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Recruiting test users: step by step guide, tips and template (2024 update)

Whether you're recruiting test users for the first time or have started and found out it's trickier than expected, in this article our UX researchers share practical tips, templates and a roadmap to make recruiting test users easier. That way you can confidently approach test users for your interview or user test. 

Five pain points in recruiting test users

The quality of UX research hinges on the test users you recruit. Unfortunately, recruiting good test users is not easy. Although you can conduct UX research from test users who are already customers or users, it is often the test users who are not customers but do fall within the target group who come up with the most valuable insights.   

And therein lies the problem: How do you recruit test users who are not yet familiar with your product or service? That is not so easy. Clients that recruit test users themselves often run into the following issues:

  1. Technical issues. Not everyone is comfortable with tools such as Teams, Zoom or Google Meet. Many test users run into technical issues when participating in a session. Therefore, consider using a platform like User Sense. 
  2. Support questions. Many test users find it exciting to participate in a study and prefer to know a rough outline of what is going to happen in advance. Therefore, expect questions related to their applications, compensation and the overall recruitment process.
  3. No-shows. Unfortunately, participating in a study is still too often perceived as optional. Paying proper incentives and regular follow-ups can significantly reduce the number of no-shows.
  4. Poor tester quality. Nothing is more painful than conducting a user test or interview with someone who is not talkative or willing to share information.
  5. Test user incentives. Both determining test users compensation and paying it out can involve a lot of administrative work.

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Recruitment in quantitative UX research

Characteristics for quantitative research is that the test user numbers are often higher and one of the goals is to continue recruiting test users until the results are statistically significant. For recruiting, this has a number of implications:

  • Random selection. Using a specific sampling method, random selection is made within a predetermined target segment.
  • Number of test users. Numbers of 100 test users or more are not unusual with conducting quantitative research.
  • Tool. There are several tools on the market that simplify quantitative research. Examples include Surveymonkey or Usabilla (UX).

Recruitment in qualitative UX research

Unlike quantitative research, the goal of qualitative UX Research is to continue recruiting test users to the point where you collect no or limited new information. Again, this has several implications:  

  • Nonrandom selection. Unlike quantitative research, test users in qualitative research are not randomly selected. Using a recruitment screener, the researcher determines which test users fit the profile and then invites them in.
  • Number of test users. Although the number of test users needed depends on the methodology, numbers between 5 and 30 test users are most common. In the case of user testing, five test users per use case is the guideline.
  • Tool. There are several tools in the market that simplify recruiting test users for UX research. In Europe, we think - but we are a tad biased - that User Sense is the best option. Recruiting outside of Europe? Then consider using our American colleagues at User Interviews.

Recruiting from your customer base

When companies want to conduct UX research, the first thought is often to recruit test users from within one's own network. This means inviting friends, family or existing customers to participate. However, sometimes you achieve better research results by inviting test users who are not yet familiar with the brand.

When it makes sense to conduct research with your own customers

There are a number of situations in which it makes sense to recruit test users who are already familiar with your brand or the product you want to test. For example, consider the following situations:

  • When experience with the product you are going to conduct research for is a requirement
  • When you want to investigate how existing features are used by the target audience
  • When you are conducting research for a product that is in very limited use (for example, a custom product developed for one company)

The biggest advantage of conducting research among test users from your own network is that recruiting test users will be relatively easy. For example, you can approach your own customers and ask them to participate, possibly in exchange for a gift card.

However, the most common stumbling block is that there is a good chance that you will have to deal with no-shows. 

When it makes sense to survey with external test users

Unfortunately, you often cannot avoid recruiting test users for thorough UX research who are not yet familiar with the product or brand. In the following situations, recruiting test users or non-users externally is recommended:

  • When you are developing a completely new product
  • When you want to know how people experience the product if they are not yet familiar with it
  • When you want to address new target groups
  • When you want to find out how competitor customers experience your product

The biggest advantage of conducting UX research with non-users is that they go in with an open mind and you gain insight into how first-time users experience the product. As a result, you get more raw and unsubtle feedback. And although it is sometimes confrontational to hear, you can often do the most with that.

Combining is also possible

Conducting research among customers and non-customers does not have to be mutually exclusive. In practice, we often see clients choosing to combine the two.
 

The cost of recruiting test users

The cost of recruiting test users hinges on whether you choose to recruit the test users yourself or use a test user agency or platform that provides it.

The cost of recruiting test users can be broken down into three components:

  • The tester incentive. To avoid no-shows, paying out an incentive is highly recommended. Here you can opt for a gift certificate or the transfer of an amount. 
  • Travel reimbursement. Do you conduct research on location? Then it is a good idea to reimburse test users for travel expenses. Think of an amount per kilometer or a fixed amount per test user.
  • Recruitment fee. If you outsource the recruiting of test users it is good to take into account that there is a recruitment fee.

The cost per test user when you recruit them yourself is normally between €15 and €70 per test user. When you outsource the recruiting of test users to User Sense, for example, the price ranges from €65 to €90 per test user. View our prices to find out more. 

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The 7 step plan to recruit test users

Are you going to start recruiting test users yourself? With the step-by-step plan below, we save you from the most common mistakes.

1 - Draw up the research objective and choose the methodology

Your recruitment process is dependent on the research methodology. In the case of qualitative UX research, there are roughly three options:

  1. In-depth interviews. Interviews are often used early on to validate the need or concept.
  2. Moderated user tests. In these 1-on-1 sessions, prototypes can be tested, as well as websites and apps that are already live.
  3. Unmoderated user tests. For testing websites and apps that are already live.

Whereas user interviews and moderated user tests require recruiting test users who are available at the desired study time slots, test users in unmoderated user tests make the test independently. Learn more about user testing here.

2 - Determine the test user's profile

Have you previously conducted persona research and have a good idea of who the buyer personas are? Then use the buyer personas as a guide for setting up the test user profiles.

No buyer personas drafted yet? Don't panic. Then use a selection of the criteria groups below to create the test user's profile.

  • Demographic characteristics (e.g. age, gender and marital status)
  • Geographic characteristics (e.g., region and place of residence)
  • Socioeconomic characteristics (e.g., education level, income, occupation)
  • Psychographic characteristics (e.g., interests, lifestyle and personality)
  • Behavioral criteria (e.g., experienced Internet user, regularly shops online, et cetera)

Pro tip: Use behavioral criteria to separate the wheat from the chaff in the applications that come in. These often provide more insight than demographic characteristics.

Also determine who should not participate.

To ensure that you obtain honest and unsubtle feedback, do well to exclude certain groups from participating. For example:

  • Anyone who has been involved in the development of the product
  • Employees of the company itself
  • Friends or family of employees 
  • The expert group (UX researchers, designers, CRO specialists and online marketers)

Are you going to create test user profiles for the first time? Then use our free fillable template to do so. 

3 - Set up recruitment screener

To determine if test users fall within the desired test user's profile, ask interested parties to complete a questionnaire. This is also known as the recruitment screener or screener survey.

The purpose of the recruitment screener is to determine who does and does not fit the profile so that you can make a good and spread out selection of test users. Tips for preparing a recruitment screener:

  • Time indication. Give interested parties an idea of how long it will take to complete the screener.
  • Data. Specify why you need this data, how you will handle it and how long it will be kept.
  • Avoid guiding questions. Try to avoid questions from which the correct answer can be inferred. For example, do not ask, "Do you ever shop at Albert Heijn?" but rather, "At which supermarket do you shop?".
  • Motivation. Ask about why interested people want to participate in the survey and try to exclude as much as possible the group who want to participate only because of extrinsic reasons.

4 - Align practical details and compensation

After you have determined the criteria for test users, it is important to further fine-tune the practical details. This means taking the following into account:

  • Determine the research dates. When determining the survey dates, allow for a 2-3 week lead time for test user recruitment. Have you determined the dates? Then make sure they are not changed in the interim to avoid having to start a new recruitment campaign. 
  • Determine the session length. Make an estimate of how much time you will need per test user. Do you find this difficult? Then do a test run with a colleague so you get an indication of how long the session will take in practice. 
  • Plan the time slots. Provide at least 10 minutes of slack between sessions, so you can catch your breath and run out in case of a technical issue.

Paying a fee to the test user reduces the likelihood of no-shows and creates additional sign-ups. In general, the following rules apply:

  • Test users with higher incomes require a higher fee
  • Test users who have to come to location expect a higher fee than when the survey is conducted online
  • Test users expect a higher fee for longer sessions

5 - Approaching test users

Now that you've made the preparations, it's time to actually approach test users for your interview or user test. There are numerous ways to ensure that as many people as possible fill out the recruitment screener and you can recruit as many test users as possible. Below we have listed the most common ways.

Recruit test users yourself
Do you have a tight budget or enough time to recruit test users yourself? Then you can consider starting a recruitment campaign yourself. You have several possibilities:

  • Send out a mailing. Do you regularly send out a newsletter? Then you can add a call to persuade people to sign up as test users. For optimal results it is advisable to clearly communicate the compensation and research data.
  • Pop-ups on the website. Use a tool such as Hotjar to show pop-ups on the website and ask visitors if they want to participate in the survey.  
  • Social media. Whereas the above two methods are best suited to recruit customers, you can use social media to recruit test users who are not yet customers. Consider Facebook, Instragram, TikTok or LinkedIn for B2B target audiences.

Outsource test users recruitment
Outsourcing the recruitment for your survey can save you a lot of headaches. Therefore, consider using a traditional test user agency or a party like ... User Sense!

6 - Timely scheduling and follow-up

It is important to follow up in a timely manner with test users who have signed up for the survey. This way you avoid test users losing interest, getting frustrated or scheduling something else in the meantime. We recommend using the following communication schedule:

  1. Response within 48 hours. Let test users know within 48 hours whether they can participate and send a confirmation e-mail. You can also send any instructions right away. Pro tip: enclosing a calendar invitation reduces the chance of no-shows.
  2. Personal contact before the start. Email or call the test user a week before the survey starts to answer any questions and re-confirm their availability. Test users often find it exciting to participate in research. Personal contact before commencement often makes them feel more at ease.
  3. Reminder emails. Email instructions for the survey again 48 hours prior to start and re-confirm the day and time they can participate. Also consider sending the reminder again several hours before the start.

7 - Thank test users for their participation

Test users often like to know what happens to their feedback and whether the contribution they made was useful. So be sure to let them know this afterwards, so they walk out the (digital) door with a good feeling.   

Also make sure that, if possible, you transfer the test user's payment the same day. That way you avoid a lot of questions and ensure even more happy test users. Do you conduct research for a webshop? Then you can send test users a gift certificate as an extra reward.

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