people doing user testing

How is user testing different from user research?

Some people think that user testing and user research are interchangeable. However, the two terms are only related, not synonymous.

Now that we know how crucial it is to understand your customers, let’s talk about how you can go about doing that. If you want to accurately collect and analyze data related to your users, research is the best way to do that. 

However, with lots of research techniques associated with digital experience optimization, terms can often get mixed up. For example, some think user testing and user research are interchangeable. However, the two terms are only related, not synonymous.

user testing under user research graph

What is user research?

User research is the umbrella term that user testing falls under. User research can also refer to other research methods, such as focus groups, interviews, and surveys. 

User research is a structured way to find out why users take certain actions. It’s an effective way to step out of your head and into the buyer’s journey so you can provide better products and experiences. 

The biggest benefits of user research include:

  • Getting outside the jar
  • Knowing what to improve (instead of guessing)
  • Providing better customer-centric experiences

What is user testing? 

User testing is a specific sub-division of user research.

User testing can validate design decisions, reveal common pain points, and inform A/B testing. It asks members of your core audience to think aloud as they complete specific tasks on your site. During testing, the evaluator observes how users complete the tasks without assistance and then draws conclusions from the users’ ability to complete the tasks.

The success of your testing hinges on how you screen and select your users. To choose the right users for testing, define your core audience demographics by mining your analytics for sample data on age, gender, and location; this will tell you who is converting and who is not at a basic level. Most testing platforms will allow you to screen for gender, age, and location simply by checking a few boxes.

While user research and user testing are not interchangeable, they are related. When you are doing user testing, you are also doing a form of user research with a specific goal in mind to uncover the pain points of your users. This means that it is not a matter of choosing which to use between the two but rather a matter of understanding what both methods truly entail. 

Sometimes, big mistakes can come from small misunderstandings, so don’t be afraid to ask questions, even if you think they’re simple or obvious. Chances are, they aren’t as obvious as people assume.

Dig Deeper:

These are only the basics of user research and user testing. If you want to learn how to conduct high-impact user testing, we have a series of articles that you can read.

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maggie paveza

About the Author

Maggie Paveza

Maggie Paveza is a Strategist at The Good. She has years of experience in UX research and Human-Computer Interaction, and acts as an expert on the team in the area of user research.