by Bryan Eisenberg
How many times have you
given directions but forget
to leave out a small detail,
or had the wrong name of
It’s easy to get someone
lost, especially if you are giving
directions to someplace
you visit every day. Often,
that location is so embedded
in your mind that you rarely think about how to get there.
This scenario is the exact challenge of usability online — you
are often too familiar with your own website to see it for the
first or second time, as most of your visitors do. It is time for
you do a little eavesdropping on your site visitors through
As little as two years ago, usability testing was prohibitively
expensive and overly time consuming for most businesses.
That is no longer the case. Testing has become so
affordable that it is nearly criminal to not do at least some
usability work on your site.
New Usability Testing Services
Even a great Web designer or optimization consultant quickly
loses their “fresh eyes” when working on a project.
Something that seems obvious to those working on a project
can be very frustrating to a new user. Ideally, you would like
to let new users try a working version of your project and
watch to find out where they get confused. Some new solutions
offer just that.
Some of these solutions allow you to recruit your own
users and some will provide the users for you. Each has its
benefits. I recommend starting with a service that provides
users simply because it’s easier. If you find it helpful and are
willing to put in the time to recruit your own users, you can
take that next step.
UserTesting.com has built a large panel of users who will
record their on-screen actions and voice as they use your
website. For each user’s test session, you get a video and their
written summary. It costs $29 and is typically ready in one
hour. The users are pre-screened to ensure they can follow
instructions, stay on task and verbalize their thoughts.
UserTesting is fast, easy and inexpensive. Users are prescreened
and rated by previous clients so the quality of feedback
is pretty good. It can also be quite valuable to see how your site runs on various users’ computers. The control panel
is limited, however, so you can only specify age, income, gender,
and computer/Web experience. If your target audience is
very specific, you might want to run tests with your own customers.
UserTesting.com allows you to do this but it’s a bit
Silverback is an application for Mac computers that also
records a user’s screen and voice as they browse a website.
The interface is extremely simple and meant specifically for
moderated usability testing. The program carries a one-time
fee of $49.95. If you have easy access to people with whom
you can test your site, and a Mac laptop, this is a great solution.
You simply arrange to meet somewhere with Internet
access and run the test. You end up with a recording that you
can easily edit and post on the Web. The software even
enables webcam use to embed the user’s facial expressions in
the corner of the final recording.
Ethnio + UserVue
Ethnio enables companies to recruit their own customers for
launches a periodic pop-up offering a reward for
participating in a usability study. When a user chooses to participate,
a notification is sent to the person who will moderate
the session. The moderator can then telephone the participant
and use a screen sharing service like UserVue to record
the session. Ethnio costs $400 for 200 recruits and a UserVue
subscription is $149 per month.
This is an ideal combination because you get real users and
you can ask questions during the session to better understand
user behavior. The drawback is that this solution is more
expensive and quite time consuming. Don’t forget, you’ll need
to offer some sort of compensation to the users.
5 Second Test
5 Second Test allows website owners to upload images that
will be reviewed by random Internet users. Users view the
image for just five seconds then click on the screen to indicate
areas of the images that caught their attention. Using
text fields provided on the screen, they describe what they
saw on the places they clicked. This is a free service. 5
Second Test is useful for understanding users’ first impressions
of your site. You’ll need to review others’ sites in
exchange for your review.
Quickly and inexpensively get workers at Amazon’s Mechanical
Turk to provide written answers to questions about what
they think about your site. It costs $10 for 10 reviews.
You could go to Mechanical Turk (mturk.com) directly
and save a little money but FeedbackArmy is easier and
still very inexpensive. The quality of responses varies dramatically,
so you won’t necessarily get 10 helpful reviews
for your $10. The advantage here is that you can get a higher
quantity of responses — look for repetitive feedback. This
is a bit more quantitative approach than watching a video
of each user where you might find problems that even
the user doesn’t realize they are uncovering. FeedbackArmy
has two similar competitors, EasyUsability.com and
Feng-GUI uses software to analyze uploaded images and
provide image owners with heat maps, symmetry analysis,
and focal center/attention information. Their software does not track mouse movement or clicks (instead relying on a
predictive algorithm), and the free version does not offer
face or text detection. Price ranges from free for a standard
heat map on an uploaded image, to $1,000 for 700 images.
By paying for the product, you receive premium analysis,
including customization options for the reports.
Both ClickTale and UserFly offer silent movies of your
on your Web pages that causes users’ mouse movements,
clicks and keystrokes to be recorded. The result looks like a
screen cast of the user’s screen. ClickTale also provides a
written report with detailed information including heat
maps, link analytics and form conversion rates. ClickTale is
free for up to 400 page views and then pricing gradually
increases to $790 per month for 240,000 page views.
UserFly ranges from free for up to 10 page views per month
and gradually increases to $200 for 10,000 page views.
About the Author: Bryan Eisenberg is an internet marketing pioneer and is
professional marketing speaker.
Bryan is the recognized authority and pioneer in improving online
conversion rates and was recently recognized as one of the top 10 User
Experience Gurus. Eisenberg is the co-author of the Wall Street
Journal, Business Week, USA Today and The New York Times bestselling
books “Call to Action,” “Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?” and “Always Be