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Web Usability: How Many Users Do I Need to Test?

When discussing usability testing with business owners one of the first questioned to be asked is “How many people are we going to need to test properly?” Most people assume the more users you have the better your usability testing results. Ironically most usability problems can be identified with a fairly small group of users.  According to web usability guru Jakob Nielsen, you can conduct very effective usability testing on your web site with just five users.

Testing Once versus Repetitive Testing
In Nielsen's article “Why You Only Need to Test With 5 Users,” he points out that you can identify more usability issues testing 3 different times with 5 test users as opposed to testing once with 15 different users. If you only test once, you won’t be able to test any changes or improvements to identified usability issues. By spreading out the testing over a series of sessions you can apply changes and test your new solutions.  From personal experience, it has taken at least 2 different testing sessions with individual users to correct usability problems.  Testing multiple times is also crucial from a marketing perspective. Ask someone with a successful Adwords campaign how many times they test just a single highly effective Adword ad. From an improvement standpoint you’ll get the most return by repeating the simple testing formula of: test, modify, and retest. Consider how well the previous formula worked for Thomas Edison.

More Than Five People . . .
Can you test with more than 5 people? Absolutely!  If you test with more people you’ll get more data, but it is also going to cost you additional money and take up more of your time. If you look at it from a return on investment perspective, is it worth it?  One place where you might need more users as test subjects is if you have multiple niches inside your user demographic.  In those cases you’re probably have to use more than 5 users to cover the various niches.

The bottom line is if you’re considering testing your web site, you can do so effectively with just five users from your demographic.

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