Monthly Archives: December 2009

A List of the top 10 best and most popular usability blog posts I wrote in 2009

As this year moves quickly to a close I thought it might be helpful to list the 10 best and most popular usability posts I wrote during 2009.  By best and most popular, I mean blogs that received the most re-tweets.

So, here are the top 10 of my best and most popular usability posts, ranked in descending order, enjoy!

  1. 24 Usability Testing Tools – A detailed list of 24 usability testing tools, including pros, cons and pricing for each.
  2. 7 Controversial Usability Predictions for 2010 – My seven controversial usability predictions for 2010. I have seven somewhat controversial usability predictions for the year 2010 I think you might be surprised to read.
  3. 15 Valuable Usability PDFs You Never Heard Of – Here’s a list of 15 valuable Usability Papers in PDF form that you might not have heard of, but should know and can use.
  4. 3 Pillars of Web Site Success – There are three pillars that comprise the foundation of any successful web site, including your web site. This is a brief overview of these 3 pillars, which are the requirement of a web site to be;  Findable, Trustable, Usable.
  5. Be a Usability Zombie – Usability and zombies go together like Halloween and candy corn. Why? Because zombies do management techniques that you should copy and mimic.
  6. eCommerce ROI: Why Usability ALWAYS Beats Advertising – The Return On Investment for eCommerce usability will always beat online advertising, because of the principle of amortized improved conversion.
  7. eRetail and Usability: THE Perfect Definition – Use this funny yet perfect definition of usability in the eRetail space to get your CEO to do usability testing on the web site, to improve conversion and sales.
  8. Main Navigation Types and Usability: Part 2, Vertical Navigation – This is part 2 of a series of articles on main navigation and usability. This article covers vertical menus.
  9. 12 Really Useful Usability Books – A list of 12 really useful usability books worth reading, and re-reading that are on my bookshelf in my office.
  10. Guest Blog, Susan Weinschenk: Top 10 Attributes of a Usable and Persuasive Web Site – What are the most important attributes of a web site that make it both usable and persuasive? Why do some web sites succeed in making us click while others result in abandonment? Guest blog author Susan Weinschenk reveals the answers.

If you don’t see your favorite usability blog post written by me in the above list that’s okay, just add a comment with a link to your favorite!

I wish you a very happy and healthy New Year!

Guest Blog – Susan Weinschenk and Top 10 Attributes of a Usable and Persuasive Web Site

It’s my distinct pleasure to post this guest blog for you by Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D., author of the book “Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click?

I’ve been an avid reader of Susan’s blog “What Makes Them Click” and Susan has graciously agreed to post one of her articles here. I think you’ll enjoy this article, as well as find it very informative.

Susan is the Chief of User Experience Strategy for Human Factors International (HFI). Her clients call her, The Brain Lady, and that is also her Twitter name @thebrainlady.

Enjoy!

The Top 10 Attributes of a Usable and Persuasive Web Site

By Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D.

Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D.
Susan Weinschenk

Whether you spend a fair amount of time online, or you are responsible for the design or content of a web site or web application, the list below should be of interest to you.

What are the most important attributes of a web site that make it both usable and persuasive? Why do some web sites succeed in making us click while others result in abandonment?

1.The organization of the information at the website (the information architecture) fits the visitor’s mental model

Is the website organized the way the visitor thinks? For example, if the visitor comes to a website looking up reviews of computer monitors is there a category called monitors? Or is the information on monitors part of the ‘Peripherals’ category. Do the visitors really think of ‘peripherals’ when they come to the site?

Web designers and content managers are often too close to their own information and need to make sure that the categories and organization of the web site match what most visitors have in their heads when they arrive at the site.

Usable and persuasive sites are designed for the visitor’s mental model.

2. Less is More

Have you ever heard about the ‘magic number’ 7 plus or minus 2?–the idea that people can remember or deal with between 5 to 9 things at time? Well, that’s a myth. Research shows that the real magic number is 3 or maybe 4.

Research shows that people can only deal with about 3-4 items of information at a time. Anything more than that they are not really seeing or paying attention to. People will tell you they want more choices, but the research on decision-making is clear that too many choices means that we don’t choose at all.

Usable and persuasive sites provide 3 to 4 clear choices at a time.

3. The top third of the page, in the center, is ‘prime real estate’

Where information is on the page does matter. The top third is the part of the page that people see first. Contrary to what some people say, the very top left is NOT the place people look first. The web has come to be much more of a TV model (top middle) than a book model (top left in countries that read left to right and top to bottom).

Smart designers pay attention to what is in this top third of the page. They make sure it is attention getting, meaningful, and speaks to the emotional/unconscious part of the brain, not just the logical /conscious part.

Usable and persuasive sites make good and careful use of the prime real estate.

4. Use visual and cognitive distinctions

There is a lot going on at a typical web site page these days. There are images, and major category navigation bars. There are links to information about the company or individual who owns the site. There might be a place to go for help, a top banner with a shopping cart and a footer with more information. Then there is the main content on the page, and maybe there is advertising.

The list goes on and on.

In order to make sure the visitor knows where to look the site design has to use both visual and cognitive distinction.

Visual distinction means that a certain part of the screen uses different shapes, sizes, colors or fonts to look different.

For example a navigation bar has a green background, and a border around it. It is a rectangle and it is vertical. The top navigation bar on the other hand is horizontal, is on the top right of the page, is a set of links without a background color or a border. It looks visually different than the left navigation bar.

It’s not enough, though to use JUST visual distinction. The different parts of the page must also be cognitively distinct.

Cognitive distinction means that the items that are in different locations belong together with other items in that location, and are distinctly different than the items in other parts of the screen.

For example, the items in the green left navigation bar refer to different products I can buy. The items in the top right navigation bar without color are where I go to make changes to my account, get help, and ask for support.

Usable and persuasive sites use both visual and cognitive distinctions.

5. Engage all 3 brains

In my book Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? I talk about the idea that we don’t have just one brain, we really have 3:

  • The new brain is the logical/conscious brain
  • The mid brain governs emotions
  • The old brain is interested in scanning the environment and asking, ‘can I eat it?’ ‘can I have sex with it?’ ‘will it kill me?’

Engaging the old brain means that you are speaking to issues that are important to the basic self, such as food or security/danger or sex. Since most sites aren’t about food or sex, this leaves danger messages such as security, feeling safe, the idea that we are getting something for FREE or some other trigger that grabs the attention of the old brain.

Engaging the mid brain means that you are using photos or pictures or stories that talk to the emotional part of the visitor.

Engaging the new brain means that you have taken care of all the rational/logical reasons why someone would want to continue at your site.

Usable and persuasive sites engage all three brains.

6. Make text easy to scan

In general, people don’t like to read online. Devices such as the Kindle are an exception, since they don’t use regular LCD screens. Most websites are still being viewed on regular laptops and monitors, and these are still hard use for blocks of text.

With some exceptions (for example, people who have subscribed to the NYTimes Reader software application), people will not read large blocks of text online. In place of these large blocks web sites should be concise, and use headings, bullets, and small paragraphs to break up text.

Usable and persuasive sites make text easy to scan.

7. Use progressive disclosure to show people what they need when they need it

Lots of people come to a web site. Some know what they want, some are browsing. Some have lots of knowledge about what the site contains and some are new to the topic.

The best tactic therefore is to use ‘progressive disclosure.’

This means showing a small amount of information and then having the visitor click for more information. Then there is some more information and they can click again for more.

Have you heard that the user should be able to get to what they want in 3 clicks or less? That’s another myth! As long as the clicks make sense people are willing to ‘follow the scent’ to get to their information.

Usable and persuasive sites use progressive disclosure.

8. Use grouping to show what things go together and limit clutter

With all the information and pictures and videos and ads that are on screens these days it’s easy to forget that a screen can be visually overwhelming, especially to someone who is new to the page. There is a whole science behind designing screens and pages so that they use grouping to reduce clutter.

There can be a lot of material on the page as long as the things that go together are placed together, and that there is a little more space between separate groups than there is within items inside of a group.

Web sites that minimize the number of unique margins by lining up labels and fields and columns well can have lots of information and still not appear cluttered.

Usable and persuasive sites pay attention to the grouping of information and limit clutter.

9. Build in the features and functionality that make the site become a habit

Research shows that over time people will tend to focus on one or two web sites for a particular task. For example, they will go to one or two websites for news, one or two web sites to shop, one or two web sites for entertainment. So what makes them choose to come back over and over to one or two sites and let the others fall away?

Sites that build in features that encourage use to be habitual are the winners, for example, e-commerce sites that make it easy to re-order (Staples), or offer one-click buying (Amazon). Or sites that aggregate all of your financial information together in one place (Mint) or allow you to not only send a twitter message but also monitor the twitters on particular topics (HootSuite).

There’s a limit here though. It’s not about having lots of features, it’s about having the one or two ‘can’t live without it’ features that make the site become a habit.

Usable and persuasive sites choose and outperform in one or two killer features and functions.

10. Create a buzz in a specific market

Don’t forget the power of social validation. I have a whole chapter on this in my book on Neuro Web Design: What makes them click?

People listen to what other people say, especially if they are uncertain about what to do.

So if there are 5 different sites that you can use to upload your photos, but one of those sites is talked about amongst your twitter group, is written about at the blogs you read, and advertises how many members they have, then that is the site you are most likely to check out and stick with.

Usable and persuasive sites know who they are aiming for, and do the marketing and publicity to make sure that have buzz among a certain cohort.

Conclusion: Top 10 Attributes of a Usable and Persuasive Web Site

So that’s the current top 10 list. Try evaluating your favorite websites against the list and let me know what you think. What sites do you use that match several of the items on the list?

If you liked this article check out Susan’s blog: www.whatmakesthemclick.net for more information about Neuro Web Design.

About the Author:

Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D., is the author of the popular blog “What Makes Them Click? Applying Psychology to Understand How We Think Work and Relate.”

Susan has a Ph.D. in Psychology and 30 years of experience as a usability, user experience, and human factors consultant for Fortune 500 companies. She is the author of several books in the field, and her most recent book, published by New Riders is, “Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click?” She is Chief of User Experience Strategy for Human Factors International (HFI). Her clients call her, The Brain Lady, and that is also her Twitter name: @thebrainlady.

My seven controversial usability predictions for 2010

Flickr New Year Baby Photo via Skokie Public Library Creative Commons License
Flickr New Year Baby Photo via Skokie Public Library Creative Commons License

I have seven somewhat controversial usability predictions for the 2010 I think you might be surprised to read.  These predictions are based on my understanding of the state of the usability field based on blog posts, articles, tweets and all the other news and information I’ve picked up throughout the year. Whether you agree or disagree with these predictions, I think you’ll agree that in the past year we’ve seen plenty of change, and will continue to see increasing changes in our field in 2010.

1. The cost of conducting usability testing will decrease by a factor of 10.

As I mentioned in my article; 24 web site usability testing tools, I’ve noticed a recent significant increase in the number of low cost or free usability testing tools available. In 2009, several new, simple but effective tools have risen to prominence. Considering there are many additional new and easy-to-use tools being developed even as I type this, it seems reasonable to assume usability testing and analysis tools will be available in unprecedented numbers for amazingly low costs.

Anyone still renting a usability lab, going through expensive recruiting firms for participants, or using specialized rooms with one-way mirrors and multiple video cameras is wasting money – lots of money.

For a company that switches to low cost usability tools instead of renting a lab, this will decrease their usability testing costs by much greater than a factor of 10.  For companies already using these low cost tools, the incremental increase in use of the tools means many more usability reports and optimizations, at extremely low costs.

The year 2010 should see many more firms converting to these lower cost usability testing methods, and saving tremendous amounts of money doing so.

2. There will be a dramatic increase in the use of low cost web-based usability testing tools

In 2010, several new, cheap and powerful web-based usability testing tools will be launched.  This will have a positive impact on usability practitioners.  The positives include additional functionality at very low costs, a greater variety of types of tools for specific testing tasks, and anywhere, anytime access to tests and data.  All of which means a lot more people can and will be using these usability testing tools.

In the bad old days, usability testing tools were expensive hardware/software contraptions that were not easily accessible, portable or cheap. Because of the significant increase in these new low cost web-based tools, usability practitioners now have a much more usable set of tools with which to ply their trade.

There is a downside however, especially for vendors of the more traditional tools: the added competition of the new tools will force the older usability testing companies that have PC hardware/software solutions to change their products – or go out of business.  Increasing low-cost competition means less ability for these older companies to operate in a marginalized capacity. For 2010, the older vendors will need to re-think their products and pricing, or potentially face exiting the business.

The good news for usability practitioners is 2010 will be a banner year for new and exciting low cost web-based tools.

3. True usability ROI will continue to elude usability practitioners

True ROI, in terms of bottom-line numbers reported in annual reports and quarterly statements, will continue to elude the usability profession. The sad fact of the matter is most corporations do not realize usability is in fact a profit center.  As I mentioned in my ROI article, it’s not practical, or wise, to quote ROI guarantees for a usability project.  Typically usability improvements decrease overall costs, and increase revenue potential.  Yet from the conversations I’ve had with usability practitioners, the conversation always seems to come back to, “how do I ‘prove’ that adding more usability testing will bring a positive ROI?”

The on-going education of corporations by usability practitioners, Associations such as the UPA and educational institutions is the primary way to continue to make headway in obtaining usability advocates. Until someone can formally introduce a usability ROI metric that is used in annual reports and thus can be understood by the Wall Street crowd, many corporate executives will continue to believe true usability ROI is a myth.

For 2010, this trend of non-belief of usability ROI will continue to exist.

4. Use of remote moderated usability testing will increase by a factor of 10

As more and more usability practitioners use remote moderated usability testing, and talk about with their practitioner friends, use of this low-cost and effective testing method will explode.

In the past, tools like UserVue or video conferencing rooms were about it for practitioners who wished to conduct remote moderated testing and recording of usability sessions. But the increasing access to cheap and effective tools like WebEx, GotoMyPC and Webcams coupled with high-bandwidth internet access and conference calling has effectively eliminated the barrier to entry for practitioners.

Saving thousands of dollars in travel costs, and enabling testing of users literally around the world are powerful reasons why remote moderated testing will become the way to get things done in 2010.

In 2010, more and more usability practitioners will take the plunge and use remote moderated testing as their primary way to conduct usability testing.

5. The UK will become a major source of usability expertise

The United Kingdom and the European Union already are doing significant usability work – and have the smarts to prove it.  But have you noticed the amazing number of usability practitioner job openings in the United Kingdom, or the increasing number of usability projects occurring there and in the rest of the European Union in the past year?  I have.  And I’m not alone. Recognizing the significance of usability in the EU, for the first time ever the Usability Professionals Association International conference will be held outside North America, Munich, Germany to be precise.

I’ve also noted that there have been an incredible number of new job positions opened in 2009 for usability testers, information architects and user experience designers in the UK.  All these new positions mean lots and lots of usability work, and with that work comes knowledge and expertise.

I fully expect to start seeing many more UK and EU based brilliant usability practitioners providing their expertise to a host of small, mid-size and large companies.  I also expect to see many more usability projects and experiments, with resulting white papers, articles and blog posts demonstrating the expertise and thought-leadership resident there.

In 2010, the UK will dramatically increase the number of usability projects, and thought-leadership this provides.

6. The phrase ‘user experience design’ will become overused and almost meaningless

It’s amazing to see the number of job positions titled ‘user experience design’ in which it’s quite clear what the hiring manager is actually after is a graphics designer that knows css, flash and html, and can create wireframes, prototypes and final production files. In my humble opinion, and the opinion of others such as Nielsen, this is not a correct usage of the term ‘user experience.’

According to Nielsen/Norman Group’s definition of user experience

“”User experience” encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products. The first requirement for an exemplary user experience is to meet the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother. Next comes simplicity and elegance that produce products that are a joy to own, a joy to use. True user experience goes far beyond giving customers what they say they want, or providing checklist features. In order to achieve high-quality user experience in a company’s offerings there must be a seamless merging of the services of multiple disciplines, including engineering, marketing, graphical and industrial design, and interface design.”

Here then is the problem; the term ‘user experience design’ is more and more often not being used to reflect someone who creates all aspects of the user perceiving, learning and interacting with a company’s products and services. Instead, it’s being used to define a designer that only designs web interfaces, without the myriad other research, behavioral and usability knowledge that is needed to truly design a holistic user experience.

And because it’s over-used, and used incorrectly, the term ‘user experience design’ will become more and more generic, confusing and thus meaningless.  Will it continue to be used?  Yes!  But you can expect to hear many more conversations like, “So, you have a job position for user experience designer, I’d like to apply, but I need to know, what will this person actually do?”

For 2010, the term ‘user experience design’ will become abused and thus more meaningless as an actual description of true ‘user experience design.’

7. Without professional certification being required, more and more charlatans will be attracted to usability

Dentists, Pilots and Public Accountants all have to pass training and certification before practicing their occupation. However, with usability anyone can declare themselves a ‘usability professional’ and set up shop, providing usability services to unsuspecting clients.

Without some form of formal certification, anyone can (and will) provide usability testing services if they believe there’s money to be made, whether they know the difference between a card sort and a heuristic review, or not.  The same access you and I have to free and low-cost usability tools likewise means college students, stay at home moms and dads and even children can create usability services and sell them on the internet, using these same free or low-cost tools.

This isn’t a new topic of discussion, the UPA went down this path of investigating usability certification in 2001.

The only way to ensure a professional is providing usability services is to make usability a profession, via a certification process in which the practitioner has demonstrated the expertise and knowledge necessary to properly practice the art and science of usability.  Without this certification in place, anyone can and will declare themselves a usability vendor, if they believe there’s money in it.

For 2010, more and more fake usability practitioners will set up virtual shops, using the free or low cost usability testing tools now available.

Conclusion: My 7 controversial 2010 usability predictions

So there you are, my rather controversial predictions for usability in 2010.  Do you agree with them?  Do you disagree? Share your thoughts about my 2010 predictions, or better yet make your own by adding a comment! Only time will tell if you and I are right!

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My big list of 24 Web Site Usability Testing Tools

[UPDATE as of October 2014] An UPDATED article with newer information is available on my site, please make sure you check it out: 14 Usability Testing Tools

In the past few years, there has been massive growth in new and exciting cheap or free web site usability testing tools, so here’s my list of 24 tools you may need to use from time to time.

Gone are the days of using expensive recruitment firms, labs and massive amounts of time to create, deploy and report on usability tests.

By using these usability testing tools and others like them, you have for the first time a complete set of tools designed to tackle almost any usability research job.

From recruiting real users (with tools such as Ethnio) to conducting live one on one remote moderated tests (UserVue) to analyzing results of usability changes using A/B testing (Google Website Optimizer), there is a plethora of useful and usable tools to conduct usability testing.

Why usability testing helps:

But what good is conducting usability testing, how can it help?

As an example of the benefit of usability testing, Jared Spool, usability guru and leader of User Interface Engineering, has described how simple usability testing and subsequent changes to ONE button increased online revenues for a major eCommerce web site by about 300 Million Dollars, in one year.  This is known as the $300 Million button.

By using today’s low cost usability testing tools, usability researchers can spend a fraction of the cost to obtain results that are close to the traditional usability testing facility results that used to cost thousands.  And just as significant, results can now be gathered and analyzed in a matter of an hour, vs. the days it used to take.

Caution! These usability testing tools aren’t for everyone

Of course, just because the tool is free, or practically free, doesn’t mean just anyone can and should use the tool.  As with most other tools, the analysis and the recommendations about what to do based on the reports takes expertise.

As with other professionals such as dentists or doctors, it’s the knowledge that comes with training and years of experience that guides the hand that uses the tool.

List of 24 usability testing tools:

  1. A Paper and Pencil
  2. Concept Feedback
  3. Chalkmark
  4. Clickheat
  5. ClickTale
  6. Clixpy
  7. Crazy Egg
  8. Ethnio
  9. Feng-GUI
  10. Five Second Test
  11. Feedback Army
  12. Loop11
  13. Mechanical Turk
  14. Morae
  15. Open Hallway
  16. Silverback
  17. Simple Mouse Tracking
  18. Usabilla
  19. UserFly
  20. UserTesting.com
  21. UserVue
  22. Google Analytics
  23. Google Website Optimizer
  24. Website Grader

1. A Paper and Pencil

Paper And Pencil
Flickr Image courtesy Bryan Veloso via Creative Commons license

Paper and pencil you say?  The most powerful and dirt cheap of usability testing tools says I!  The reality is using a paper and pencil to draw interfaces, wireframes, cards for card sorts and a host of other usability mechanisms is an extremely fast, extremely effective way to conduct usability testing.

Paper and pencil are amazingly simple to use, communicate quite effectively, are so low cost you probably have them all over the office and home, and are just about as cheap as dirt.

You can’t go wrong using paper and pencil to help conduct early prototype usability testing, it’s a great way to get quick, fast and meaningful results at a rock-bottom price.

Pros – Cheap, fast and extremely effective

Cons – Early design stage testing only, not for use in testing interaction

Pricing – Very cheap to free

Back to the Usability Tools list

2. Concept Feedback

Concept Feedback
Concept Feedback

Concept Feedback was and is designed as a way to gather input and feedback from experts about new designs for marketing or advertising purposes.  However, this tool can be used by web site designers and usability researchers to gather information about potential new web site designs, or interfaces.

It works quite simply, you submit your concept to the expert community, and reviewers provide their suggestions, recommendations and input about your design.  You then judge the quality of their responses by taking into consideration each reviewer’s quality score, higher scores mean more people consider this reviewer an expert, which means their advice might be worth more.

This community of experts is available free of charge, and because each reviewer can be graded by others it offers a means to determine the quality of each opinion you receive.

ProsGet free expert advice in a very quick manner.  In addition, you can follow-up (and/or network) with the reviewers.

Cons – From a usability testing perspective the reviews are not conducting actual tasks (they’re viewing an image), which means interaction feedback is not possible. In addition, there’s no guarantee the reviewer’s opinions reflect the actual user experience once the site is live.

Pricing – Free

Back to the Usability Tools list

3. Chalkmark by Optimal Workshop

Chalkmark
Chalkmark

To quote the site: Do people know where to click? Quickly run a test on your UI prototypes to answer any nagging questions about usability.

Chalkmark provides a means of sharing an image with a user to gather feedback on where the user would click to perform a task.  From a usability testing perspective, this is the same concept as a reverse card sort, which means the terminology and navigation is tested to ensure users know where to go to accomplish a task.

The method for sharing images is easy, the test image is uploaded to Chalkmark.  Next, a survey URL is produced by Chalkmark which usability researchers can share with testers via an email, or on a web site.  A researcher provides a brief description of the task that needs to be accomplished, and the tester clicks on the image where they think that task would be.  The clicks are recorded by Chalkmark, and a realtime display of a heatmap showing the location of the clicks is provided to the usability researcher.  The time each click takes is also recorded.  Reports can then be downloaded by the usability researcher as a PDF file.

Pros – Records clicks and displays realtime data.  A major advantage is the ability for usability researchers to provide Chalkmark invitations to actual users via email or on a website.

Cons – Unfortunately, researchers are unable to ask participants the ‘why’ of where they clicked, which is a critical component of reverse card sorts.

Pricing – Free account can be used as long as you like, and creates surveys with up to 3 tasks.  30 Day Plan is $109 for unlimited numbers of surveys & tasks.  Annual Plan is $559 for unlimited surveys and tasks.

Back to the Usability Tools list

4. ClickHeat by LabsMedia

ClickHeat
ClickHeat

Another in the usability tools that track where users click, ClickHeat provides an interesting display method of results via heatmaps.  But unlike other usability tools, ClickHeat is a free OpenSource tool that can be deployed on your web server.  This provides a major advantage, which is actual users will be providing the data that drives the click maps.

For WordPress users, there is a very interesting WordPress ClickHeat Plugin that enables ClickHeat to be integrated with your WordPress website.  This provides anyone with the ability to gather real data from actual users about where they click on a website.

Pros – First, ClickHeat is free, so the price is right.  Second, ClickHeat tracks real users trying to conduct real tasks on your website, this kind of information is priceless.

Cons – There are rather specific server requirements and a few other restrictions that must be understood.  As with other click map tools, there is no way to ask users why they clicked where they did, or what they expected to find by clicking.  For large sites with massive amounts of data, there is not currently a way to download database formatted data for analysis.

Pricing – Free

Back to the Usability Tools list

5. ClickTale

ClickTale
ClickTale

Another in the click map type recorders, ClickTale offers a very interesting twist.  ClickTale is a paid hosted service that tracks user keystrokes, mouse clicks and moves and the time it takes for users to move around a web page.

Single user sessions are saved as a movie with a large round circle around the user’s cursor so it’s easier to see.  A nice feature is the ability to show aggregated data in the form of heat maps or as reports.  The heat maps display red hot zones where most users spend longer periods, and blue or cold areas where your users spend the least amount of time.

A very nice feature is the Form Analytics tool which displays aggregate form field information.  This information includes time of field completion, the number of entries and clicks as well as which form fields have the highest abandonments, or take the longest to complete, or have the most back-tracks due to errors or confusion.

A final nice feature is the ability ClickTale provides to assist I.T. teams with finding and repairing hard to find form bugs.

Pros – All in all ClickTale is a nice recording tool for capturing and analyzing your real user data as your site visitors complete tasks and enter form information.  The ability to analyze either heat maps or aggregate data provides additional methods for evaluating the usability of a site or form.  The form analytics tools is a very helpful feature, especially for eCommere web sites.

Cons – As with other click tracking tools, ClickTale does not enable a usability research to ask the users the “why” for the actions they took (or did not take).  There is no permanent access to recordings, and extra JavaScript code is required for each page the usability researcher wishes to use ClickTracks on.  A minor but somewhat confusing issue is the broad array of pricing subscriptions and plans available.

Pricing – Can be somewhat confusing with monthly, 6 month or annual pricing among Free, Blogger, Bronze ($99/mo), Silver ($290/mo), Gold ($790/mo) and Enterprise packages.  Each comes with specific support options, number of pageviews, domains tracked, and recording history time.  The Free plan is very bare-bones and does not, for example, allow playback of all of the pageviews a user visits during a session (only the first 2).

Back to the Usability Tools list

6. Clixpy

Clixpy
Clixpy

Another in the quickly growing category of user movement recorders is Clixpy.  Clixpy is a very low cost tool (starts at $5 for 100 captures) which tracks what users do on a web site including mouse movements, clicks, scrolling and form inputs.  As with the other monitoring services, JavaScript code is added to the web site code, which enables Clixpy to record user movements.

Clixpy will not track form fields with input type-password but Clixpy will track everything else.  It is possible to manually add attributes for Clixpy to not log credit card numbers, but as with all such recording services caution should be used when ensuring privacy and security of sensitive user data.

Pros – The pros of Clixpy include the incredible low cost and the ease of use of the tool and Clixpy web site.

Cons – The cons include the lack of larger scale aggregate reporting that will be required of more frequently visited web sites and the inability to explore with users the “why” of what they did.

Pricing – Clixpy costs $5 for 100 recorded sessions, $10 for 200, $20 for 600 and $30 for 1,000.

Back to the Usability Tools list

7. CrazyEgg

CrazyEgg
CrazyEgg

CrazyEgg is a popular click tracking usability tool which has the ability to display a large number of interesting data based on clicks.  These data displays include heatmaps of the more popular locations of clicks on a page, lists and overlays.  An interesting tool I find useful is Confetti, which provides user details for each click on a page, by rolling your mouse cursor over each dot that represents a user click.  CrazyEgg is easy to set up, using JavaScript which you place on each page you wish to have tracking on.

CrazyEggs reporting features capture the location of the click on the page, referrer information including search terms (handy for SEO folks too), operating system and related information.  Reports can be shared via a read-only link.  In addition, you can download the data and use it in Excel or databases.

Pros – Pretty cheap, and has a nice array of data and reports to help you visualize your click traffic.

Cons – As with the other click tracking software, CrazyEgg demonstrates the location of the click, but not why the users decided (or didn’t decide) to click.  Clicks are tracked on a single page only, so gathering session click data on multiple pages or multiple hours or days of a single user set of visits isn’t included.

Pricing – CrazyEgg has a 30 day money-back guarantee, is priced on a monthly basis: starting at $9 per month for the basic plan to $19 per month for their Standard plan, and $49 (Plus plan) to $99 (Pro plan).  As you move up in plans, you increase the number of trackable visits, and you can track more pages.

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8. Ethnio

Ethnio
Ethnio

Ethnio is not a data usability testing tool, instead it’s a tool usability folks can use to find and recruit real web site users for a live remote test.

Ethnio works by adding some JavaScript code to the page you wish to do the recruiting on.  It displays a survey which they call a screener to your web site visitors, asking them to participate in a brief usability test.  If a participant completes the screener and meets your requirements, you are alerted to the fact that you have a live candidate ready for testing.  From there you can use GoToMeeting or UserVue etc. to connect to your user and conduct your remote moderated test.

Pros – Ethnio solves the problem of trying to find your real web site users to participate in usability testing.

Cons – Enthnio only works if your researchers are actually ready and able to conduct the test.  Separate screen sharing services are required to actually run the test.

Pricing – First 20 recruits are free, 200 recruits is $400 and 2,000 recruits is $800.

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9. Feng-GUI.com

Feng-GUI
Feng-GUI

Feng-GUI is a very interesting usability testing tool in that it does not use real users.  Instead, it uses algorithms to simulate a real user, in this case to generate eye tracking studies.  The principle of Feng-GUI resolves around their belief that human eye movement can be replicated based on variable on the page, along with typical actions the average human makes.

To use Feng-GUI you upload an image you would like to have eye-tracking conducted on.  Feng-GUI then generates eye tracking heat maps using their artificial intelligence algorithms that predict what a human eye would when presented with the image.  Overlay heatmaps, hotspots and Gaze Saccades (the path your eye draws as it moves around the page) are presented to the usability researcher.

I like to think of Feng-GUI as being a low cost alternative to more expensive human-based eye tracking studies, but with the knowledge that you’re dealing with algorithms, not people.

Pros – Great way to have a cheap alternative to human eye tracking studies.

Cons – Feng-GUI is predictive only in the extent that the algorithm enables it – meaning you are not dealing with data from your actual users.  Images have to be uploaded, so html pages must be screen-captured and there is no interaction with web site functions.

Pricing – Free (one image & one heatmap), $50 for 50 images, $225 for 250, $400 for 500 and $700 for 1,000 images.  A web services API is also available.

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10. Five Second Test by Angry Monkeys Pty Ltd.

Five Second Test
Five Second Test

Five Second Test is a tool that enables researchers to upload images and have people provide feedback about the image – but the people seeing the image are only provide 5 seconds to take in the image.

The five second test, because it only lasts 5 seconds, is supposed to mimic the process the typical web site visitor uses to determine what the site is about, and whether he or she will stay there, or move on.

Two versions of the five second test are offered, the first is a visual demonstration of the just the page, the other version is a click test where the researcher can ask the user to list 5 things about why they clicked.  With five second test a researcher can choose to display his or her image to the random reviewers that visit Five Second Test, or if the image is more sensitive in nature the researcher can invite select viewers to take the test.

It should be noted that Five Second Test does not include the ability to rate a reviewer’s feedback, such as is possible with Concept Feedback, also, reviews have no data about the people (if they selected Random viewers) such as their age, expertise with the web, etc.

Pros – Five Second Test is free, and it utilizes the concept of displaying an image in only 5 seconds to determine what, if anything, viewers will see and or react to.

Cons – For random viewers, there is no ability to judge each reviewer by the quality of their typical answers – nor is there information about the type of person completing the five second study.

Pricing – Free

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11. Feedback Army by Dashnine Media

Feedback Army
Feedback Army

Another in the reviewer usability testing tools, Feedback Army enables researchers to share URLs with reviewers, who then make comments or answer questions about the web site or design.  Because Feedback Army enables a URL to be shared, the reviewer can explore the web site, an advantage over Concept Feedback, which only displays an image.

The researcher can post questions about the web site or image, and then capture the responses back.  There are no guarantees however about the quality or quantity of responses.  To its credit, Feedback Army provides the ability to replace a bad comment with a new comment, and offers refunds if the researcher feels the comments were particularly unhelpful or off-topic.

Researchers can order 10, 25 or 50 responses per study.

There are other reviewer services springing up to offer Feedback Army some competition, including; 3rdPartyFeedback.com and EasyUsability.com, among others.

Pros – Easy and fast way to gather reviews about web sites or images.  Pricing is very economical.

Cons – As with other services, the review quantity and quality can vary, and the researcher does not have the ability to follow-up with reviewers regarding their comments as they are exploring the site.

Pricing – $10 for 10 reviews, $23 for 25 and $40 for 50.

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12. Loop 11

Loop11
Loop11

Loop11 is a unique usability testing tool in that it allows unmoderated remote usability testing using actual users.  A researcher provides a simple task to a user, for example, finding a particular type of gift book for a relative on a book site, then tracking user interaction.  The data is presented via reports of task completion rate, time on task, common fail pages, paths and a nice detailed path analysis for each users.

Loop11 does not require software to be loaded on a web site.  As is mentioned on the Loop11 web site, this means remote unmoderated usability testing can be done on your competitor’s web site!  Because real users are being tested, Loop11’s results will be accurate, or at least as accurate as the real users are.

With Loop11 a researcher can have up to 1,000 participants per test project.  Each test project costs a $350.

Pros – Simple to use with no code required, provides real data from real users, can be used on any web site.

Cons – Unmoderated means not being able to ask the users questions about their decisions, the flat $350 fee might be high for researchers only needing to test 5-10 users.

Pricing – Flat $350 fee for each user testing project.

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13. Mechanical Turk

Mechanical Turk
Mechanical Turk

Mechanical Turk is Amazon’s human intelligence tasks service (HITs) expert review group. Reviewers join Mechanical Turk and volunteer to complete tasks.  The reviewers are paid for each completed task.

For usability testing, a researcher could post a task of trying to find a book as a gift for a relative on a book site (as an example) and then receive the feedback from the reviewers as to how easy or difficult the task was to complete.  As with the other reviewer services, there is no ability to ask the reviewer follow-up questions as they go through the tasks.

Other services mentioned for usability testing use the services of Mechanical Turk, but as mentioned these services do much of the leg-work for the researcher, meaning using Mechanical Turk directly is cheaper, but requires a bit more effort on the part of the researcher.

Pros – Provides fast and low cost reviewer network to gather usability feedback.

Cons – The researcher will be required to put a bit more effort into this service vs. others mentioned, requires an Amazon.com account for processing and payment.  Quality will vary depending on the reviewer that chooses to complete the task.

Pricing – Very low cost, prices vary depending on the number of tasks a reviewer is asked to do, and the time the reviewer may take to do the tasks.

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14. Morae by Techsmith

Morae
Morae

Morae is a complete suite of usability testing tools for the Windows OS (a Mac version of Morae is not available), including a Recorder module which captures all user interaction (including voice, video, keystrokes, mouse movements, screen action, etc.), an Observer module for displaying sessions to remove observers, and the Manager module which is used to analyze, edit and package the resulting usability test.

Morae is sophisticated, and can do an amazing amount of research activities, which means there is a bit of a learning curve to actually using it.  It’s not that it’s particular hard, it’s just that it takes time, and without reading the instructions researchers may not be aware of the full capabilities of Morae.

Morae is a software package that is priced at $1,495 for the Bundle of all modules, or $1,295 for the Manager module.  The Recorder and Observer modules can be purchased separately at $195 each.  Webcams, microphones and high-end video cards are necessary to record users and edit the resulting videos.

Pros – Morae is an entire usability testing lab in a box.  Morae has sophisticated capture and analysis tools that make it extremely useful for usability researchers.

Cons – Morae is expensive, although discounts for students or educational institutions are offered.  Morae is Windows only, Mac OS is not supported.

Pricing – Bundle is $1,495, or separately $1,295 for Manager, $195 for Observer and $195 for Recorder.  Discounts are available for certain groups.

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15. Open Hallway

OpenHallway
OpenHallway

Open Hallway is a browser-based screen and audio capture device that enables usability researchers to conduct usability testing sessions remotely, then play them back later for analysis or demonstration.

Because Open Hallway is browser-based, there is no code for the researcher or the user to download.

Open Hallway is a very easy to use.  Test recordings are located on OpenHallway’s servers, and can be downloaded for editing and further analysis.  Only Premium account customers can download the videos (mp4 format only) for editing purposes.

Videos can be up to 10 minutes long, which might be a problem for some usability testing which might go longer.  The makers of OpenHallway suggest that tasks be limited in scope so that the 10 minute video recording length won’t cause a problem.

The number of videos you can record and store depend on the plan you purchase.  The videos are stored on OpenHallway servers, so if your account is closed all videos will be deleted.

There are a few minor issues of note with OpenHallway, for example the fairly common set up of using multiple monitors is not supported (the suggestion is to do testing on the primary monitor, which will be recorded).  Likewise, high resolutions monitors might cause visibility issues when played back, and audio won’t be captured of the user does not have a microphone.  IE 6.0 is not supported.

Pros – A very easy to use and easy to set up browser-based tool for capturing usability sessions remotely using screen capture and audio.

Cons – Only Premium customers can download video, maximum 10 minute recording time, not all monitor set-ups or browsers supported.

Pricing – $49 per month Basic (3 hours of recording storage), $99 per month Plus (10 hours storage) and $199 per month Premium (30 hours storage).

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16. Silverback by Clearleft

Silverback
Silverback

Silverback is a Mac-based software tool that enables the recording, analysis, editing and playback of usability testing sessions.

Silverback is $49.95, and a certain percentage of profits go to save the Gorillas.

Because of the low cost yet easy ability to record usability testing sessions, Silverback is a good usability testing tool for the office and the road, and completely replaces a more traditional and far more expensive usability testing lab.

Pros – Easy to use, very nice price usability recording software for Macs.

Cons – Sadly, Silverback is Mac only.

Pricing – Free for 30 days, $49.95 one-time payment.

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17. Simple Mouse Tracking by Luis Leiva

Simple Mouse Tracking
Simple Mouse Tracking

Simple Mouse Tracking is free click tracking software that can be used to capture and analyze the clicks users make while visiting a web page.  Simple Mouse Tracking includes the ability to replay a real-time session, and tracks all mouse movements on an html page.  Data is captured in a MySQL database for access.

Simple Mouse Tracking, as with the other click tracking usability testing tools, does not allow the researcher to ask questions of the user as he or she navigates the web site.  However the ability to track hundreds or thousands of click streams will help a researcher better understand the existing navigation paths on the site.

Pros – It is a free tool with support of most browsers.  Easy to use with nice real-time and database analysis of mouse movements and clicks.

Cons – Like the other click-tracking tools, Simple Mouse Tracking will not enable a research to ask the user why they are clicking, or not clicking, on page elements.

Pricing – Free

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18. Usabilla by Usabilla B.V.

Usabilla
Usabilla

Usabilla is a free (beta) unmoderated remote usability tool that enables researchers to collect feedback about a web page or image from users.  In addition, Usabilla tracks where users click, which enables both click-tracking information to be captured, as well as qualitative data (such as; “please click on the part of the web page you like best”).  Not only is click information provided, but researches can enable notes so that users can share information about their opinions such as why they clicked on a certain button, or what they expect to find next.

Usabilla then provides the researcher data results as visual reports of heatmaps or scatterplots of clicks.  Data is also available for download as PDF, CSV, TXT or XML files for further analysis.  In this regard, Usabilla can be used for three usability purposes; as a reverse card sort tool, as a click-stream recorder and as a qualitative tool for gathering user opinions and feedback.

Pros – Enables easy to set up and administer remote un-moderated usability testing.  Can capture both quantitative and qualitative data. Currently in Beta it is free for usage for up to 500 participants.

Cons – As with other unmoderated usability testing tools does not enable the researcher to ask follow-up questions while the user is conducting the test.

Pricing – Free beta.

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19. UserFly.com

UserFly
UserFly

UserFly is an easy to use unmoderated remote usability tool that captures a user’s mouse movements, clicks and other screen interactions and enables researchers to play them back for analysis.  With UserFly, a researcher places JavaScript on the web page or pages that he or she wants to test, then records the user’s actions, including form interactions.  Data captured includes the page or pages the user interacts with, time on page (or task), and related data such as text entry, mouse clicks and scrolling.

Recordings are stored on the UserFly servers, and are stored for a maximum of 30, 60 or 90 days.  Various monthly pricing plans are available which vary depending on number of captures per month and storage time of the captures.  The more expensive plans offer a greater number of captures per month, and longer storage time for each capture.  As with other unmoderated remote usability tests UserFly does not offer the ability interact with the user as they are going through the web page.

There are a few notes researchers should be mindful of, including the fact that this tool does not work with AJAX calls.  However, on a positive note, coupled with a webcam and/or call-in number this can easily become part of a useful moderated usability testing tool.

Pros – Easy to use and inexpensive (or free) screen capture device.

Cons – Captures cannot be permanently stored and aggregate behavioral data is not available.  No ability to interact with users as they are being recorded.

Pricing – $200 per month for the Enterprise Plan (10,000 captures per month and 90 day storage, https supported), $50 per month for the Business plan (1,000 captures per month and 60 day storage, https supported), $25 per month Pro plan (1,000 captures per month, 60 day storage), $10 per month Basic plan (100 captures per month, 30 day storage) and Free plan (10 captures per month, 30 day storage).

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20. UserTesting.com

UserTesting.com
UserTesting.com

UserTesting.com is a panel-based usability testing service that provides feedback from Testers regarding questions you ask them about your web site.  Included with each test is a Flash video of the tester talking about their interaction with the site as they browse it.  In addition to the video, a written summary by the tester explains what they liked or did not like about the site.  Tests are normally done within one hour, and thus are quite fast.

Each test costs $29, however there is a pre-pay quantity discount available.

To conduct a test, the researcher enters basic information about the typical user that might use the web site, including gender, age, income and computer expertise.  Optional technology requirements (such as requiring only Mac OS systems be tested) can also be added. UserTesting.com then provides at tester that most closely matchs your typical user profile.

A nice feature is the ability to rate each tester, which helps provide the researcher with some quality information about the feedback received from the tester.  UserTesting.com does offer the ability for researchers to use their own testers, instead of the panelists, the cost is the same ($29 for each test, users who participate are paid $10 by UserTesting.com).

Pros – Fast and affordable panel-based usability review.  Includes video of tester walking through the site, plus written summary.

Cons – No ability to ask follow-up questions while the tester is conducting the test.  Panelists may not be an appropriate fit for niche audiences.

Pricing – $29 per test, prepayment savings available for larger quantity buys (10 tests or more).

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21. UserVue by TechSmith

UserVue
UserVue

UserVue, by TechSmith (makers of Morae usability testing software) is a web-based remote moderated usability testing tool that enables researchers to connect, interact with and record users remotely.  UserVue’s VoIP feature is available in the United States and Canada only.

Unlike other remote usability testing tools, UserVue enables the all-important one-on-one interaction between a usability moderator and a test participant via phone (or chat), and includes the ability for remote observers to watch the test as it happens.

An additional nice feature is UserVue recordings can be analyzed and edited using Morea’s Manager tool, if you have already purchased it.  UserVue is a subscription-based model that costs $149 per month for access by a single moderator.

Pros – Easy to use and cheap remote moderated usability testing tool that enables and records one-on-one sessions, including the ability for observers to watch the tests.

Cons – UserVue is not available for participants with dial-up internet connections.  VoIP phone connections are available for the United States and Canada only.

Pricing – A single seat subscription is $149 per month.

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Honorable Mention – Usability testing tools

Although these technically might not be classified as usability tools by some, each of these three tools provides a wealth of data about a web site that can and should be analyzed by a usability researcher.

22. Google Analytics

Google Analytics
Google Analytics

Google Analytics is an easy to use, free, and very handy usability testing tool that provides a comprehensive set of web site data tracking and analysis tools.  Usability researchers seeking to understand usage information for a web site can use the reports to identify behavior, trends, and any red-flag issues.  Data includes user sessions, visits, page views and much more.

Because it’s free and provides a good set of web data, Google Analytics should be used by any web site owner that does not already have a web analytics tool.  Usability researchers who want to understand existing user behaviors can use this tool to gather a great amount of usage statistics and reports.  A nice feature for eCommerce web sites is the ability to identify conversion events and pages, which will provide an easy to use yet powerful set of data around eRetail lead flow, order-flow and sales statistics.

However, as with all other web analysis tools Google Analytics will not identify the “why” of user behavior (that’s left to follow-up 1-on-1 usability testing sessions).

Pros – Free comprehensive web metrics reporting tool.

Cons – Data does not provide the “why” of user behavior.

Pricing – Free

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23. Google Website Optimizer

Google Website Optimizer
Google Website Optimizer

Google Website Optimizer is a free A/B and Multivariate testing tool that enables usability testing of various “what if” scenarios.  For example, using Google Website Optimizer a usability researcher can test two versions of an online order form, to determine if the usability improvements made to the form really did improve conversion rates.

The way Google Website Optimizer works is simple and easy to set up.  The usability researcher can set up experiments, as they are called, in which two different versions of a web site page can run at the same time.  HTML code is provided which will be added to your existing web page code.  Then, with the test turned on the traffic to that page will be split, 50% of traffic going to page “A,” and 50% to page “B.”  After enough visits have been recorded the performance of the two pages can be analyzed and a winner selected using the simple reports that are part of the package.

Because it’s free, easy to use and has real users conducting real tasks Google Website Optimizer is a very handy tool for conducting testing on web sites. As with all web site analysis tools however the “why” of the user behavior may not be known, and further exploration via on-on-one usability testing sessions may be required.

Pros – Free easy to set up and use A/B or Multivariate testing tool.

Cons – Won’t identify the “why” of user behavior.

Pricing – Free

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24. Website Grader by Hubspot

Website Grader
Website Grader

Website Grader is a free and handy SEO usability tool that can help researchers identify issues in a web site that might need to be addressed.  Website Grader analyzes 22 key indicators of SEO success, including on-page and off-page factors.

The reason Website Grader is helpful for usability researchers is because usability changes to the structure or content of a web site will impact SEO components.  Thus, when making usability changes to a site it’s a good idea to check those changes with Website Grader, or related tools that evaluate SEO health of a web site.

Pros – Free and fast SEO website grader tool.

Cons – SEO factors only, does not provide user behavioral data.

Pricing – Free

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Conclusion – 24 Usability Testing Tools

As mentioned, the recent increase in the number of low-cost or free usability testing tools has lead to exciting new opportunities for usability researchers.  Now more than ever in the past usability testing can be conducted easily, quickly and efficiently, without the expensive travel or facility charges that used to be required.

And because of the great variety of usability tools now available, usability researchers have unprecedented opportunities to evaluate, analyze and make recommendations for web site improvements.  This benefits the web site owners, the usability researcher and the users, which is truly a win-win-win!

If you’ve not seen your favorite usability testing tool listed above leave a comment – so that we can all learn more about the latest and greatest usability testing tools.

Note: Companies mentioned in this article may or may not be advertisers on this site. However, in no way does their sponsorship or lack thereof impact the results of this or any other editorial content on the site. In all cases, the same rubric for evaluation is used to compare tools or services and all results reflect the outcome of the comparison without regard to whether a company is advertising on the site or not.

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