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User Testing 101 – Should we go guerilla?

Author's avatar By 27 Jan, 2011
Essential Essential topic

An introduction to user testing reviewing 3 options from Skoda to Porsche to Rolls-Royce?

No matter whether you work for your yourself, within a start-up business with 1 member of staff or you work at a multi-national blue-chip corporation, understanding your customers is one of the key ingredients to making your business and proposition work.

From lead generation and e-commerce websites to web applications and intranets, user testing is one of the most powerful, insightful and actionable techniques you can use. You move beyond thinking of your website/app/intranet from your own perspective to seeing how people who aren"€™t involved in your business browse, experience and interact with it.

From my experience user testing should very much be on the agenda for all businesses, for a number of reasons explained within this article. Critically, where user testing used to be considered an expensive, luxury service for only big businesses, new tools and techniques have been developed which means for absolutely zero budget you can start to gain the benefits of user testing - honestly!

User testing, why bother?

In case user testing is considered a luxury activity or one that isn"€™t important within your business, there are a wide range of benefits of carrying out user testing for consideration.

Below are 8 business benefits of user testing:

  1. Provides immediate quick wins
  2. Raises usability issues not even considered internally
  3. Quashes in-house politics
  4. Browsing behaviours can be identified and the website tailored to maximise conversion opportunities
  5. Establish why your checkout conversion rates are low and drop-out (abandonment) rates for a particular stage in your checkout process are high
  6. Your search engine marketing budget isn"€™t being mis-spent or worse still wasted
  7. It helps identify key issues in information architecture (how your site content is structured and navigation links named)
  8. See which of your creative marketing messages and promotions are ignored

Don"€™t forget, user testing doesn"€™t just provide benefits to your business. Once insights from user testing are used to improve your site or to help shape its redesign, your visitors and customers also benefit as they have a more enjoyable & usable browsing and "€˜doing"€™ experience "€“ and we know what that will lead to, more leads and more sales for you and your business.

When should we test?

There are three primary "€˜time periods"€™ to carry out user testing:

1) During the design of a new website/app/intranet

This could be for a simple design and build of a new lead generation website all the way through to a ground up redevelopment of an e-commerce platform. During a design process, user testing is one of the many techniques that can form part of what is termed "€˜user-centered design"€™. More on this approach will be covered on future articles.

2) On an existing website/app/intranet that is going to be redesigned/redeveloped

Carrying out user testing on an existing site, even though the plan is to completely redesign it, can provide you with invaluable insights on what your users expect to be able to do on your site. In turn these insights can all be used as part of the planning of your new site, ensuring you factor in pre-existing user concerns and requirements.

3) On an existing website/app/intranet that you are looking to adjust & improve

Particularly for high traffic sites, and even more where businesses are investing in traffic generation through one of the many channels available, carrying out user testing can help to identify where adjustments and improvements are necessary. The aim of this is to not just understand what users want and do on your site, it is to help identify where there are opportunities to test and optimise your on-site conversion rates. Of course using your analytic data is another key tactic for identifying areas of your site that could be damaging your revenue generating ability.

What options are there for user testing?

There are three primary options for you to benefit from insights from user testing. On following articles on Smart Insights I will be looking at each approach in more detail.

1) Guerrilla User Testing

An old car

Guerrilla (out-in-the-wild) style user testing is the no-frills, DIY approach. Apart from your time and the person"€™s time that you are asking to take part, there are no direct costs. You are simply getting a fresh pair of eyes to look at your designs or your existing website, someone who ideally hasn"€™t been involved in the designs or site.

During my 1 day usability and user experience training course I introduce guerrilla user testing to the delegates, and without fail this part of the course is one of the ones that gets the best feedback.

Editor's note: I've just read an excellent new book on Guerilla user-testing techniques that I'd recommend for agencies, consultants or in-house usability teams:

2) Un-moderated User Testing

A sports car

This is a fairly new type of testing which allows you to have web users use your website to carry out any number of tasks based on scenarios suitable for your website ie. Make a purchase, Make an enquiry, Find information. This testing is done remotely, is usually un-moderated (more on moderation with option 3 below), and both the users screen and their voice is recorded for watching at a later stage.

3) Moderated User Testing

A Rolls Royce

This is the type of testing that has been around the longest, and it is certainly the most comprehensive and expensive type of user testing. Understandably it tends to be the larger businesses that have the bigger budgets who invest in this type of testing, as it provides a greater degree of intelligence and actions following test sessions.

The process for moderated user testing usually involves the following:

  1. Identifying Your Users
  2. Determining Tasks and Journeys
  3. Encouraging Natural Responses and Experiences
  4. Measuring Efficiency, Effectiveness, Satisfaction
  5. Encouraging Users to Think Out-Loud
  6. Improvising During The Tests To Ask New Questions
  7. Capturing Audio and Visual Feedback
  8. Reporting Results and Recommendations

What is Think-Out-Loud?

At this stage its worth introducing the "€˜think-out-loud"€™ methodology. For all 3 types of testing, one of the vital requirements is to encourage the user to:

  • talk through what they are thinking
  • describe why they click certain things
  • explain what they are expecting to see on the next page (before click on the button/link)
  • describe what they like/dislike about the browsing experience they are having
  • share what they would like to see instead of what they are using

Which option is right for me?

This depends on the size of your site, your budget and the potential revenue and profit impact that making site improvements from user testing can deliver. On saying this, one thing is for sure "€“ if you aren"€™t already, starting to carry out any form of user testing should be your number 1 priority.


I hope this post has helped to introduce you to the different forms of user testing, and given you some encouragement to carry out your first tests. Providing there is enough interest in this subject I intend on writing subsequent posts which look in to more detail in to each of the 3 approaches I have described here.
In addition to user testing there is an increasing amount of site monitoring tools, which provide you with an overlay of where people are clicking and their general browsing behaviour. In addition to user testing there can be a lot of value in using some of these available tools, and I intend to review some of these tools on future posts.

Useful Links

Your Questions and Feedback

I"€™d be delighted to hear feedback and get questions from you on any of the following:

If you have carried out user testing before:

  • What testing approach (or approaches) do you use?
  • What software do you use for user testing?
  • What providers have you used?
  • What are your experiences of user testing?
  • Is user testing part of your business culture?

If you haven"€™t carried out user testing before:

  • Do you think you are likely to consider user testing going forward?
  • What objections or reasons have you been given if you"€™ve tried to encourage your business to consider user testing?

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