One of the biggest barriers to conducting usability testing is the cost and time involved in testing.
Moderators have to bring users to a dedicated location, test each one (usually one at a time), and only then get results from only a handful of users.
Unmoderated usability testing is a technique using software such as from Userzoom or Loop11 to administer tasks and questions without the need of a facilitator.
Here are 10 things to know about this essential usability testing method that's reducing the cost and improving the frequency of usability testing.
1) It's growing: According to the latest User Experience Professionals Associate Survey in 2011, around 23% of respondents report using unmoderated testing (compared to 52% using lab-based testing). This has shown growth of 28% since 2009 when 18% of respondents used it. The method wasn't even listed as an option in 2007!
2) Recruiting is a lot easier: Jakob Nielsen calls it "unglamorous" and Steve Krug says he's not very fond of it in "Rocket Surgery Made Easy." Finding qualified participants is hard but necessary. Fortunately, for unmoderated tests, it's a bit easier to find both more users and more specialized users through a variety of approaches.
You can use panel companies like OP4G and Toluna, which are able to recruit and send users to your study or you can pull users right off of a website. When we use intercepts to recruit off of websites we typically see a much higher attrition rate than when we use panel companies. In general, we like to include both types in our unmoderated studies as they help provide a good mix of data from current users to prospective users.
3) Survey + Usability Study: We often start a project and have vague business questions to work with: Do customers understand our unique selling points? What do we change in our checkout form? Is our new homepage design better? We operationalize these questions into testable hypotheses, and use a mix of tasks and traditional survey questions. This allows us to examine both attitudes and action. Sometimes, it's the percentage of users who click on a navigation element. Other times, it's the answer to a question about how few users understood a concept that becomes most insightful.