Moderated or Unmoderated: Which Type of Usability Testing Is Best for You?

By Tom Bowen

There’s no doubt that conversion optimization is made up of many activities and tactics. Analytics analysis, A/B testing, email marketing, heat mapping, these are just some of the important tactics that go into optimizing a site for conversions. But to me, one of the most under-utilized CRO tactics is definitely usability testing.

By observing real users, who are thinking out loud and attempting to accomplish real tasks on your website, you can gain insight into the user experience that can be provided in no other way. Sure, a heat mapping tool may tell you what is and what is not being clicked on a page, but it will not tell you what users are trying to click but cannot find. Form analysis tools might show you what field users are getting stuck on, but they don’t explain why. Even session replay tools give you only half the picture. You may be able to see where users are having troubles on the site, but without hearing what the user is thinking, you don’t know what is causing the difficulty. You are left to hypothesize.


A heatmapping tool can show you what is and what is not being clicked on a page, but it cannot help you learn what users are trying to click but can’t find. It can’t point you to user frustrations.

The Value of Usability Testing

Usability testing uncovers conversion issues with a website that we are just too close to discover ourselves. You may be a designer, a developer, an optimizer, or the site owner. You may know your site inside and out, but it’s always from your own perspective. That’s an inherent bias that is probably not shared with most of the users of your site.

When you watch strangers use your site and hear what they’re thinking as they do so, you start to experience the site from a broad range of perspectives. This uncovers barriers to conversion that you won’t typically be aware of otherwise. Usability testing can also uncover user concerns such as trust issues, privacy questions, how customers compare you to competition, and more.

I frequently use the term “low-hanging fruit” when it comes to usability testing. It’s very common that a usability study uncovers a problem that was a major obstacle to conversions and is simple and quick to fix. Such high-value, low-cost issues are indeed the low-hanging fruit …read more

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