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What is remote usability testing?

A remote usability test studies how research subjects use a product or service, often using screen-sharing or remote accessibility tools while the subject in their natural setting. This may be more or less desirable than an in-person test, depending on the study. Deciding to use a remote usability test could be a matter of convenience, or necessary, when the type of research wouldn't otherwise be feasible or affordable.

There are a number of testing conditions when remote usability tests are relied on, for example:

  • Geographically dispersed study participants

  • Scheduling conflicts

  • Travel constraints

  • Physical or tech accessibility issues

  • Security or technical requirements and standards (like for on-premise networks)

Remote usability testing tools help streamline testing processes, allowing the researcher to keep their focus where it belongs: the users and the testing procedures. After the test, organizations can save enormous sums by automating their data-collection and -compilation processes, rather than expend labor sifting through massive volumes of raw data.

Proper remote usability testing tools also makes it easier for researchers to:

  • Manage multiple tests at once

  • Extend the testing pool

  • Adjust test durations

  • Save resources on in-person testing sites

Because remote usability tests are conducted online, it's easy to incorporate remote usability testing software into the procedure—and they're critical for effective, action-oriented analysis.

We'll cover the different kinds of usability tests, how to develop your own, and the types of tools available to simplify the process. By the end, you'll know exactly how to make the usability test data itself as useful to your team as possible.

Types of remote usability tests

As one of the most direct ways of learning how your customers engage with your product, remote usability tests are a powerful tool in your customer insights toolkit. Most generally, they're broken down into two categories:

  1. Moderated, just as an in-person lab or other test would be conducted. A test coordinator "sits in" on the session with the user, giving them instructions and observing how they react first-hand. They do so using via video chat or another live-communication medium. Remote accessibility software might also be used, allowing the test coordinator to see or interact with the user's device.

  2. Unmoderated, allowing participants to complete a pre-formated test without guidance. The test can be taken on their own time and using their own methods or resources.

Moderated remote usability tests can be more flexible, allowing the testing team to change the test on the fly. It often lends itself to qualitative data, where the user's subjective experience can be analyzed just as readily as the quantitative data related to the technical aspects of the user experience.

Unmoderated remote usability tests must instead be fully crafted beforehand, making them more standardized. This makes it more appropriate for research requiring a large volume of data (usually quantitative), where moderation would be costly, unfeasible, or plain unnecessary.

More specific types of remote usability tests include:

  • Website usability tests, such as redesigns or prototypes of websites, web apps, or web services.

  • Mobile usability tests, where the device itself is a critical part of the test.

  • Explorative usability tests, used to learn the attitudes and views held by users, most often in market niches. It's often most useful for early product development, and it can be done with crude prototypes or none at all.

  • Comparative usability tests, providing test participants with structured tasks using multiple products. Its purpose is discovering which product features make a product more or less effective than others.

Developing a Remote Usability Test

Powerful data-management software can make your usability data much easier to manage. This is critical, because remote usability tests involve numerous moving parts. You'll need to ensure test participants have an easy time, for greater testing efficiency.

Common practice is to design remote usability tests around:

  • 15–30 minute blocks

  • 3–5 tasks per test

  • Overall simplicity and ease

Of course, depending on the subject, you may need more nuance—like developers asking a testing team to provide granular details about software bugs. Still, air on the side of usability over information density or it will be hard to unpack during analysis. Design your test with clarity and consistency throughout.

You should also be aware of the most major challenges to crafting a smooth and efficient usability test:

  • Testing technical procedures, such as screen-sharing software

  • Organizing contact information and consent forms

  • Preparing compensation arrangements

  • Ensuring test instructions are easy to follow

  • Prequalifying participants for experience and technical means

When your test materials and technical matters are settled, there's still one major thing: how will you keep track and make sense of your raw data?

The answer is remote usability testing tools, with user-friendly software that's easy to use for any team. This is what allows you to share impactful insights back and forth with minimal translation. Further, an analysis platform can dramatically boost the ease and quality of your analysis by supporting:

  • Multiple graphical layouts

  • A wide range of file formats

  • Efficient data filtering and segmenting

  • Easy tagging and organization methods

  • Click-and-drag collaboration tools

  • Audio & video transcription

Why use software to analyze remote usability testing

Without an analysis strategy from the get-go, the results of your remote usability test will be a massive pile of raw, even confusing, information. The solution is to put a powerful, enterprise-grade data-analysis engine at the core of your tech stack. Because data is only as useful to you as it is relevant, it's important to bridge the gap between data collection and analysis.

Otherwise, you're left manually sifting through enormous amounts of test results, devoid of context and meaning. This not only increases the chance of error, it drains resources. By the end of it, you'll have conclusions that may be obsolete, because it took so much time.

Instead, make every team involved in the remote usability test familiar with your central data repository. They'll see how their efforts will culminate in a single company-wide platform, which will guide their efforts from the design phase to post-testing collaboration.

With Dovetail, numerous enterprises and SMBs are simplifying their research analysis and achieving quick, accurate answers to their most pressing questions. For remote usability testing, a polished analysis platform leads to:

  • Improved decision-making with data-driven answers

  • Faster, automated organization of test results

  • Easy cross-referencing of data

  • Clearer identification of user experience trends

  • Greater stakeholder consensus

  • Streamlined future data-gathering efforts

  • A central customer insights hub that grows with your company

Further, your other research efforts can be placed under the same hood, allowing you to compare your remote usability tests with:

  • Survey and interview transcripts or recordings

  • Market and competitor analyses

  • Product & customer feedback

  • Job tags and sharing boards

  • Customer journey maps

  • Demographics data

  • NPS ratings

  • Sales calls

Great testing tools mean faster, more revealing insights

The quality of your remote usability testing tools directly impacts the speed of getting your team to the analysis phase. It's the part of any market research that matters most. Without it, you risk being caught trying to answer questions with more questions. The original purpose of your remote usability tests is lost under layers of needless complexity, which is the natural result of using too many or insufficient research tools.

Analysis is aimed at arriving at answers. Consider the whole remote research process in four stages:

  1. Design & preparation

  2. Testing

  3. Data gathering

  4. Analysis

Your goal with remote usability tests should be to gain firsthand insights into how customers interact with your product or service. Ultimately, application of your analysis matters even more and could be considered the fifth step and final step.

Once you've worked out test mechanics, the right remote usability testing tools will you proceed to the post-testing phase of your research with lightning speed. A reliable, department-agnostic central-data repository like Dovetail does the heavy lifting, leading you through the data-crunching phase and onto the things that matter.

Without an effective usability testing platform, you'll likely spend far too much time gathering data than actually using it. In effect, it loses its value, being less immediately useful—or its utility becomes vague, expected at some poorly defined point in the future.

Why wait for actionable insights? For all but developers, there's simply no reason to crunch data and compile it into more useful ways—and what will you do when the next test comes? Companies must react at the speed of their market, not their tech stack.

Even the most custom research needs are best served with a multi-use, easily integrated analysis hub. Once you make the switch, future remote usability tests (and any other research) becomes easier to compile. It also smoothly integrates into a silo-free, yet highly organized, customer-data repository.

How to choose a usability testing tool that's right for you

Analysis is the heart and soul of any research—but with subpar analytics tools, many find themselves stuck in a complex division between gathering data and applying it. Especially with remote usability tests, poor data-gathering methods eclipse the ability to analyze what you've collected and see its true value.

Dovetail makes it easy to derive actionable insights from your survey data, while unifying it in a single, searchable repository. Only the best remote usability testing tools can ensure your organization spends more time scrutinizing and applying your data, not endlessly managing it.

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