User Testing

The 5 Best Tips to do User Testing on a Small Budget

Published October 19, 2018 ⚡ Updated on October 2, 2023 by Arne
The 5 best tips to run user testing on a small budget

By definition, user testing (also referred to as usability testing) is the process through which the interface and functions of a website, app, product or service are tested by real users, who perform specific tasks in realistic conditions. To get the best results, testers shouldn’t be directed too much and should be allowed to interact with the website or app naturally in order to really test if the platform is easy to use by people who aren’t yet accustomed to it.

When you build a product or service, you are creating it for human beings in the hopes of adding more value to their lives, great web-design is also about User Experience (Interested in UX? We wrote a simple 5 steps guide). So it makes sense that the best way to improve it is to have it tested by real users before the launch to identify and fix any issues your platform may have.

Needless to say, usability testing is a practice that shouldn’t be overlooked. But still, a lot of businesses skip this process due to their limited budget.

The Real Cost of NOT having Usability Testing

According to Jeremy Mayes in The Cost of (Skipping) Usability Testing, designing and developing software without usability testing is a bit like building a house without letting the would-be occupants see the plans or step inside until move-in day.

“If you think good design is expensive, you should look at the cost of bad design” Ralf Speth

The worst thing to do is to ignore the need for testing and rely on guesswork. The earlier you identify any problems, the sooner you can have them fix which reduces the long-term cost. Aside from saving money, you can also save your time, effort, resources and a whole lot of headache.

You don’t even have to blow the majority of your budget to improve your platform’s user experience. Here are the 5 best tips in doing user testing on a small budget.

Tip 1: Don’t worry about getting »the right testers«

One of the most common problems businesses face when planning to do a usability testing is to find the right people participate in the test. The “right” testers are people from your target audience. Ideally, the pool of testers mirrors the end users of your program but creating a target profile can cause delay since you have to think about the qualities and characteristics of your ideal user tester.

If sourcing the right people is going to delay or stop your test, then don’t worry too much about getting your target audience. Instead of stressing about demographics, recruit anybody who isn’t involved in the product, service or company.

“When it comes to usability testing it is better to ignore finding the right demographic than being put off of testing.” – Paul Boag

Additionally, you don’t have to worry about the number of people joining your user testing. In fact, according to research, the best results come from testing no more than 5 users: According to Jacob Nielsen testing just 5 users would turn up 85% of the problems in an interface. Once you cross the threshold at 5 and begin to add more test users, the increase of issues that you’ll uncover reduces. The reason for this is when you add more and more users in your test, you learn less and less because the same issues are going to be raised again and again.

If you think that 5 is too few, you can go with 8 to 10 people. The point is you don’t need to be looking for 30 participants in order to get valuable insights to improve user experience: The golden rule here is: “Fix what you see before you continue”, meaning that once you see an issue repeatedly you should pause the test, fix the issue and then start testing again with the next batch of testers.

Tip 2: Go remote

Finding participants for your tests, planning their testing sessions and moderating tests in person is time-consuming and comes at a high cost. This is why more and more companies are opting to do remote user testing. This new method of usability testing uses an online software program to record the screen of test participants as they use your platform at home or in their office. Going this route will offer the following benefits:

  • Geography – Your software is most like designed for to be used and accessed all around the world. That means that in order for you to pinpoint potential issues, you also have to recruit users from various counties. Remote user testing accommodates diverse groups of participants. With remote usability testing, you only have to worry about time-zone differences.
  • Cost effective – Big companies have no problems in conducting huge and ambitious tests because they have a bigger budget at their disposal. For smaller companies, however, this is just not possible. Lab-based testing often costs thousands of dollars and this is one of the main reasons why most companies don’t do it!

This is why going remote is the best solution for businesses that are planning to run user testing on a small budget. Remote testing is a much more cost-effective method making it easy to test on a frequent basis.

For example, Userbrain, our budget-friendly remote user tool starts at just $14 per test. Flying to another city and spending a couple of days there to administer the user test is a lot of time and money investment. With remote user testing, you are not only able to reduce travel expenses but also reduce (or even eliminate) other costs associated with in-person testing. In terms of cost comparison, remote testing usually offers bigger savings and is a great solution if you are planning to do user testing on the cheap.

  • Time-awareness – Companies are already aware of the importance of understanding the usage context of an interface. Circumstances matter a lot in user testing. Someone who is using an interface in real life is going to behave a lot differently to someone who is being told to accomplish tasks is able to collect an incentive. Remote usability testing opens the door to conducting tests that also occurs at the moment in people’s real lives when they are doing a task of interest.

Tip 3: Capture only the top 3 problems

In order for a test to be effective, you need to be clear in what you are testing. The best way to conduct a usability test is making use of the scientific method, which is to identify a problem, hypothesize a solution, implement it, and test to see if your solution passes or fails.

With that being said, it is much better to identify a few problems in short but regular sessions than to try in identifying a lot of problems in a huge, standalone test. In each session, try to identify the top 3 problems and work on fixing them before you run the next test. Dealing with fewer problems in a set timeframe increases the likelihood of them actually being solved.

Tip 4: Remember to shut up!

There are two main types of usability testing sessions: moderated and unmoderated.

In moderated remote testing, users and facilitators are in the same “virtual” space at the same time — the facilitator is watching the usability test remotely as it happens, and communicating directly with the participant via the telephone, email, chat, or a combination of methods.

Moderated tests give you more control since you can answer any questions posed by the user immediately and you are there to guide the test to meet the goals of the study. These tests require a moderator, someone that has ample knowledge of the product as well great people skills to keep the sessions running smoothly. This also means difficulty in scheduling with the user.

On the other hand, in an unmoderated remote session, the participant completes the study on his or her own schedule, recording the session for later review by the usability expert. Between the two, it is considered to be the more inexpensive user testing.

These tests are much cheaper and quicker since you are free from scheduling restrictions and limited manpower. There is no real-time interaction with the participant but some remote user tools allow predefined follow-up questions to be shown after each task or at the end of each session. It also gives the participants more freedom in interacting with the platform without you being there to talk them through the experience. This is good because it more closely matches how people would typically be using your software. Because of this, it can produce more relevant results.

Tip 5: Automation, automation, automation!

In order for you to fully optimize your platform, you have to run multiple tests over a long period of time to pinpoint any problems that you may have failed to identify. But we already established that running your own user test can be time-consuming and expensive.

The good news is there are tons of user testing tools that can even automate usability testing sessions. The best part about these platforms is that they are usually cheap solutions that drives valuable results so you don’t have to worry if you are without a budget! Automated user testing can reduce the time to run repeated tests from days to hours.

Arne Hendricks is a developer and writer at Fullservice where he works with a team of writers on content creation and growth hacking.

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