How to Conduct User Testing: 7 Tips for Success

By Adam Morrell

6 min read

Recently, we ran some user testing sessions for one of our clients to help shape the next phase of their website optimisation programme. User testing is an essential part of the development process, giving a clear picture of next steps and pain points.

As ever, the days we spent behind the one-way mirror observing as participants completed tasks on a website were illuminating. The activity never fails to deliver insights about user behaviour and decision-making that you would otherwise struggle to uncover. With that in mind, we’re here to share some of our tips for getting the most out of your user testing, with best-practice advice and essential knowledge for maximising the ROI of your campaign.

Quick Navigation

What is User Testing?

User testing is when a brand tests its products, services and digital interfaces with individuals who represent typical users, gathering deep insights about the suitability and effectiveness of a product.

Done well, user testing is one of the best ways to gain information about the behaviour patterns, opinions and preferences of the desired user; insights which can be leveraged to tweak and redesign elements of a product to make it more user-friendly and successful.

User testing can take several forms, but generally comprises a mixture of the following research methods:

  • Face-to-face interviews
  • Supervised or independent product sampling and testing
  • Remote user testing on dedicated UX design platforms
  • Online surveys and questionnaires
  • Focus groups
  • Observation
  • A/B tests

Depending on the budget and resources available, a mixture of face-to-face and remote UX research is preferred, as this provides the deepest well of insight and discovery.

Why is User Testing Important?

User testing offers a range of benefits as part of the UX design process, including:

  • Increased sales and conversions
  • Usable insights which can inform other products, campaigns and strategies
  • A deeper understanding of your customers’ needs and desires
  • Cost-saving and future-proofing (lower redesign costs, etc.)
  • Efficient project management and development timeline
  • Avoid and become aware of issues and pain points which had not been considered by the development team
  • Identify behaviour patterns which may be influencing other areas of a website, or specific products and services

These are just a handful of the benefits that UX testing can bring to the table, and every new project and research session will lead to discoveries and insights about how to improve your products, services and user interfaces to maximise ROI and improve performance.

7 Best-Practice Tips for Conducting User Testing

Before you begin your user testing research, we asked our Strategy Director and conversion optimisation specialist, Adam Morrell, for his best-practice advice on carrying out effective user testing. Here are Adam’s 7 tips for user-testing success.

1. Put your participants at ease

It’s important to be neutral and not lead the witness when you’re moderating a user testing session, but it’s also important that you don’t make the participant feel as though they’re sitting an exam.

If your participant isn’t at ease, they might behave differently or not be as honest with their thinking aloud as they might have been.

So, when you welcome your participants, be relaxed and have a quick chat about something that isn’t related to the testing.

And, as part of your opening briefing, remember to emphasise that it’s the website you’re testing – not them.

2. Consider the context

When we run user testing, we want our participants to act as naturally as possible, which means replicating their typical browsing situation as closely as we can.

That means that, if a user tells us that they’d be most likely to browse for a product on a tablet computer while sitting on their sofa in front of the TV, having a selection of devices of available (or inviting them to use their own if they’d prefer) and a room that’s flexible enough to mimic the scenario is essential.

For example, last week we watched two users pinch their tablet screens in landscape view to zoom in on specific pieces of information in a way that hid call to action buttons from view, and left them tapping a non-clickable element to try to progress.

If we’d placed those users in front of a desktop without finding out what they normally browsed on, we’d never have discovered that detail.

3. Be sensible with your timings

Moderating sessions all day can be draining. Allow people to take a break and receive feedback or suggestions before their next session. We rotate our moderators to make sure we don’t have one person under pressure all day.

4. Don’t just test your website

Depending on the maturity of your optimisation programme, you may be as interested in discovering new ways of doing things to evolve your site more radically as you are in making your existing site perform to its maximum within your existing framework.

One way to find new ways of doing things is to look at how users interact with your competitors. This can help to dispel myths that your stakeholders may have about certain pieces of competitor functionality being silver bullets for your business before you spend the time and resources on developing an asset that may be flawed.

“We’re here to understand our own website, not someone else’s” can be a common refrain in user testing sessions that explore websites beyond the target domain.

However, the reality is that we want to understand how users shop for these products. If a competitor has a feature or function your site doesn’t offer, does your participant engage with that positively or do they ignore it?

Watching the way your target users interact (or not) with elements of other websites can save you a lot of time and money – both in terms of making sure you build something the right way, and that you don’t waste resource building the wrong things.

5. Look at how users get to your website

The observational value doesn’t just end at competitor websites. The route users take to find a website that sells your product or service is also worth observing. Make your first task for them “show me what you’d do if you were thinking about switching car insurance provider” and see what they do.

It might be that they head straight to a search engine, or it might be that they go to a specific brand, comparison site or aggregator as a starting point. Understanding how your users respond and interact with some of those sites is every bit as important as what they do on your site once they get there.

I’m always particularly fascinated by what makes users pick specific sites from a page of Google search results. They don’t always pick the top one – sometimes brand familiarity wins the race, other times social proof, promotion or a strong value proposition in your meta description can make the difference.

6. Use a consistent template for note-taking

After the activity has taken place, you may want to pull together observations from different attendees. If everyone is taking notes in the same format, it becomes a lot simpler and faster to merge all observations without duplication.

You might also want to designate a dedicated note-taker for each session to avoid having to de-duplicate identical observations.

This will also mean that you have your observations and immediate actions documented straight away if there are quick wins or quick fixes to be had, and also means that you can combine your insights with your other research (outputs from data analysis, customer interviews, heatmapping and so on) more rapidly.

7. Have a standby in place

Finally, think about whether you need a standby participant in case someone misses their session time.

If you’ve booked a user testing lab for the day you’ll want to make the most of the time you have there, so sometimes it helps to have a standby who will be paid a greater incentive to be onsite for a number of hours until they’re needed. It might just help you get more out of the day for only a little extra cost.

Interested in finding out more about your customers and garnering insights which can help your website perform? Our conversion optimisation team use a range of user testing and research methods to deliver better results for your business, so you can get more from your digital campaign. For more help and information, get in touch today on 0345 459 0558.