User Interviews and Tests with Site Visitors

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Highly regimented usability tests in a lab have their place, but it’s not in this article.

If you want to meet the people who are using your web site right this second, ask them questions, and watch them use the site then this article is for you. Using this easy process of inexpensive and free existing web tools, you can be talking to your web visitors in no time.

Here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Ask them to participate

You need a way to ask the people who are on your site to participate. The most important part of this is that it grabs attention without being irritating, leads with an incentive, and quickly gets them to step #2 where you can explain more. You’re just piquing interest here.

I use KISSInsights for this, which is a neat little product for garnering web site feedback made by the KISSMetrics people (I have no affiliation with them at all but I like their product). You can’t make a custom prompt with a free account, so you’ll have to shell out $29USD/mo while you’re running your campaign.

To customize your prompt, set it up like so:

KISSInsights prompt creation
Setting up a KISSInsights prompt

Make sure to pick an incentive that you can deliver on easily. More monetary value doesn’t always equate to the best response rates – the most success I’ve had with this technique didn’t cost my client any real dollars because it was a digital product that was highly valued by the audience. So, lead with the incentive, ask for help nicely, and be polite by asking for their permission to move to the next step.

When you’re done tweaking, it will look like this:

KISSInsights Prompt
Example KISSInsights prompt

This prompt will slide up from the bottom of the page. Make sure not to activate it yet because clicking on “send” won’t do anything at this point.

Step 2: Get more information

The second step is to give them more explanation and then use a form to ask for their name, email address, permission to contact them, and any other questions you want to use to filter results.

Being forthright with what you are asking of them will help you get the right participants. Plus, people deserve to know what they’re signing up for. On the other hand, it’s also important to be brief because you have a very small window to increase their engagement or lose it altogether. Keep your form fields minimal and only ask for what you truly need to know.

I use a product called Wufoo to create a simple form to target participants (again, I have no ties to Wufoo). For most projects the free account should be sufficient.

You can easily adjust the header of your form so that it has your logo on it, which I always do for brand continuity. This is what your form draft might look like:

Wufoo form builder

Here is the published form your site visitors would see once they clicked on the KISSInsights prompt:

Example form
You can replace the Wufoo logo with your own

Step 3: Write your email

The last piece before going live is to write your email template. You’ll use this email to respond to those people who fill out the form, thanking them and giving them instructions and conference call information.

If you don’t already have a conference call service, there are plenty out there to choose from. If this is a usability test, you need one where you can view the other person’s screen. I use GoToMeeting, but a google search for “web conferencing” will lead you to many others (try “web conferencing free” for some free options). Using a conference call service protects everyone’s privacy because you never have to share phone numbers and it also makes it easier for people from other countries to participate.

Here’s a basic structure for the email:

  • Thank them heartily. You’ll be surprised how many people go out of their way to help you out.
  • If you are doing a usability test, not just a user interview, explain that you will need to view their screen during the call and why. Reassure them that you will have no control over their machine and they have the ability to control what you see at all times.
  • Leave a spot where you will paste the conference call link and number and let them know that you’ll be on waiting for them in 10 minutes. It might help to mention that you will wait for 10-15 minutes on the conference call and then open up the opportunity to other participants. Be prepared to sometimes be stood up.

Have your email template at the ready to copy and paste into your email client when you go live.

Step 4: Make it live

Now you need to connect KISSInsights to the form so that the form will load when they click “Send” in Step 1.

You do this by pasting your form URL in the Redirect field under “Configure” in KISSInsights like so.

Pasting link into KISSInsight configuration menu

KISSInsights will give you code that you need to copy into your site, so go ahead and do that as well. Make sure that you have the KISSInsights prompt set to manual activation so that you can switch the whole process on and off at will.

There are lots of other options under the “Configure” menu that you’ll be able to tinker with. You have a good deal of control over who sees the prompt and when.

KISSInsights configuration menu
Some of the configuration options for KISSInsights

Okay, at this point you’re ready to activate! Depending on traffic, incentive, audience, site material, time of day, and loads of other factors you may not see responses for awhile or you might start getting them immediately. You don’t want responses piling up, so just deactivate your prompt once you get a couple responses and deal with those before you open yourself up to more.

So, to review, here’s the flow:

Putting it all together

As soon as a participant fills out the form, you send your email and schedule the web conference for 10 minutes later. That gives them enough time to go to the restroom or get a drink and it allows for slow email transmission. It also gives you time to set up any recording software you need (just make sure to ask for permission before you start recording).

You made it! At this point, you are successfully talking to strangers, watching them use your site, and learning things you likely wouldn’t have otherwise.

Emily SmithEmily Smith
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Emily Smith is an information architect and usability consultant for the web and Apple devices. She co-works with other web professionals in Greenville, SC and can be found online at

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