User testing

In today’s lesson, we’re talking about user testing.

User testing is when you observe real users interacting with your website, product, or wireframes.

The goal is to identify usability issues, gather feedback, and assess how well they can accomplish specific tasks.

User testing is one of the most valuable forms of research.


You get to observe people using your site for the first time. Things that may seem obvious to you, may be overlooked by the user. And, often times, users point out things you never would have considered.

By the end of the lesson, you’ll know:

  • How to set up a user test
  • The specific questions to ask to get the best feedback
  • What your users think of your site (and your competitors’ sites)

Ready? Let’s dive in…


Next steps:

1. Set up your users tests

  • Use (or any other service you prefer) to set up your user tests.
  • If you don’t have a budget for user tests, you can have friends or family help out. But keep in mind, they might not be your target demographic and their responses may be biased.

2. Document your findings


Fun fact: 5 user tests will uncover 85% of all usability issues

User testing is when you observe real users interacting with your website, product, wireframes, etc.

The goal is to identify usability issues, gather feedback, and assess how well they can accomplish specific tasks.

How it works:

  • Find users from your target audience (look at Analytics for this data)
  • Ask them to perform predefined tasks and to speak their thoughts aloud
  • Listen, observe, and note their interactions, behaviors, and feedback

Questions to ask:

  • You’ve just arrived on the site. What is this site for? What can you accomplish here?
  • Does this site appear trustworthy? Why or why not?
  • Can you find [a particular product or piece of information]?
  • Now go through the checkout process (without buying). Remember to speak your thoughts out loud.
  • What did you like best about this site?
  • What 3 things could be improved?
  • Would you buy from this site? Why or why not?

Tip: Get feedback on competitors

Ask users to go to your competitors’ site(s) directly after yours.

Ask them which site like better and why based on the following:

  • Design
  • Offer
  • Ease of use
  • Checkout

The key to user testing:

  • Don’t talk or interrupt
  • Listen and observe
  • Know that the feedback might not be entirely accurate or reliable because they are pretending to be users in a testing environment

Paid vs. free

We highly recommend paying for a professional user testing service (i.e. However, you can ask your audience (e.g. social media followers, email leads, website visitors, etc.) to help.

How many users tests? 5

Add all feedback in your research document, so you can reference it later.



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Video transcript:

Here’s a fun fact.

Five user tests will uncover 85 percent of all usability issues. And let me tell you, five user tests is not a lot of work to uncover 85 percent of your issues. So let’s dive into how user testing works and how to get it done quickly.

Understanding the Basics of User Testing

User testing is when you observe real users interacting with your website, your product, or your wireframes.

The goal is to help you identify any of those user issues, gather additional feedback, and then assess how well they can accomplish the tasks that you’ve given them.

Here’s how user testing works. 

Conducting a User Test: Step-by-Step Guide

First, you want to find users from your target audience. You can do this by looking at analytics to get a sense of your demographics, or asking your existing customers.

Then you want to ask them to perform some predefined tasks, and you want to ask them to speak their thoughts out loud. So for example, you can say, Now you’re starting on this homepage, I want you to pretend that you’re going to buy.  

You’ll then want to listen. That’s the key word here. You want to listen, observe, and then note their interactions, their behavior, as well as their feedback.

Believe me, you’re going to learn a lot from this process. 

Here’s some questions that you can ask during a user test.  

You’ve just arrived on the site. What is this site for? And what can you accomplish here?

This gives you an excellent sense of somebody’s first impression. And because they haven’t seen the site before, you get a very clear sense on how clear your messaging is.

You’d be amazed at how many user tests I ran over the years, where I would ask people a question like this, and their response would be so far off from what the site was all about. So this is a valuable question to ask right at the beginning. 

You can also ask, does this site appear trustworthy? Why or why not?

Again, a great indicator of how good you’re making your first impression.  

Then ask them to do something. Can you find a particular product or piece of information? This will help you understand how people are going through the site and how easy it is to use.

Once they’ve done that, now go through the checkout process without buying.

And tell them, remember to speak your thoughts out loud. You’d be amazed at the stuff that people say off the cuff during a user test. They wouldn’t think to articulate this in like an email survey or a website poll, or even if you ask them directly. They probably wouldn’t even think to say it, but because it’s in that moment of truth, they’re just thinking out loud. You get a glimpse inside of the psychology of what’s going on as they’re going through your site.

Towards the end of the user test, you want to ask them a few additional questions. What did you like best about this site? What three things could be improved? 

And here’s the real question.

Would you buy from this site? Why or why not? 

The Importance of Listening and Observing in User Testing

And before we move on, I want to instill a very important lesson here. The best user tests are the ones that bring a tear to your eye. They should make you sad. They should break your heart. And it’s a tear of pain, but it turns into a tear of joy. Because now you know what to work on next.

You’ve got a clear idea. Ah, okay. I had five users and they all said this one thing really, really well. Really sucked. Like this is what we need to work on, right? It’s really straightforward. So remember that the best user tests will bring a tear to your eye.

But we’re not done yet. 

Here’s a pro tip. 

Comparing Your Site with Competitors

As you’re going through the user test with your users, then ask them to take a look at your competitor’s site. Now, if you’ve been following along with this research course, you’ll know the importance of looking at your competitors and getting feedback about them.

Now you can get feedback from real users who will compare apples to apples, your site to theirs. As they’re going through the site, ask them which they like better based on the following, the design, the offer, the ease of use, the checkout process, and then ask them which site would they buy from.

This is a great way for you to understand what the market thinks about your site versus your competitors.

The Do’s and Don’ts During User Testing

The key to user testing, that is, if you’re running the user test yourself and not using another service, as you’re doing this process, you don’t want to talk or interrupt. You just want to listen and observe. Use the questions that we’ve given you at the beginning of this video and then. Zip it. 

Don’t say anything.

Let them talk out loud. If you have somebody who’s struggling with an issue on your website, you will want to jump in and help them. Don’t do this. Let them figure it out. You can’t be there for every visitor. So you have to uncover all of these issues as they arise. And a user test is a great way for that to happen.

Remember, the best user tests are the ones that bring a tear to your eye. If you’re watching people struggle with something, you know you can iron it out later, but you won’t encounter these issues if you keep jumping in and guiding people along the way.  

Finding Users for Testing: Paid vs Free Options

So now that we’ve talked about how to conduct user tests, a question that comes up is, well, how do I find users? 

Well, there’s the paid option, and there’s the free option. Now, we highly recommend paying for a professional user testing service like usertesting. com. These are services where you can just pay a flat fee and you can give them a list of demographics and say, I’m looking for people this age with this profession who live in this region and I, I only want those types of users. 

And then you can give them a list of questions if you’d like. We recommend you do. And they will actually recruit users for you. A lot of them like user testing. com, they’ve got a whole pool of users that they can tap into, and then you just pay by the user. We highly recommend this mainly for for two reasons.

One, it’s a pretty good deal.

The second benefit is speed. You can get user tests done usually in a couple of days. But the nice thing is that you don’t actually have to do this. If you’re using a service, you can set it up, let them start to recruit the users and conduct the tests, and then they notify you when it’s done.

So you can go ahead set it up. Go work on other parts of your research and then come back to it in a week or two. And they’ll give you the videos and any written responses. So it’s really easy.

Having said that you absolutely can do user testing yourself. You can ask your own audience. So like your social media followers, or if you have like email leads, people that haven’t purchased, or people who have visited your website.

The challenge here is that this is going to take a while. It can be difficult to go and recruit users, because there’s a lot of steps and a lot of back and forth. If you’re using a paid service, it’s much more streamlined.

But there is a third way if you really want to go the free route.

The third way is you can just start to recruit people around you. Actually just talk to people. 

Something I’ve done in the past is if you’re at a coffee shop or an airport This is a great example. Just walk up to him and say Excuse me, if you don’t mind I’m actually working on this website. I don’t really like the look of it. Would you mind just taking a look at it for like five minutes and just let me know what you think of it I’d be happy to buy you a coffee or a cocktail or whatever it is that they’re drinking at the time  

And you’d be surprised. A lot of people are very cool with that. 

Now you notice I said something there in particular. I said, I’m working on this website. I’m not really sold on it. You don’t want to come across and say, I got this site. It’s the most amazing site you’ve ever seen. I’ve spent five years perfecting it. Can you take a look at it for me? Because now they know your ego is involved.

You have to kind of just like talk negatively about it at first, because that encourages that critical feedback, critical in both senses, because it’s critical that you understand what they’re saying. It’s critical that you get that feedback as to what’s working and what’s not.

A common question that comes up is how many user tests should I run? 

How Many User Tests Should You Run?

Well, as I mentioned at the top of this video, studies show that 5 user tests are going to uncover 85 percent of all your usability issues. So go ahead and do that.

That’s going to solve most of those problems. You don’t want to do 10 or 15 or 20 user tests.

Just do 5, iterate based on the feedback, and then you can do another 5 on the new design. 

And keep in mind that this doesn’t just apply to websites. You can run user tests on your apps, you can run them on your wireframes. If you have a new wireframe or a design that you’re looking to test, but you haven’t coded it yet, or if you’re launching a new site, if you’re a startup and you’re just starting with something new, it’s really useful to have users go through it before you start getting real traffic there. You can iron out things a lot faster running user tests on wireframes then you would on a fully coded page.

Now there’s one caveat to this. We talked about having five users per user test.

There’s also desktop versus mobile. So if you have an even split of users on desktop and mobile, you’ll probably want to do five on each because the experience can be very, very different.

But again, if you’re in a pinch and you just need to get some feedback, then by all means just do five user tests and split them out on desktop or mobile or whatever people are using at the time.

Recap and Final Thoughts on User Testing

So to quickly recap, user testing is a fantastic way for you to see how real people use your site in the real world. It gives you a sense of how people use the site, but it also gives you a glimpse into their minds because they’re speaking their thoughts out loud, and they will often reveal things that they wouldn’t say in a survey or a poll or if you were just chatting with them face to face. 

You can conduct five user tests and uncover 85 percent of all usability issues. So don’t do any more than that. Take five tests, iterate on accordingly, and then move on. You can do another round shortly after. 

You can do user tests through a third party service, or you can conduct it yourself with your social media following, your subscribers, or even your customers.

A third option is to just ask people who are in your area, somebody who’s at a, you see at a coffee shop or at an airport. Even if these people aren’t in your target market, they’re still a human being that uses a website. And we all use websites differently. And people will start to uncover issues that your website or your design has.

So don’t get too hung up on finding the perfect person for this.

And lastly, as you are doing the user test, remember our pro tip. Once the user test is complete on your own site, ask them to take a look at your competitors as well and tell you which one they would buy from. The insights that you’re going to get from that are invaluable.

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