Moderated and unmoderated testing are suitable for different things:
Unmoderated user testing is ideal for simple, shorter user tests, such as testing tasks that participants can complete in just a few minutes.
Moderated user testing is preferable when you need to test anything more complex and where a deeper understanding of users, their needs, behaviours, and feelings are required.
At Userfy, we specialise in remote, moderated user testing. In other words, a researcher runs our user testing in person. We choose moderated user testing because it generates a better and deeper understanding of what users do and why they do it.
On the other hand, many platforms now make it easy to deploy unmoderated user tests. In unmoderated tests, the platform will display instructions for participants to follow and ask participants pre-set questions in a pre-defined order; these tests are automated; participants complete the study independently, and the platform records the session for review later.
In moderated user tests, the researcher asks follow-up questions to understand the root cause of issues and understand participant behaviour more deeply. Probing will uncover the why rather than just the what, which is much more enlightening and informative.
In moderated tests, the researcher can respond to whatever participants do or say. They can improvise during the session, delivering findings an unmoderated test would have missed.
Participants can quickly get lost or confused when testing experiences such as an unfinished prototype. Moderated testing can cope with this as an experienced user researcher fully manages the session and will get a test participant back on track if they notice that the participant has misunderstood or is confused.
The moderator can keep participants engaged and in the right frame of mind, meaning testing sessions can be longer and more can be covered and discovered.
More planning and preparation go into moderated testing, and an experienced researcher will not come cheap, so expect to pay more for moderated research.
The turnaround time for moderated research is often longer.
Moderated research can be overkill if your research goals are limited and straightforward.
An inexperienced moderator may inadvertently influence participants, leading to bias in the findings.
Unmoderated testing is cheaper because it is less time-consuming and more automated.
In most cases, the turnaround time for unmoderated testing is shorter.
Unmoderated tests are ideal for getting rapid, top-line feedback when your goals are relatively simple.
There is no risk of a moderator influencing participants.
You can't probe or ask follow-up questions; participants will supply answers only to the depth they want.
In unmoderated testing, you prepare the questions in advance, which can result in somewhat superficial findings.
If a participant doesn't understand something or has difficulties, there's no help for them. They may plough on regardless without being able to express the problem's nature, which can affect results.
Without a moderator, participants can become less engaged after a period, so unmoderated tests are best kept short and focused, limiting their potential.
If there is anything we could help with, please get in touch for a completely no-obligation discussion. Even if we don't work together, we'd be delighted to advise where we can.
Phil Randall (Owner at Userfy)