can get additional information while observing participants.

While it provides additional input, the price of that is paid in that an in-person test is also more expensive.

Conversely, a remote usability test is cheaper which allows you to do research with a larger group of people. The more users you test with, the easier it will be to determine the average values of their data.

You also diminish the chances of overlooking errors, which can easily happen in a smaller group of users. Finding participants for remote usability testing shouldn’t be hard. Especially since there are companies dedicated to finding relevant users for your business.

Explorative vs. assessment vs. comparative tests

As already mentioned, these tests are used depending on the type of information you’re aiming for.

  1. An explorative test is used when you want to hear opinions, suggestions and deeper reactions to your product. This is a great test when done early, so you can understand whether your concept is well translated into action.
  1. An assessment test is a great way to recognize how satisfying the interaction of users with your product was. This helps you find out if they are satisfied with how your product functions and if it’s easy to use.
  1. A comparative test is primarily used to measure your product against your competitors. Or, it can be used to compare between two options, if your product is still early in the developing process.

Choose the right usability testing method

We explained what types of usability tests are there, now it’s time to be more specific. 

Depending on the nature of your business, you can make a combination out of those mentioned types.

Also, your resources and objectives are important factors. For example, if you want to be in control of the test, but your resources are low, you can conduct a remotely moderated test.

This way you’re guiding the participants, but you’re saving the money that could have been spent on securing a testing place.

Guerilla usability testing

Used for testing a wide variety group of people who are likely unrelated to your product. This can be a great way to collect a large amount of data, but the answers can be superficial.

During these tests, users are randomly selected, in a public environment, so it’s not the best choice if you’re looking for in-depth input. But, if you want to find out the first impressions of the functionality and usability of your product — guerilla testing is the way to go!

You set up your laptop or mobile device and let random users try your product. They can complete a few quick tasks, but don’t expect their attention for any longer than that.

Pro tip: To get users to perform your usability test, don’t forget to gift them with something as motivation!

Laboratory usability testing

This test is conducted in a specially designed testing room (laboratory), with all the required equipment. 

Users perform the tasks while usually being moderated by a professional researcher. The researcher’s job is to:

  • Explain the tasks
  • Guide them through the course
  • Observe their decision making
  • Analyze the success of solving tasks
  • Track how quickly are they able to solve them
  • Ask follow-up questions

While this usability testing method gives in-depth knowledge, it is expensive, so you might not be able to test it on a larger group.

However, there are claims that you only need 5 users to find 85% of the problems, so lab testing might just be the way to go.

Unmoderated remote usability testing

Like the name says — this test is done remotely without a researcher to guide them or ask follow-up questions.

While this method is not the best for detailed results, its results are not negligible. The reason you should consider this test — users are not observed, possibly sitting at home in a relaxed atmosphere. Although the results can be robust, they might be the most natural.

A great way to collect a large sample of data, especially for simpler, not the most important tasks. It’s not recommended as a primary or a first usability testing method.

Phone interview test

With this method, the researcher is talking with the users over the phone, instructing them about the tasks. A less expensive solution, that can bring in a lot of valuable information.

Users are still performing these tasks remotely on their devices and they’re also able to give valuable feedback.

Session recordings usability testing

One of the best methods to discover major problems and errors.

It can be done with the help of random users, or you can test it on real participants. Session recording allows you to track users while navigating through your website or software. This tool records the user journey and documents every interaction as an event.

This method helps you gain valuable information, like:

  • The habits of an average visitor.
  • Their behavior when interacting with different elements.
  • Why did they bounce off of a certain page?
  • Where did they have trouble performing a certain action?

At my previous job, we couldn’t understand why users didn’t complete a specific action on our website. An action that was previously working without any problems.

We were wondering why they were bouncing off of a certain page. Only when we used a session recording tool, we discovered the reason.

One of our developers accidentally removed the link from a call-to-action (CTA) button! You wouldn’t believe how much money we lost because of an issue like this.

This amazing tool is sometimes the best technique as it gives you qualitative insights and a holistic view of what’s happening when users interact with your product!

Final thoughts

It can be difficult to be objective about a project you’ve invested a lot of time in. You’ll likely focus on the elements that were the hardest to create, so you could overlook a part that can prove to be crucial.

Remember, regardless of how hard you try — you’ll never be your average user. You just can’t put yourself 100% in their shoes.

That’s why we suggest you outsource participants when doing usability testing. This way you’ll get real feedback and more natural results.

Determine your objectives, and depending upon your fundings, choose the right usability tests. These tests shouldn’t be hard, but even if they become so — the results will be worth the try!

Lindsey Allard

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