10 Tools to Improve Your Site’s Usability on a Low Budget

Testing the usability of your site is one of the smartest things you can do. Usability involves making a website’s interface easier to use and simpler to understand, so that the user’s experience is as enjoyable as possible.

The more usable a site is, the more satisfying it will be to interact with it — and happy visitors translate into happy customers.

Ideas about what makes for the best website design don’t always translate perfectly when put into practice. Elements that one person might consider easy to use may actually turn out to be confusing for someone else.

In this article, we’ll review 10 tools that you can use to improve your website’s usability even if you’re on a low budget.

As designers and developers, we have a natural bias towards the way our own products function: we built them, so we know exactly how they work.

Our visitors, however, don’t have this advantage. This means that testing for usability is the only reliable way to find out how well a website works.

Usability testing allows you to discover many ways in which your site can be improved.


How much testing should I do?

Usability testing may sound daunting, but in reality, a small investment can yield large gains. Jacob Nielsen, one of the best-known usability gurus, says:

“The best results come from testing no more than 5 users and running as many small tests as you can afford.”

– Jacob Nielsen (Why You Only Need to Test With 5 Users)

Number of users vs Usability problems found

That’s right. Just 5 users will provide enough results to help you make effective updates to your website. While you could test with 15 users to find most or all problem areas on your site, testing with just 5 will uncover 85% of issues, which gives you the most value for your money.

Other trouble spots can be identified by testing a subsequent round of users, and with each additional test, the number of issues uncovered will decrease.

It’s important to note that the very first usability test offers the greatest insight. Even a small amount of testing can yield significant results and reveal big issues and problem areas early on.

This means that you don’t need to spend a lot of time or money to benefit from usability testing.


On a tight budget?

Usability testing sounds like a good idea, but you’re probably wondering if any affordable options exist.

The answer is yes. Plenty of free or cheap tools and services are available to help you test and optimize your site.

Here’s our selection of some of the best and most affordable options to get started with.


1. Userfly

Userfly is an interesting new startup. The service allows you to put a little bit of JavaScript on your website and then track a lot of your visitors’ actions, from mouse movements to clicks and keystrokes (except password entries, of course).

This means that you can replay a user’s session exactly as it happened, and not just on a single page either, but across your entire site. You can see where the user’s mouse moved and exactly what they typed.

You can start using Userfly for free, with a limit of 10 captures. The Basic plan gives you 100 captures at $10 per month, which should be plenty to get you started.



2. Feedback Army

Feedback Army is probably the fastest way to get feedback about your website (aside from asking your colleagues). This service is powered by Amazon’s Mechanical Turk engine.

As the name implies, Mechanical Turk is a human-powered “engine” designed to solve tasks that can be completed in a short period of time. Feedback Army asks users questions about your site and quickly gathers feedback and impressions so that you can improve the user experience.

The cost is relatively cheap: $10 buys you 10 responses. However, don’t expect detailed reviews. Also, it is important to construct your questions carefully to receive the highest quality and most effective feedback.



3. Five Second Test

Five Second Test is a free usability testing service that offers three different ways of testing: “Classic,” “Compare,” and “Sentiment.” The Classic test shows and then hides a screenshot of your page and asks users to recall elements that they remember.

The Compare test shows two screenshots and asks users which they prefer. The Sentiment test shows one page and asks users to pick their favorite and least favorite elements.

As you can probably guess from the name, testers have only 5 seconds to provide feedback after seeing a question. Also, each test can be marked as public or invitation-only, which is helpful if you need to limit exposure.



4. UserTesting

UserTesting offers a more traditional approach to usability testing. Give UserTesting your website’s demographic, and the service will select the right users to browse your site.

In return, you’ll receive a video of the users’ screens as they navigate your site, along with a running audio commentary of their responses. You will also get a written report detailing the areas and functions that the users liked and disliked and anything that may have prompted them to leave the site.

All of this costs only $29 per test. Such low-cost and high-quality deliverables make UserTesting a great option for those looking to perform detailed tests of their websites, without having to resort to more expensive, comprehensive usability testing.



5. ClickTale

Similar to Userfly, ClickTale captures the actions of your website’s visitors, including clicks, scrolling, and keystrokes. Other features offered include a scrolling heat map, form analytics, and individual link analysis (e.g. how many clicks or hovers did each link get?).

ClickTale has a free plan that records 400 page views per month for one domain. Some of the features in the free plan are limited; for example, the scrolling heat map is available only for your most popular page.

Paid plans start at $99 a month, which is still a competitive price for the features that this service offers.



6. Google Website Optimizer

A good way to improve the performance of your website is to do A/B testing (also known as split testing). This means running two different versions of a particular page simultaneously for different users and recording how well each one converts.

A more advanced version of this test is called multivariate testing, in which a multitude of variables are tested to discover the best combination.

Google offers a tool to do exactly this: Google Website Optimizer. All you need to do is provide the various content elements (for example, different headlines or product pictures) and Google Website Optimizer will serve random combinations of them to your visitors while tracking how well each combination converts. Best of all, Google Website Optimizer is free to use.



7. ClickHeat

ClickHeat is an interesting little tool that generates heat maps of all the clicks made on your website. You’ve probably seen heat maps generated by eye-tracking studies: this is the same concept, but for tracking clicks instead.

The service is free but needs to be downloaded and installed on a server, and so it has a couple of requirements, such as PHP support.



8. Chalkmark

Chalkmark is a usability testing app currently offered as a free beta. Chalkmark allows you to set up a series of tests; for example, a user could be shown your landing page and be asked to perform a task, such as find the sign-up page.

The location(s) that the user clicks on are tracked. These targeted tests allow you to find out how easy certain tasks on your website are to perform and whether the navigation and information you provide are clear.

While using Chalkmark is free, you’ll still need to find people to perform the tests. However, because they are online, the tests can be completed very quickly, and so recruiting users should be much easier than in traditional user testing.



9. Simple Mouse Tracking

Simple Mouse Tracking is another free tool to track a visitor’s mouse movements and clicks on your site. You’ll need PHP on your server to run it, although the actual pages don’t have to be PHP-based; they just require a bit of JavaScript.



10. Silverback

If you’re using a Mac, then there’s a great usability testing application called Silverback, which was created by the well-known design consulting firm Clearleft. It comes in handy for conducting in-person user testing.

Instead of having to set up a bunch of cameras and recording equipment, you simply need to have a Mac with an iSight camera. As in a traditional user test, you sit with the user in front of the computer and ask them to perform certain tasks, all while they say their thoughts aloud.

Silverback records a video of them and of what is happening on the screen. The app also has some useful note-taking functionality and lets you set chapter markers (using the Apple remote) when something interesting occurs during a session.

The application costs $49.95, which is a fair price for avoiding the hassle of setting up a user-testing environment.


Written exclusively for WDD by Dmitry Fadeyev. He runs a blog on usability called Usability Post.

Which tools do you use to run your usability tests? Please share your experience with the services mentioned or any others that you may use.

  • Naveen

    great tips for designers! thanks a ton

  • http://www.embed-design.com/ Oliver

    nice list.

  • http://073.ro 073

    This is great material…probably that’s why i’m constantly coming back for more!

  • http://usabilla.com Paul Veugen

    Nice roundup. Usabilla could be an interesting addition.
    Usabilla.com offers a fast and simple way to collect and analyze visual feedback on a webpage or concept. We’re currently in closed beta, but will send out new invites soon. Basic testing for free.

  • http://tasarhane.com tasarhane

    nice post.. retweeted..

  • http://www.webair.it/siti-web-bologna.html Siti Web Bologna

    Someone tried Google Website Optimizer? Feedback?

  • http://www.anawim.it Alessandro

    Thanks great post, i’ll certainly give a try to Userfly.

  • http://www.spaandpampering.com Jasmine

    Great list!

  • http://www.g1media.co.uk Steven Grant

    surprised that clixpy isn’t on this list

  • http://www.graphicsgecko.com/freebies/free-icon-set-kiwi-rss-icons/ Kiwidia | Graphics Gecko

    Awesome list! I didn’t realize there were so many cool applications for testing usability. Thanks for sharing. :)

  • http://www.mydatbroker.com JP

    Nice article, have used a couple of those but I didn’t now there were o many.

  • http://www.empfehlenswert-wien.at erk

    thank you for this article

  • http://www.i5bala.com Balakumar Muthu

    Crazy Egg is missing?

  • http://www.kristofcreative.com Kristof

    Nice selection of tools but I would seriously take the “test with only five users” with a HUGE grain of salt.

    That article is over 9 yers old and it refers to testing with 5 people you select. It’s not only unrealistic but not how any of any of the above listed tools work.

    At a very minimum, testing should be done with 100 users. 1000 visitors is best with a median of 300 visitors.

    Believe me, making changes to your site based on feedback from 5 users is only asking for trouble.

    • http://www.erikwallace.com Erik Wallace

      Kristof, Steve Krug (author of Don’t Make Me Think) also references the notion of testing with five people. I think the point is that using five people is:

      A. Better than not testing usability at all
      B. Affordable and can be low tech and still yield good results

      I don’t think the five user concept was for all businesses and scenarios, but rather something to do if budget or timing didn’t allow for more.

  • http://www.southernbonsai.com/ aaron

    Excellent list. Chalkmark seemed the most interesting to me because it provides tools for traditional usability testing that are usually complex to set up. I’ve also used clickheat and liked it, though I could probably get the same results from analyzing my stats for the most visited pages.

    • http://www.optimalworkshop.com Sam Ng

      That’s great to hear Aaron. Our goal with Chalkmark is to make getting usability feedback a 2 hour exercise, and not a 2 week exercise! So thanks for confirming that we’re close to the mark!

  • http://www.billhartzer.com/ Bill Hartzer

    Alright, you just 10 super cool looking tools that I am going to have to test out. I don’t have a lot of money to spend right now, but definitely could use something that test my site’s usability. Thanks for the list, awesome post.

  • http://wwff.thespacer.net Eusebio Reyero

    Good post and very interesting listing of tools. A single objection, Formula 5 ( “Why You Only Need to Test With 5 Users”) is a good start, but it is not a dogma.
    Some projects require a more complex usability research.

  • http://www.fantasybookbanner.com/ John Garrett

    This post is pure gold! I’ll probably try out a cross-section of these services. Thanks!

  • http://engineindustries.com Jason Kirk

    Excellent list… We’ve been looking into coming up with a simple usability testing system, and a few of these might really come in handy.

  • http://www.erikwallace.com Erik Wallace

    Great list, I’m familiar with Five Second Test and Silverback but hadn’t come across the others. Thanks!

    Also, I’ve used Five Second Test a few times when working on web design projects and recommend it to anyone who is interested.

  • http://www.theworkingweb.com brandy

    All these ten tools are really helpful for every webmaster. Thanks for providing such a great information on one point.

  • http://www.crearedesign.co.uk Adam

    I love testing the usability of my sites using different tools. Thanks for the list I’m gonna use all of these.

  • http://www.csskarma.com Tim Wright

    Very nice list, I really like Silverback, I even use it for screencasts from time to time

  • http://blog.jakerocheleau.com/ Jake

    I never knew there were so many resources out there to help improve website usability, but as always Web Designer Depot comes through with another astounding collection!

  • http://www.songinwind.com Jennifer Song

    It’s great to know those free tools of usability testing, especially google’s site A/B testing.

  • http://www.exitoweb.com.ar facundo

    I think Userfly is a great tool, but its also a very dangerous one, as it records Actions instead of videos. That leads to tremendous problems with POST actions: ex. if the user submitted a comment then the Userfly playback will submit it again…

    For websites with huge user interaction, i recommend Open Hallway instead.

  • http://TheFreelancehand.com Trevor Read

    Thanks for the tips. Might look into a few of them to test out. I’ll keep an eye out for your other tweets, for more of these articles.


  • hjelm

    Great one! thanks!

  • http:/www.candesprojects.com Cristian Neagu

    Great post. I would also love to see and use a eye tracking tool, that might work with normal webcame.

  • http://brockangelo.com Brock Angelo

    I am definitely going to try ClickHeat & SMT out. Thanks!

  • http://uexdesign.wordpress.com Vipul Mathur

    Very helpful post. It is a very important aspect of web development process but due to less budget or knowledge people ignore the usability.

  • http://www.bestwebimage.com Rob

    Clicktale has always been a favorite of mine, and it just keeps getting better. They just recently added some new features showing things like your top pages that get the most vertical scrolling, and most engaging.

  • http://www.danhbaweb20.com/ Danh ba web 2.0

    Great tools, i checked userfly, it’s very good
    Thanks for useful collection
    See more: http://tr.im/pWPX

  • http://www.bigtunainteractive.com Adam Hermsdorfer

    Excellent list. I love how webdesignerdepot takes in the holistic process of creating websites that convert.

  • http://www.evohosting.co.uk Caitlin

    This is a great list! Five Second Test sounds really cool! Think I’ll have to give it a try. Thanks!

  • http://www.iconfinder.net Martin Leblanc

    Wow! Great list – I work with this everyday and there’s still bunch I didn’t know. Clicktale is great btw.

  • http://graphicleftovers.com/graphic/abstract-flower/ Daniel Errante

    I signed up for userfly from your recommendation and it’s given me a lot of insight on why people are staying or leaving my site. Thanks a lot!

  • http://www.pangpondblog.com pangpond

    Great tools
    I like this quote “happy visitors translate into happy customers.”

  • http://baier.com Simon Baier

    Great list guys. I thought I was up on the cool Ux tools, but there are several listed here that I was not familiar with, and am looking forward to trying out .. esp. Feedback Army, Click Heat, and Five Second Test. Thanks again.

  • http://bmwminiature.blogspot.com/ xminiature

    Thanks for this article. Good job!

    p.s. I`ve tried 6. Google WO. Next will be 1. Userfly.

  • Sonny Ordhume

    Great list, but you forgot the best online, unmoderated user testing tool – Loop11 (www.Loop11.com). Still in private beta, but is the best tool around.

  • http://learnmysap.com ekoy

    thanks for the tips. I think I should improve my site.

  • http://interwovencapital.com Commodity Broker

    Great reference

  • http://interwovencapital.com Commodity Broker

    Great Reference !

  • http://www.voteupindia.com Rahul

    I liked the Clicks heatMap…thanks

  • Commodity

    Great Reference !

  • http://tr.im/mewC Rahul – Web Guru

    Great article for every web developer. I’ve been using ClickTale for some time now.

  • http://www.the-a-crew.com Eric Azares

    Great list! Several of my colleagues use loop11 and they really like it.

  • http://fashionplaytes.com Rob R

    I have used usertesting.com on FashionPlaytes and got some great feedback in a very short period of time.

  • http://interwovencapital.com managed futures

    I like this list I use it all the time!!

  • http://interwovencapital.com commodity trading

    If you don’t believe it, give it the 5 second test

  • http://www.testing-web-sites.co.uk Testing Web Sites

    Thanks for the list of usability tools, all 10 are pretty good tools and I especially like UserTesting.

  • http://mouseflow.com Mouseflow

    One more tool – http://mouseflow.com – screen recorder, heatmap analyses, rendering time + response time measuring

  • http://www.downtowndecorations.com Garrett Peterson

    Great Post! I had no idea these tools we’re available.

  • http://boldis.ru Boldis Media

    Oh, yeah! We will try some of this “testers” for our site.

  • http://www.gfctheme.de Dani

    Very nice summary and very good tools. Big praise.

  • Marisa

    +1 to Userfly.com – I use it on my site and it’s soooooo helpful! I use it all the time to see how my users are using my site.

  • http://www.picnet.com.au/met Nathan

    has anyone tried Mouse Eye Tracking? free to use

    usability is a growing market great to see new products out there

  • Des

    Here’s yet another tool!! Check out http://www.capteria.com. A peculiarity? It’s in Spanish!!

  • http://www.datapi.net/CIOblog/post/2009/03/09/Introduction.aspx Grady Kaupp

    Greetings I recently finished reading through through your blog and also I’m very impressed. I really do have a couple queries for you personally however. Think you’re thinking about doing a follow-up posting about this? Will you be planning to keep bringing up-to-date at the same time?

  • http://www.billigfergebillett.no Billig Fergebillett

    Great post :-) Have to try out some of these tools :-)