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Usability Testing and Conversion Rate Optimisation

Usability testing, a type of qualitative research, is one of the most powerful diagnostic tools used in Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO).

That’s because the most successful CRO projects focus on getting into the mind-set of your customers and really understanding why they behave the way they do. One of the keys to getting really big wins is to engage with your customers.

Quantitative tools, such as analytics, are helpful to identify where the problems are. But that’s as far as it goes, because all you’re looking at is an aggregate of traffic flow around your site.

Usability gets to the heart of why customers are having those problems. It paints a picture of the customer journey, highlights what makes them get stuck on your website and why they leave without buying.

Usability testing is also a great way to interact with users and ask them follow-up questions to gain further insight. Their feedback can help your designers create improved web page designs that really meet the needs of your customers and help them to buy more.

What is usability testing?

Usability testing is a technique used to evaluate the features and functions of a website by testing it on real users in a controlled environment. Participants may be asked to complete tasks while they are observed and sometimes recorded.

During usability testing, a moderator assesses the ease with which a user interacts with a website and carries out tasks.

Usability testing also reveals whether users feel comfortable with the interface of the website as well as aspects such as the flow, navigation and layout, speed and content – especially in comparison to similar sites.

Usability testing can help to uncover potential bugs and potholes in the system which may not be visible to developers and may escape other types of testing, research and analysis.

What types of usability testing are using in Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO)?

Laboratory Usability Testing

Laboratory usability testing is the most expensive method, as it requires special premises and equipment and the testers need to make a special journey to get to the lab, rather than being in their own home.

In qualitative laboratory testing, users are studied interacting with the website in person. In-lab usability testing usually works with small and specific sample sizes to better obtain qualitative data.

Typically, the user sits in front of a PC, mobile or tablet alongside a facilitator who gives the user tasks to perform. A one-way mirror is often used, so that a number of observers can watch the interaction, make notes, and ensure the activity is recorded. Sessions are usually filmed and the software used logs interaction details. This enables a number of stakeholders to observe how a customer interacts with the site first-hand.

The kind of tasks might be ‘Please buy a gift of a teddy bear, to be delivered to your niece in Gloucester on her birthday next Wednesday’.

The observers can see for themselves if participants are able to complete specified tasks successfully and any stumbling blocks they encounter along the way. It also gives a flavour of how long it takes to complete specified tasks and helps generate ideas for the changes required to improve user performance and satisfaction.

laboratory-usability-testing-6In laboratory usability tests, a facilitator gives the user tasks

to perform whilst other team members observe

Remote Unmoderated Usability Testing

This inexpensive usability testing method is deep as opposed to broad because it’s designed to look at small, specific areas. It is ideal if the scope of the testing is limited to a specific feature, your participants are dispersed, or you need results fast.

For unmoderated user testing, you’ll need a software application package, such as whatusersdo or UserTesting, to administer the tasks and questions. This plays the role of a session facilitator to guide the participants through the session and record what happens.

In an unmoderated remote session, the participant can complete the study in his or her own time, on their own PC, mobile or tablet whilst recording the session for later review by the usability expert.

Although there is no real-time interaction with the participant, some remote testing tools allow pre-defined follow-up questions to be built into the study, to be shown after each task or at the end of the session.

Remote Moderated Usability Testing

By contrast, remote moderated usability testing is broad as opposed to deep. It’s a way of observing users throughout the entire customer journey, although, when appropriate, it can also be used to look at specific issues in more detail.

In moderated remote testing, users and facilitators operate in the same ‘virtual’ space at the same time. The facilitator watches the usability test remotely as it happens and communicates directly with the participant via the telephone, email, chat, or a combination of methods.


To carry out remote usability testing, you need to recruit website visitors willing to take part. We use a simple software tool called Ethnio, although you can also email a subset of your database to find willing participants. In order to carry out the usability testing, you also need screen sharing and recording software such as GoToMeeting or One of the great strengths of this method is that you are speaking to real users, while the experience of using the website is fresh in their minds.

Moderated sessions allow for interaction between the participant and facilitator, enabling the facilitator to ask questions for clarification or dive deeper into issues that crop up during the session.

However, the success of this method lies in the skill of the moderator. That person should, ideally, be the same person who is analysing the website using quantitative tools such as heat maps and analytics, so that they already have a good understanding of where the problems are. In addition, the moderator needs to be a good listener, and open to genuinely finding out what the issues are, rather than leading the tester towards a conclusion.

Why you should consider usability testing

Usability testing is not as time consuming as you might think. Our clients are often surprised to learn that research has shown that a sample of just five users can identify around 85% of the issues that may be preventing your website conversion rates going to the next level.

It can also fill the gaps in your CRO process and give you the insight you need to make huge conversion improvements. If you’d like to learn more about usability testing to increase conversion rates, get in touch.

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