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5 Insider Tips to Get the Most Useful Test Results

Ki Arnould  |  May 21, 2014

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User Experience is all about making users happy.

You want to make the navigation smooth, the content clear, and help users get what they need from your site or app. User-centered design is vital to the successful operation of your product, and that doesn’t just apply to the product itself; it applies to your usability testing, too.

When you set up your usability test, there are a few things you can do to put your test participants first. It will make them feel more comfortable and act more natural. Plus, it will ensure you get the best, most useful results from the test.

To help you get the highest-quality feedback users can offer, here are 5 tips that will keep your test participants happy and on-track.

Tip #1 - Make it clear to the user what you want to get out of the study

From a user's perspective, giving their honest feedback on an unfamiliar website can cause some anxiety.

  • What if I miss something totally obvious?
  • What if I don't understand the instructions?
  • What if I make an embarrassing mistake?
  • What if I hurt someone's feelings with my feedback?

You can calm test participants’ anxieties by being extremely clear about what you want.

The introduction/scenario of the study is the first thing a participant sees once they have accepted the test from their dashboard. Unless you’re gathering their very first impressions and NEED them to be a “blank slate” going into the test, I recommend giving them some basic information before they start the test:

  • What site(s) they’ll be viewing
  • What you’d like them to do on the site
  • The kind of feedback you’re looking for


It helps to be as clear as possible in the Starting Instructions.

The introduction is also a good place to include any warnings or exclusions that you’d like users to note. For example, you may be testing with a prototype or wireframe. If that’s the case, it’s helpful to both you and the participant if you include something like this after your introduction:

“PLEASE NOTE: The site/app you will be viewing today is only a prototype. Not all content is in place, and some of the links will not be clickable. Please focus your feedback on the design and placement of items on the page.”

Tip #2 - Orient your users in every task, using simple descriptions and instructions

Most of your usability studies will require the user to navigate and evaluate multiple pages of a site or app.  It’s very easy for a user to misunderstand a question or review the wrong page because they have navigated too far or not far enough.

While it’s tempting to blame them for not following instructions, you can help both the participant and yourself by making sure that your tasks and questions specify a particular page. You can do this in a few different ways:

  • Describing the page physically
  • Providing a URL or link
  • Using standard names like “homepage” or “product detail page”

However, you should also be very careful about using industry-specific terms like “landing page” or “callout” or “header”. To non-savvy users, a header could easily be mistaken for the carousel, the top navigation menu, or anything else that generally runs across the top of the page. Instead, try describing the header (or whatever you are asking about) using words, shapes, or colors: something that anyone can pick out from the rest of the elements on the site.


Here's an example of a website with multiple features that a user could consider the "header."

Tip #3 - Make users feel secure when they log in or sign up

Many usability tests involve sending users through pages that can only be accessed using login credentials, or by filling out fields of personal information. This a very easy place for your test to go awry, because many users are not eager to use personal details during tests. Or, if they already have an account, they might not be able to create a new one using their real information.

Here are several ways to make users more comfortable while evaluating your account creation and login steps:

1. Blur out their personal information (and explain that this is what you're doing).

For tasks that require Personal Identifiable Information (PII), you can choose to blur out the video so the user's information can't be seen. Knowing their information is secure will help users feel more at-ease and act more naturally.


You can choose this option for as many tasks as you want.

2. Provide login credentials or sample contact data within the task - really easy ones.

Set up (or have them set up) dummy accounts in your system with the username and password “usertesting” or something similarly easy to type into a text field. No random number/letter/capitalized/uncapitalized/punctuated nightmares like Bx10oiPL!

3. Tell users to enter fake credentials using a free, open email service like Mailinator.

That way they don’t have to share personal information OR visit personal inboxes to access any confirmation or setup emails.

4. Create static images or prototypes of the login section of your site.

The Research Team works frequently with InVision App, a handy tool that lets you upload flat images of your pages and then add clickable “hot spots” that will send a user through the images as though they are navigating pages. It doesn’t let them enter any text on their own, but as long as you let them know that they’ll be looking at a mockup of the process, they can evaluate the flow without having to worry about using real or fake credentials of any kind.

Tip #4 - Know what your test will look like to users before you send it out

Before you submit your request for a test, spend a minute thinking about how the test will work for the participants. If you don't double-check the tasks and questions you set up, participants could waste valuable time trying to decide how to address the question, instead of providing you the feedback you need!

With each test you set up, remember to preview the tasks and user specifications for your study.


The option to preview a test appears on the second and third page of the UserTesting order form.

When you preview a test, you'll see the task box exactly as it will appear to the participant.


You can check each task to make sure it appears the way you intended.

Or you can post a test with a single user and make sure everything runs smoothly for that person before ordering the full run.

You can even apply to be a test participant on our panel! Not only can you see how other UX professionals are studying their sites, but you can also assign your latest test to yourself and see how the screeners, other requirements, scenario, and tasks display to your users.

Tip #5 - Be nice

Maybe this is just my southern upbringing, but I’ve always found that a “please” before asking a task and a “thank you” for finishing a test goes a long way toward keeping people happy. It won’t stop them from providing valuable—even scathing—feedback, but it is a subtle way of reminding them that you are grateful for their feedback and eager for them to carry on.

You should also consider leaving ratings and reviews for each user who completes a test for you. Just like you, your test participants love being praised for performing well, and they want to know how they can improve.

After you watch a video, take two minutes to rate their testing technique (not the content of their feedback – it’s not their fault if they get lost or confused!) and provide a little information about what helped you most and what didn’t. The user walks away from the experience knowing that they have been heard, and you walk away knowing that your future test participants will be even better at providing feedback than the last group.


Once you assign a rating to a user, you'll have the chance to give a written explanation.


So there you have it: tips for keeping your users at the heart of your product AND your testing.

  • Supply users with plenty of information up-front

  • Use URLs to specify pages and everyday language to describe page elements in tasks

  • Make it easy and secure for users to log in or sign up

  • Preview your test to make sure things work as expected

  • Show your participants that you care

Following these tips will help you build a smoother test, which means that users can focus more attention on your product and help you get the best results possible.

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About the author:

Ki is a CX and user research enthusiast, low-carb queen, minimalist, media nerd, and happy hour maven