What Is Usability Testing? (Definition, Types and Benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 16 November 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Usability testing is a type of testing where the goal is to find out how easy a website or application is to use. It can improve the design of the website or application by making it more user-friendly. Understanding what it is and how it works can help you use it to its full potential. In this article, we explain what it means, outline the different types you can use, describe how it's different from user testing and summarise a number of its benefits.

What is usability testing?

Usability testing is a method of measuring how easy it is to use a particular product or system. Its aim is primarily to assess the user-friendliness of websites, software applications and other types of digital products, such as mobile apps. The goal is to identify any areas where users have difficulty using the product, so the company can address these in future iterations of the product. For example, by asking users to complete specific tasks under the observation of researchers. The researcher then takes note of any areas where users struggled or had difficulty completing the task.

This kind of testing is important because it can help to improve the user experience of products and make companies more successful in the marketplace. This is especially true since users have a lot of choices and can easily switch to another product if they aren't happy with the one they're using. Therefore, it can provide vital information to people working in areas such as digital product development, user experience design and marketing.

Related: What Is User Acceptance Testing? (Plus Importance and Tips)

Types of usability testing

Here are some of the different types you can use, depending on the situation and your needs or preferences:

Moderated vs. unmoderated

Moderated tests occur with a researcher who is present to observe the user. This is typical when testing a new product for the first time since it allows the researcher to ask follow-up questions and probe deeper into the users' reactions. Unmoderated tests happen online without a researcher present. This can be more convenient and cost-effective, but it doesn't allow for the same level of depth in terms of data collection.

Related: How to Become a UX Researcher (With Steps and Tips)

Remote vs. in-person

Remote tests can happen over the phone or the Internet using video conferencing software. This can be a good option if you want to test users from different geographic locations, but it doesn't require deep reasoning, which means there's a higher chance that the participants don't discover all potential problems.

In-person tests occur in the same physical space as the researcher. This can be advantageous because it allows for the researcher to observe natural user behaviour and body language. It also allows the researcher to ask follow-up questions more easily, which can help to provide context for the user's behaviour and reactions.

Related: 4 Interview Methods in Research and When to Use Them

Explorative vs. comparative

Explorative usability tests are useful when a product is brand new and there's little data on how users might react to it. In these cases, the researcher is primarily interested in understanding how users interact with the product and what their overall experience is.

Meanwhile, comparative usability tests work by comparing two or more products with each other, meaning that there's already some level of user data or knowledge that exists. This can be useful when trying to decide which of several options is the best choice for a particular situation. It's also helpful if you want to know why a particular product is underperforming in comparison to others on the market.

Related: Research Skills: Definition, Examples and Importance

Qualitative vs. quantitative

Qualitative tests usually focus on understanding the user's experience and behaviour, while quantitative usability tests generate hard data that companies can use to make decisions. Qualitative data can be helpful in understanding how users feel about a product and why they react the way they do to it.

Meanwhile, quantitative data can be helpful in measuring how long it takes users to complete tasks or how many errors they make. Ultimately, both types of data can be useful in different ways and it's frequently helpful to use both qualitative and quantitative methods to get a well-rounded view of the user experience.

Related: Qualitative vs. Quantitative: Definitions and Differences

Guerrilla vs. traditional

Guerrilla testing is a type of testing that you can do quickly and cheaply by streamlining the testing process to remove the most time-consuming aspects. It achieves this by having the researcher or other relevant professional find members of the public who want to participate in an impromptu, on-the-spot guerrilla test. This can include asking people in line at a coffee shop or in the park. This can be helpful if you want data quickly and don't have the time or resources to set up a more traditional testing environment, but it doesn't always represent the target audience.

Traditional testing is usually more expensive and time-consuming than guerrilla testing, but it can be worth it if you want to be sure that you're testing the right people. It also allows for a more controlled environment, where the researcher can be sure that they collect all the necessary data, such as by using multiple cameras to record the user's actions and reactions from different angles.

Usability testing vs. user testing

Here's an overview of the main differences between the two:

Purpose

User testing helps you to understand whether future users need a certain product or service. For example, perhaps you want to know whether people might use a new app that you're thinking of developing. This helps you assess whether it's worth your time and money to develop the app.

Meanwhile, usability testing helps you to understand how easy it is for users to use your product or service. This can help you improve the user experience and make it easier for people to use your product or service.

Methodology

User testing usually occurs through interviews, focus groups or surveys and is more subjective because it relies on people's opinions. This means that users answer questions about their present and future needs or wants.

Meanwhile, testing usability is usually more objective because its focus is on measuring task completion time or error rates. It also relies more on observation than user testing, which means you can conduct it in a variety of ways, such as through A/B testing, heat mapping or session recording.

Related: What Is Research Methodology and Why Is It Important?

Data

User testing data is typically qualitative, which means it's more difficult to draw hard conclusions from it. This is because people's opinions can be subjective and hard to quantify. Meanwhile, usability testing data is typically quantitative, so it's easier to draw conclusions from it because it relies on measurable data points.

For example, you might want to know how long it takes people to complete a task on your website. This type of data is easier to analyse than qualitative data because you can compare the results across a larger number of users.

Benefits of usability testing

Here are benefits you can expect:

Improved user experience

By understanding how easy it is for users to complete tasks on your website or use your product, you can make improvements to the user experience. This can help you increase customer satisfaction and loyalty by making it easier for them to use your product or service. By taking these steps, it can then lead to more sales and revenue.

Increased conversion rates

Conversion rates are the percentage of visitors to your website who take a desired action, such as making a purchase. When improving the usability of your website by making it easier for users to complete tasks on it, you increase the likelihood of them converting into customers or leads.

For example, if you make it easier for visitors to find the information they're looking for on your website, they're more likely to stay on your site and make a purchase. This can lead to a significant increase in conversion rates and revenue.

Greater customer satisfaction

By making your product or service more usable, you can increase customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction is a measure of how happy people are with your product or service. When customers are able to use your product or service more easily, they're more likely to feel happy using it.

This can lead to them becoming repeat customers and recommending your product or service to others. This makes customer satisfaction essential for any business because it can lead to customer loyalty and repeat purchases.

Improved ROI

When you invest in usability testing, you can expect to see a higher return on investment (ROI), meaning you can expect to make more money than you spend on the activity. This is because the improvements you make to your product or service as a result of the testing can lead to more sales and revenue. Also, increased customer satisfaction and loyalty can also lead to repeat purchases and referrals. These are all factors that contribute to a higher ROI.

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