There are numerous websites available that provide online usability testing, eliminating the need to use a usability testing facility. With so many possibilities, it is important to assess the options to make an educated decision on what service would best fulfill your needs.

UserTesting.com is a popular site that regards itself as “the fastest, cheapest way to find out why users leave your site.” UserTesting.com allows you to select the participants being tested, select the user tasks, test competitors’ websites, and receive feedback right away. These features stress the control customers will have in their testing. The site allows you to test a wide range of interfaces – from mobile apps to Facebook games – and choose the amount of users to test, for the low cost of $39 per user. Customers have the option to take time-stamped notes, edit the videos, and ask follow-up questions after receiving results.  As with all remote usability sites, the results may hold higher validity since participants are being tested in their natural environment and are more likely to behave as they would normally. Testing can be done at any time and respondents are drawn from a panel of users who have been pre-screened to meet certain qualifications. However, there are a few drawbacks when comparing this useful service to testing in a research facility. Chief among them is that the respondent demographic questionnaire includes only four questions, so finding users who meet very specific criteria is challenging. In addition, customers are unable to interact with participants during testing and cannot moderate the session to stay on course.

There are many sites that look at particular features of the user experience without including an all encompassing analysis.  For example, Chalkmark, ClickHeat, and ClickTale measure clicking actions, while Clixpy and Morae capture on-screen user movements. Pricing is usually calculated through monthly or annual plans ranging from $19 to $109 a month.  However, none of these forums allows for clients to understand the “why” behind user actions, potential confusion, and failures. For those more interested in gathering feedback from a particular audience, Ethnio is a site where clients can recruit target participants. Although the first 20 recruits are free, gathering 200 recruits costs $400. On the other end of the spectrum, Feng-GUI.com generates algorithms to simulate real user’s eye movements instead of recruiting live participants. If simple feedback is what you are looking for, Feedback Army is a basic usability test in which URLs are shared and viewers post comments and questions about the site. This service costs $10 for 10 reviews. However, without providing users with tasks, many issues may be left uncovered.  Once again, these sites are optimal for those interested in a specific aspect of usability testing.

If clients are seeking an inclusive analysis, there are several sites that provide online usability testing similar to facility testing. Loop 11 is one such site that has the advantage of providing data analysis tools to compare different sites systematically.  No codes or downloads are required, which makes the experience easier for both the client and participant. Testing is available for mobile devices, expanding testing possibilities. Loop 11 costs $350 per session which includes up to 1,000 participants, unlimited tasks and questions and real time results. Loop 11 would be a prime choice for those looking to test a large pool of users (even though a few is usually enough), while if only a few participants are needed, UserTesting.com provides a better bang for the buck.

OpenHallway is another remote usability testing site that is similar in function but has the major downfall that videos can only be up to 10 minutes in duration. Videos consist of the user’s screen and voice while they are completing the designated tasks. One has to wonder how many tasks can be completed in such a short time frame. UserTesting.com also mentioned that most of their videos are only 15 minutes in length but they have the ability to run longer. Although the set up with OpenHallway is regarded as very easy to use, technical issues seem to be a problem when recording and viewing video feed. A basic monthly plan costs $49, while the premium package that includes 30 hours of storage costs $199 per month. OpenHallway may be the best choice for those looking for a cheap and easy remote testing site that is basic in function and quality.

UserFly is a site that records on-screen user movement and mouse movement and clicks. However, it does not include auditory feedback from participants and the video recordings are stored on the UserFly servers for a maximum of 90 days. Prices range from free to $200 a month depending on the amount of captures and storage duration. This site would be useful for clients more interested in the design and navigation aspect of the site rather than user feedback based on their task experience. Those using tests in a professional setting may want their data permanently stored and in their possession.  UserVue, on the other hand, stresses the interaction between moderator and tester by allowing them to communicate via phone or chat while the test occurs. This site charges $149 for a one-month subscription.

With so many options, it is important to first assess your usability goals and identify what you are truly looking to get out of testing. If the website design and format is of primary concern, a simple mouse tracking or click heatmap might be sufficient. Those interested in user experience ought to purchase a more complete program that provides auditory user feedback as well as commentary to predetermined questions. The length of time that you will require usability services should also dictate whether you purchase a program for a single use, monthly or an annual plan. Luckily, there are sites and programs to cater to almost every need to fit your goals and budget.

Jason Pentecost

About Jason Pentecost

As Principal and Co-Founder of Mediabarn, clients and associates rely heavily on Jason for his breadth of interactive experience and his keen perception of where the industry is heading. He works closely with our key clients and is never too far from anything that goes on at the ‘barn. Jason…
Posted in user research, uxlab.

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