Why Remote UX Testing is a Godsend for Agencies


It doesn’t matter what kind of agency you are – marketing, advertising, SEO, design, copywriting, employer branding, corporate comms etc. – everything you create is for your client’s users. Well, if you want your work to catch on and spread like wildfire.

Every metric your client will judge you on is based on user behaviour. How much do people in the client’s target audience like and interact with your work? Does it persuade them to spend money with the client? Will they share it with their friends? And so on.

Agencies that don’t like gambling with the satisfaction of their clients find out what will make their work a hit… long before it’s even launched.

There are many ways of doing that but I’m going to talk about one that leading agencies, Havas and Branded3, believe to be indispensable – remote user experience (UX) testing.

It involves using software to record the spoken thoughts and actions of people, as they interact with your website, app or anything else. It shows you exactly what to keep, improve or ditch.


Jason Bell, formerly of Havas People*

Part of Havas Worldwide (5th-largest communications group in the world)

Andy Curry, Branded3

Winner of Best Large SEO Agency at the 2016 European Search Awards


*Jason Bell no longer works at Havas. He gave a talk at a WhatUsersDo event outlining how the Havas team uses remote UX testing and the part of this post relating to Havas is based on that talk.


4 ways UX testing will make you the most outstanding peacock in Agencyland


  1. Sidestep fatal creative decisions and wow the world with amazing work
  2. Stand out from the competition during pitches to win accounts
  3. Win the ears and hearts of clients
  4. Get a whole lot more from your other tools


1. Sidestep fatal creative decisions

What’s the only thing sweeter than having clients support the way you work? Having people love the work you’ve created.

Don’t launch something, watch it go up in smoke and then try to figure out what went wrong – like this agency designer did.

If you’re working on a website, video or anything you want people to use… why the hell wouldn’t you test with real people before launching? It’s one thing to get off on danger, it’s another thing to be straight up suicidal.

That was understandable back when testing with users was too expensive. But just as technology has made powerful personal computing an affordable reality, it has done the same with effective UX testing.

You learn how to do more of the good, add what’s missing and ditch what’s hated. When you repeat this process throughout several stages of development, you end up with work primed to be loved.



Havas helps Direct Line swap fads for friendliness

Havas began running remote UX tests with WhatUsersDo in 2013 and has launched 100+ user experience testing videos (30+ hours of footage) since then.

These tests have been launched on work for clients across varied sectors:

  • Tesco
  • Deloitte
  • TK Maxx
  • Direct Line Group
  • Yorkshire Building Society

During the talk Jason Bell gave at our 2015 event, he noted that remote UX testing can elevate your game at several stages of the agency cycle. These include:

  • Pitching for client business
  • Discovering areas where efforts should be focussed
  • Developing assets
  • Optimising and improving assets



It’s often the little moments of idiosyncratic insight – things you’d have missed had you not watched users in action – that wow clients and improve quality of work.

Like watching a user spend minutes trying (and failing) to figure out a feature clients thought was dead-easy (and good-looking to boot).

As Jason put it, “Quite often, it’s the little things that make the big difference – and the improvements are quite surgical.”

This realisation helped Jason and his team save Direct Line Group much heartache, and deliver a user-friendly experience.

Direct Line ditches the burgers and carousels

Remember when hamburger menus were all the rage? Of course you do!

They were awesome because of their minimalism, universality and conciseness – until user research showed us many people found them confusing, or hard to find, or irritating to use.

So, when Direct Line’s mobile website was having trouble and Havas tested with users, one culprit wasn’t too surprising.

Direct Line Burger Menu

Havas side-stepped the issue of users getting confused, irritated or lost, simply by swapping the hamburger icon for the word “MENU”.

We don’t like to suggest that any design approach is always right or always wrong. Hamburger menus might well work in some cases, but they illustrate perfectly the dangers of lunging head-first into a “cool” idea without testing first.

Another fad you might remember being misused is the carousel.

Remote UX tests on the Direct Line desktop site showed that users neither knew how to control the scrolling of the carousel, nor which information was contained on panels that had yet to be scrolled.

Direct Line

This was something so easy to ignore that it could have sabotaged Direct Line for years.

But because Havas knew not only where users were having problems but also why users struggled in these areas, the solution was clear.

Direct Line Wireframe

Simply by adding labels to the carousel tabs and reducing clutter, a major sore point was easily healed.


2. Stand out from the competition during pitches

For obvious reasons, agencies aren’t quick to share their pitching tactics. So, I can’t reveal exactly how agency clients of WhatUsersDo use remote UX testing to win accounts. But I can tell you that they do.

This quote by Tim O’Donoghue, Head of Conversion at Propellernet, sums it up nicely:



The videos we received from WhatUsersDo crystallised fact in a visual way. There is nothing quite like sitting with a client and watching users in their target demographic struggling to fill their baskets, for instance. Nothing really compares to that and they (clients) are genuinely surprised at how useful it is!

Tim O’Donoghue, Head of Conversion, Propellernet

In short, while every other agency is asking clients to take their word for it, you’ll be showing clients irrefutable evidence that you know what you’re doing.


3. Win the ears and hearts of clients

The timeless tension between creative teams and clients is a constant and palpable source of pain.

But the clinks of champagne flutes and a killer golf swing won’t smooth things over forever. Accord from the start beats appeasement after a problem has appeared.

How do you achieve that? Make sure you and your clients are following a voice each side believes to be superior to its own – the user voice.


User voice


If you disagree with a client, they might ditch you for a spineless agency that’ll do whatever it’s told. But what will the same client do if confronted with video evidence that users don’t understand a feature or terminology… get an entirely new customer base? Hardly likely.

When you show clients videos of how people use their site, app or digital assets (and their feelings as they do so), you present a reality that goes beyond agreement or disagreement. It’s simply a problem that needs to be solved.

You’ll both be working towards a common goal – solving problems for users instead of bickering among yourselves.

That’s why Branded3 begins client projects with remote UX tests.


Andy Curry, Branded3


Branded3 uses remote UX testing to get senior stakeholders on its side

Branded3 gets the approval of the people who’ll eventually sign off its work, right from the start.


Citing a real-life example, Andy explained how Branded3 ran remote UX tests right after taking on a large international company. This led to the creation of personas and supporting documents, which helped everyone understand users’ behaviours and motivations.

This informed the entire design process, and helped the team create wireframes which kept the dev and content teams working in sync

Andy’s team also interviewed stakeholders, which turned senior managers into advocates for the project and made them feel like a part of the process. This is vital, especially if these are the stakeholders who’ll be signing off the project.

This meant that whenever the agency made a decision, the client understood why and was fully in support. Is there any client that doesn’t want to create work that customers love?

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4. Get a whole lot more from your other tools

Sure you’ve got your analytics, prototyping and wireframing tools, social monitoring… and everything else under the sun.

We too use these tools but we don’t stop there because they all have something missing. They all show you the way things are – remote UX testing shows you why things are the way they are and how to change that.

Data is a tricky thing and can lead you to dangerously incorrect conclusions, if you’re making decisions based on limited sources. To make sound and consistently good decisions, you need a full picture, made up of as many data sets (quantitative and qualitative) as possible.  

For example, if you’re redesigning a page with a high bounce rate and low conversions, do you really know what you’re trying to fix?


Sign up button


Are people bouncing because the page does such an excellent job of answering their questions, they feel no need to investigate further? Or is the design so horrible that they’re discouraged from going deeper into the site?

You won’t know if you have just one dimension of data (analytics/quantitative) and not the other (UX testing/qualitative).


Branded3 gets the most out of its other tools with remote UX testing

Andy also explained how Branded3 uses remote UX testing at different stages of its creative process.

During research

  • Surveys are used to get large quantities of data on users, but Andy recommends caution regarding how honest (or not) users’ answers are. What users do (in the spur of the moment) is more important than what they say they’d do (hypothetically).
  • Lab testing with eye-tracking is useful for early prototypes. Remote UX testing videos can be used as a dry run for lab testing, to make sure your methodology is on point.
  • Face-to-face visits with users in their natural environments (rather than inviting them into a lab), watching how they behave and speaking to them is an incredible way to glean deep insights.
  • Face-to-face interviews with stakeholders, during which you can connect their motives with the users’ (and get buy-in) by showing them UX testing videos.

After research

  • Wireframing tools are used to create basic visuals, which can be UX tested and iterated on
  • InVision is used to create design prototypes, which can be UX tested and optimised

Remote UX testing is the best-kept secret in the agency world –  a not-so-good thing. But for those in the know, it’s a dizzying knockout punch to the competition.

Are you spending tens of thousands on media and technology but can’t spare a few hundred quid for testing with users? Ask your agency, “Do we want to be cool… or do we want to be cool and effective?”  Get a free trial, including 3 UX testing videos,and see for yourself how it works.

Timi is a London-based copywriter and full-time marketing sceptic – there are now more unvalidated opinions out there than ever.

He became a UX testing enthusiast after seeing its power while working at TUI – the world’s largest travel, leisure and tourism company. He then joined WhatUsersDo to sharpen his UX knowledge and work side-by-side with the field’s best and brightest.

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