Remote Moderated Usability Tools


Remote Moderated Usability Tools Description, Benefits and Listings

Remote-Moderated-Usability-Tools-UsefulUsabilityRemote moderated usability tools offer a better way to identify user experience task flow issues. Learn the description, benefits, method and tools for conducting remote moderated usability testing.

Remote moderated usability testing tools are powerful, they are almost equal to the ultimate best-case usability testing method, which is in-person moderated usability testing.

There are several online remote moderated tools that enable remote moderated testing. These include some older tried-and-true do-it-yourself tools, along with several all-in-one services that provide additional functionality and features.

I’ll briefly touch on how remote moderated usability testing works, the benefits of remote moderated testing, and then focus on several remote moderated usability tools that enable you to use this powerful technique to optimize your website or app.

How Remote Moderated Usability Tools Work

Remote moderated usability testing tools work by enabling a moderator (researcher) to be able to connect through real-time two-way communications with a test subject who is participating in the test. Because it is a two-way connection, the moderator can follow-up or probe the tester as the tester goes through the usability test.

Why is follow-up or probing during testing so important?

Because many times clues that testers are having difficulty completing tasks are non-verbal. Things like lifted eyebrows, head movements, stopping to pause or other non-verbal clues let a moderator know the user is having difficulty. Being able to follow-up or probe is critical to enabling the moderator to more deeply understand exactly what that usability issue is.

In addition, being able to follow-up and probe during testing can elicit a wealth of information from the tester, typically around what they were expecting to happen or find, versus what they actually had happen or found. This is crucial information for understanding the WHY of usability task flow errors. And without the WHY, it is difficult to determine what to do to improve the usability of that task.

Following-up and probing during testing ensures that the tester’s memory is fresh, enabling the tester to fully share their expectations, thoughts and feelings as they are being tested.

Remote unmoderated usability testing tools are very popular today, but they simply do not allow this essential data to be captured during testing. That is why remote or in-person moderated testing is better, it enables the moderator to capture all the information happening during testing.

Remote Moderated Usability Testing Method

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Remote moderated usability testing methods are centered on creating a two-way communication between the moderator and the test participant. In addition, most methods use a recording and screen-capture tool to document both the tester’s screen interaction as well as the verbal “think aloud” information the tester is sharing during the test.

Benefits of Remote Moderated Usability Testing:

  1. Enables the moderator to follow-up and probe the tester while testing is occurring
  2. Adds critical WHY data to the usability test, by eliciting expectations versus reality information directly from the user
  3. Allows moderated testing of remote testers who may be in another city, State or even Country which expands the tester pool
  4. Saves large amounts of money and time versus in-person moderated testing
  5. Scaleable in enabling multiple tests in a minimal amount of time
  6. Can leverage website intercepts to enable testing of actual website visitors who match Personas

Remote Moderated Usability Tools:

There are two types of remote moderated usability testing tools:

  • Do-it-yourself tools
  • All-in-one remote moderated service
Do-It-Yourself Remote Moderated Tools

The do-it-yourself remote moderated usability testing tools are typically an assortment of three types of online tools:

  1. Two-way real-time online connection tool. These tools are widely available, think Skype, Webex, GoToMeeting, JoinMe etc. The purpose of this tool is connecting the moderator in real-time with the tester, enabling both audio and visual communication between the moderator and tester. Some of these tools enable still others to join in to watch the session, which is useful for allowing design team members to also observe the test.
  2. Screen capture and recording tool. These tools are also widely available, think Camtasia, SnagIt, Adobe Captivate and a host of others. The purpose of this tool is to record the session including the audio and the video of the tester’s screen as he or she conducts the test, along with the voice of the moderator. Although it’s not mandatory to have a recording of the session, most researchers like to do so to go back and analyze specific times in the test when usability issues were uncovered. It is also helpful to have these sessions recorded for sharing the tests with others (such as design team members) after the test is complete.
  3. Video editing tool. These are also widely available tools, consider everything from Camtasia, Movie Maker, Adobe Premiere and more to Mac based tools like iMovie. The purpose of this tool is to edit the testing sessions into highlight reels that specifically identify common usability problems. This enables the moderator to be able to concisely point out what’s causing the issue without the observers having to sit through watching all of the usability tests from beginning to end.

There are other tools that make life easier for a usability practitioner, including website intercept tools like Ethnio or survey pop-ups to find actual website visitors to use as test participants.

A mixture of the three types of tools listed above enables the researcher to be able to conduct their own do-it-yourself remote moderated usability testing in a cost-effective and scalable manner.

All-In-One Remote Moderated Usability Services

There are several all-in-one remote moderated usability services now available for the usability practitioner that eliminate the hassle of having to have all the tools above, while also offering valuable additional features designed specifically for remote moderated testing.

List of remote moderated usability services include:

  1. Validately – A relative newcomer with an easy to use interface that makes remote moderated usability testing a snap. Includes an intercept and screener with unlimited recording. Includes a scheduler to make scheduling sessions easy, as well as a built-in payment system for incentives to testers after their tests are complete. Highlight reel creation is not currently available, but is coming soon. Recordings cannot be downloaded. Finally, Validately is a very affordable solution when compared to the competition.
  2. UserTesting Pro Version – An all-in-one solution that includes the ability to have moderated remote usability testing with either the panel or your own participants.

I spoke with Steven Cohn, the CEO and a co-founder of Validately, along with Jessica Ogilvie, the CMO. Here’s what they have to say about Validately and why they chose to focus on a remote moderated usability testing service:

“We created Validately because we couldn’t find a remote moderated testing service that we really liked for developing and refining our own prototypes. With Validately, we simplify every aspect of remote moderated testing; finding testers who match Personas, scheduling sessions, paying incentives, storing and sharing large testing video files and lots more. And we worked very hard to make it all happen with NO downloads or plugins, which simplifies the user experience for the moderator AND the tester.”

To summarize the benefits of using a remote moderated usability testing service versus do-it-yourself: A service saves you from having to juggle multiple software tools yourself, it also provides the ability to utilize large panels (or better yet your own website visitors via their built-in intercepts), the ability to handle payment of incentives, scheduling sessions, and scaleability in the event you need to conduct continuous testing or testing at larger volume.

Conclusion: Remote Moderated Usability Tools

Remote moderated usability tools are almost equal to the best method of usability testing, which is in-person moderated testing.

The method for conducting remote moderated usability testing consists of connecting the moderator and the test participant in real-time using a two-way online communication tool, using a recording software tool to capture the audio and video of the tester session, and an editing tool to create highlight reels of the recorded tests to share the results with design teams.

The benefits of remote moderated usability testing include; enabling the moderator to follow-up or probe the tester as the test is occurring, the relatively low cost and time required for testing versus conducting in-person moderated tests, and the ability to intercept actual visitors of a site to use as testers.

Remote moderated usability testing tools come in two varieties, the do-it-yourself tools that are widely available, or an all-in-one remote moderated usability testing service that provides all the tools necessary plus additional functionality and features such as access to large panels.


For information on remote unmoderated usability testing tools read 14 Usability Testing Tools which includes comprehensive reviews of each usability tool and a comparison matrix.