Skip to Main Content

Turn Right On Usability Lane

Posted on 9.03.2009

by Bryan Eisenberg

How many times have you given directions but forget to leave out a small detail, or had the wrong name of a street?

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 usability testing.

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. 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. allows you to do this but it’s a bit more work.

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 testing. Add the Ethnio JavaScript to a Web page and it automatically 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 ( 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, 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.

ClickTale, UserFly
Both ClickTale and UserFly offer silent movies of your users’ interactions with your website. You place JavaScript 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 Testing.”


Today's Top Picks for Our Readers:
Recommended by Recommended by NetLine

Leave Your Comment

Login to Comment

Become a Member

Not already a part of our community?
Sign up to participate in the discussion. It's free and quick.

Sign Up


Leave a comment
    Load more comments
    New code