Review of Easy and Inexpensive Tools for Usability Testing

by Tom Kenny (@tkenny)

There is a perception about usability testing that it is both time consuming and expensive. While it can be time consuming, good usability testing certainly can be inexpensive. You will find out with the examples below and the good thing is that there are a number of different online tools that don’t all do the same thing so you can test different aspects of a site in multiple ways.

The following is a look at five of the most well known tools to help you get the most out of user testing without the need for a large budget.

1. Userfly


Userfly is a browser based usability tool. Once signed up it is very easy to get up and running by including a few lines of Javascript in the head section of your code. Once users have visited your site, you are able to view exactly what they clicked on and where they browse to in your site. All this is done in your browser, so there is no software to install and you can access it from anywhere.

In my experience of using it however, the data was unreliable as users appeared to be clicking in the middle of nowhere and following through to a different area of the site. A little investigation reveals this is due to the way that Userfly displays the recording in your browser as it places your site in an iFrame and shows users’ interactions. The problem with this is the inconsistencies between browser engines and the only way to make sure what you’re seeing is what the user saw, is to view the test in the browser that the tester used.


  • Free test recordings.
  • Easy to setup.
  • Very cheap.
  • Immediate results.


  • Doesn’t work with AJAX interactions.
  • Unreliable due to inconsistencies between browser render engines.
  • No user feedback.


usertesting takes a unique approach to usability testing as they pay users to perform tests for them and pass the results on to you. What you get is the ability to give the user a scenario and define what you them to do, such as order a holiday in Rome with a set budget or buy a book. You even have the ability to select your target audience by selecting the gender, age, country, yearly household income and expertise with computers and the web.

Within an hour or so of a completed test, you receive a full video of the user’s screen along with an audio recording. Testers are instructed to provide running commentary as they perform the test which is great as it basically is them thinking out loud allowing you to hear what they think. You can make comments directly in the timeline of the video when you need to flag something and you also get access to a written summary of what the user thought of the experience.

View the example video and the written summary feedback.


  • Very thorough.
  • No setup beyond signing up and creating task details.
  • Can be used to test any website, not just your own.
  • Uses Viddler for videos so you can comment directly in the timeline of the video.
  • Highly recommended for testing large complex sites.


  • Can’t create your own questions for feedback.

3. Crazy Egg


Crazy Egg is another Javascript solution and focuses on single pages rather than the whole site and provides three different overlays to discover where users click on a particular page.

The standard overlay is much like Google Analytic’s Site Overlay feature as it displays the number of times links have been clicked. It produces a more accurate visualisation in my experience.

Heatmap displays a colour coded and easy to spot indication of the ‘hottest’ areas where users are clicking on a page.

Confetti offers something slightly different, showing different coloured dots representing clicks based on where a user has come from to reach the page.

View the demo site to give it a go.


  • Easy to install.
  • Overlay, heatmap and confetti data overlaid directly on top of your site.


  • Limited number of features.
  • Only tests a single page at a time.

4. Open Hallway


Open Hallway is similar to as feedback comes in the form of video and audio recordings. The biggest difference is that you have to source testers yourself. Once you create a test you receive a link to send who will then be given instructions of what you require from them.

When someone fulfills a test, you’ll see a video of their full screen (with audio recording), not just the browser.


  • Can be used to test any website, not just your own.
  • Records user’s full screen and voice.
  • Can be used to test desktop applications as well as websites.


  • Requires you to source your own testers.
  • Tests limited to 10 minutes.

5. Silverback


Silverback is the odd one out as it isn’t an online app. Rather, it is Mac OS X software that takes advantage of the iSight camera that comes included on most Mac computers. While the user is performing your given task(s), the camera records their reactions and audio records their commentary should you wish. You can even mark points in the recording with the Apple remote when you see something that you want to flag for later study.

The only downside to Silverback is that you have to source your own testers and possibly even invite them to your location for testing. You may well need to pay them and their travel expenses which can add up to a considerable amount. Given that web guru Jakob Nielsen has advised that testing with just 5 users will find more than three quarters of a site’s usability, this is still a valuable option to consider.


  • Free 30-day trial.
  • Can test on sites locally before they go live.
  • See people’s facial reactions.


  • More expensive than other options when paying for users is taken in to consideration.
  • Mac OS X only.

Mix & Match

Don’t just settle for one option, try them all and see what works the best for what you need. For example, Userfly is great for quick and cheap testing to get a rough idea of how users use your site while is more comprehensive, ideal for testing complex websites.

What tools or methods do you use for usability testing?

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by Tom Kenny

I’m a freelance web designer and front-end developer with 9 years of experience designing for the web. Follow me on Twitter here.