Usability, Customer Experience & Statistics

5 Benefits of Remote Usability Testing

Jeff Sauro • September 20, 2011

Remote usability testing has become increasingly popular among user researchers and grew by 19% since 2009.

Even though I have easy access to a brick and mortal usability lab, I particularly like remote testing  for at least 5 reasons:

1. Availability: Do you have time next week to drive to a place you've never been, spend an hour doing a test, then spend time coming home all for $100? Maybe, but a lot of the users you want to hear from don't.

If you want to recruit even a moderately specialized skill (such as accounting) it gets hard to find professionals who are willing to take a half-day off to participate. Your prospects are better if you only have to ask for an hour and they don't even have to leave their office.

2. Geography: Want to test users from Europe, Asia and Australia all for the same product in the same week?  Not a problem, just setup a web-conference, have the users share their screen and have them attempt your tasks. With remote usability testing you don't have to worry about jet-lag, just time-zone differences (scheduling users in Australia from the US is always an interesting exercise in sleep deprivation).

3. Speed:  It would be nice if you could plan weeks ahead of time to get feedback on a prototype then schedule users accordingly. In reality (and in my experience) most design teams want feedback now,  maybe next week and definitely on a Saturday at 10pm.

When users need to take a day off work you need to give them a lot of notice. If it's just a few minutes on their computer, days and times become less constricting. In fact, recently when a user didn't show up for an in-person test I was able to send a few emails and conduct a remote moderated test for a client in the same time slot.

4. The Unmoderated Testing Option: You have the ability to collect data without the need for a facilitator's time. There are many remote tools like Loop11 and UserZoom and low-cost services like and Userlytics which also recruit and send you videos of users interacting with the site. Some tools can even collect user errors like WebnographerDisclaimer: Measuring Usability LLC has a professional relationship with all services mentioned.

5. You see what they see:  I've conducted a lot of lab-based usability tests over the years. The artificial nature of the tasks in a usability test are one thing, but a more immediate difference is often the computer and browser you have the participant using: Things I hear a lot are:
  • My monitor resolution at home is (bigger, smaller)
  • I usually use (Firefox, IE, Crome, Safari)
  • I use a (PC, Mac, Sparc)
  • My keyboard/mouse are (faster/slower or bigger/smaller)

With remote testing users have the familiarity and comfort of their own setup. This is probably most noticeable in both the screen resolution and browser configuration (like all those lovely tool bars that seem to magically appear).  Here are 6 screens from a usability test I conducted last week. Each screen shot was scaled the same to retain the proportions and show the dramatic differences in how users see just a simple starting message in UserZoom (and your website) differently.


About Jeff Sauro

Jeff Sauro is the founding principal of MeasuringU, a company providing statistics and usability consulting to Fortune 1000 companies.
He is the author of over 20 journal articles and 5 books on statistics and the user-experience.
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Posted Comments

There are 6 Comments

March 5, 2013 | Cris wrote:

next tool: <a href="">beeux</a> 

March 5, 2013 | Cris wrote:

next tool: 

November 9, 2011 | Ricca @ Remote Access wrote:

I spent a lot of time on choosing the right one and would recommend thanks for this post!This fits into my budget which is the most important factor fot me. 

September 23, 2011 | UsableInsights wrote:

I like remote testing but have not needed specialized observation software. Recording the session is good for later referral, but I get most of my mileage from screen caps ... I love using screen caps within the results-reporting presentation for observations and recommendations. While Morae is great for recording the session (and when possible, the user's facial expressions as well as the screen), the time it takes to boil down the videos to some meaningful "snippets" makes the analysis time unacceptable (unless there are two folks, one analyzing the results and the other editing the video.

September 21, 2011 | S wrote:

Another tool not mentioned above is: 

September 21, 2011 | Sergey wrote:

I think the #2, Geography and time-difference are the two big reasons to consider remote testing! 

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