How Much Should You Spend on User Testing?

One of the first hurdles that businesses face when they finally buy in to the idea of user testing is developing an appropriate budget.

On the one hand, you know that user testing isn’t free. And you also know that there are many inexpensive UX tools on the market (as well as some more expensive ones too). But there are still a lot of questions:

– How much should I spend on tools?
– How much should I spend on paying testers?
– Wait… I have to pay the testers?
– That seems like bullshit.
– But seriously, what’s it going to cost me?

I can hear the weariness in the questioners tone. And he’s not alone. We’re all there.

What Do You Mean “We”?

You have a good point. The truth is, some of us have cash flow. We have budgets. And we work in established firms. This article isn’t for those people.

The rest of us – the scrappy business owners who are trying to make headway with their Internet presence… that’s who we’re really talking about.

What should it cost to do user testing for your average small business website?

The Devil is in the Details

And unfortunately, this topic is just rife with devils.

It’s just that this really is a question that deserves a tailored answer. So I’m going to save you the suspense right now. Nowhere in this article do I’m give you an answer with firm numbers. Buying off the rack simply won’t do for this topic.

[insert pic of deer with a huge set of horns: Uh… rack?]

Instead, we’re going to talk about the considerations for how to develop your user testing budget. Then you can go forth, empowered and emboldened with this new knowledge, and can work out a user testing budget that’s appropriate for your website.

The Major Questions

Let’s start with the basics:

1. Are you currently making any money from your website?

If you aren’t, it’s going to feel like a waste of money to do anything that doesn’t contribute to revenue. So having access to funds, either directly from the website or from another source is a necessity.

It’s totally possible to bootstrap your user testing operation, but if you’re working on the barest of budgets, there are probably ways to get started for free.

You can’t resent the money you’re spending to make your website better. And believe me, the less money you make, the more we all resent capital expenses. Your ability to budget is going to be influenced by this feeling, so we should get it out on the table.

2. Does your website make money directly or is it more of a lead generating tool?

Most businesses aren’t e-commerce sites. Tons of sites are informational in nature. This includes every real life service business (lawn care, dentistry, psychotherapy, restaurants, legal, etc.) and every ad supported web site, among others.

What about them? Don’t they need a different set of tools than e-commerce sites? Or at least a different emphasis on that set of tools?

Yes. They do.

It all comes down to how well the conversion funnel is defined.

In general, the conversion funnel on an e-commerce site is really clearly designed. People know when they go to Amazon, for example, that they are going to start on the home page (or product description page if they arrived via search) and end up on a receipt page – if they make a purchase. The path from entry to exit is obvious.

Not so with information websites or ad supported websites.

For informational websites, a contact form or a phone call are the likely goals. The path though is much less defined compared with e-commerce sites. If the phone number is on every page of the website, which page is the goal? All of them? And if that’s true, how is it possible to create a goal funnel?

In the case of ad supported websites, page views and visits are where it’s at. This too is hard to put into a funnel. In this case, stickiness, repeat visits, and increasing the pages-per-visit are the main goals.

Why is this distinction necessary between these two types of websites?

When measuring a conversion funnel, that’s something that analytics tools do very well. You can justify an advanced analytics service like ClickTale because it has specific tools that can help you un-bottleneck your critical path and checkout process in particular.

Websites without clear conversion funnels are harder to analyze purely based on data. In these cases, talking with your end user takes on a new level of importance.

In the end, the tools that you choose to use are going to be based on your needs. And the needs for these two types of sites differ based on how well they’ve defined their conversion funnel.

3. How committed are you to iterating your website?

Iterating your website is more than just user testing. It’s followed up by actually making changes to your website. This means that other people are likely involved, perhaps other vendors, and that there needs to be a budget for making the changes that are recommended through testing and analysis.

How prepared are you to rally the troops to make changes to the website? How often do you want to iterate? If it’s once a year, your demand for UX tools will be lower. And likewise, so will your cost.

On the other hand, if you’re looking to make rapid improvements, you should naturally plan to spend more money on researching those decisions.

Things You Can Spend Your Money On

If you’re a gadget freak, UX is a great place to be. We have all of the cool-ass tools. These tools can be loosely broken down into three groups:

1. Analytics Tools

These tools gather data about how your website is used. This is a rather broad category. It encompasses pure analytics tools such as Google Analytics and Woopra, as well as heat mapping tools like CrazyEgg, video recording tools like Inspectlet, a/b testing tools like Optimizely, and combination tools like ClickTale. Basically, if you can get information on how people are using your website without talking to those users, those tools fall under this rubric.

2. Survey Tools

This is an equally broad category. This encompasses all-in-one wonder tools like UserZoom all the way down to the simple and cheap 3 Quick Questions. Loop11, PopSurvey, Usabilla, and all of the other tools that can be used to take simple or in-depth surveys are in between.

In any case, if you’re getting actual, specific feedback from users by using a particular tool, it’s a survey tool.

3. Survey Takers

You can’t have a successful survey without getting people to take it. How much this costs depends on what survey tool you’re using, whether you have access to a supply of people who are right for your tests, and how willing you are to pay users to take the test, or are willing to pay for users.

Most survey takers, for your average 10-15 minute survey are paid $10. If you go with a service like Ethnio, they charge from FREE on up. If you go with, it’s $39 a participant.

Remember that somebody has to be responsible for getting the users to fill out the survey. And that costs money too. Be sure to account for it in your budget.

Putting It All Together

So with all that under our belt, where does that leave us?

That really depends on you. But here are some general thoughts on how to build a budget:

– Newbies – Go for the free stuff: Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools, and the free versions of tools you plan to use – Ethnio, Loop11, etc.

– A little money – Everything above plus a few tools depending on your needs. For analytics tools, look at Inspectlet, Crazy Egg, and Woopra (or their competitors). They will each provide new ways of looking at your data. If you’re an e-commerce site in particular, this is where you’re likely to find value, especially early on. If you need qualitative data – look at the various inexpensive survey tools. That could be something simple like PopSurvey or more full fledged like Usabilla.

– Plenty of Money and you Like Gadgets – First of all, if this is you… you’re one lucky son of a bitch. So much so that I have to take time out of what otherwise has been a pretty straightforward article to call you a lucky son of a bitch. UX tools can be crazy fun. If it’s your thing – try all the tools out and pick your favorite. But since we’re talking about budgets, I would still stick to the broad outline articulated above. You’re not looking to have ALL the data. You’re looking to collect data that will be actionable (or that you can otherwise justify paying for). You may choose more expensive tools, but the reasons behind why you’re choosing those tools remains the same. Except for ClickTale. If you can afford it, get it. It starts at $99 a month.


Improving the user experience is all part of a larger web-dev eco-system. All of your considerations should be made with an eye towards what you intend to do with the results. If you intend to act on them, then you can justify the initial research. If you are merely taking the temperature, then you can do with much less, at much less cost.

When I was a kid, I grew up watching GI JOE and they always had a bit where they’d give a piece of advice and then say “because knowing is half the battle”. And that remains true here in web design.

The battle is one of profitability. You’re undertaking user testing on your website because you want it to be more profitable. Knowing how to change your website strategically and how to put that into a process of testing, measuring, and developing is the whole ball of wax. The fuel is knowledge. And that’s what you’re paying for when you engage in user testing.

So how much should you spend? As you can see, that depends…

2 comments on “How Much Should You Spend on User Testing?

  1. Pingback: No Money User Testing: The Free Plan revealed | A Better User Experience

  2. Pingback: 5 Easy Ways to Recruit Website User Testers | A Better User Experience

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