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Illustration of a wireframe prototype for user testing - unmoderated user research 101: planning recruitment, tools, and more

Unmoderated User Research 101: Planning, Recruitment, Tools, & More

Unmoderated studies can be run quickly, cheaply, and with many users simultaneously—a massive boon in 2023’s economically-uncertain market.

Don’t let the name fool you—here at User Interviews, we support all kinds of research, including unmoderated methods. 

🔌✨ In fact, we recently launched an expanded suite of features to support unmoderated research, including a new, more adaptable workflow (“smart flow”) and more one-click integrations with the unmoderated testing tools you already use and love. 

To help you get started with (or perfect) your next unmoderated user test, this article covers:

  • The differences between moderated and unmoderated research
  • When to do moderated vs. unmoderated user research
  • Resources on how to run surveys, card sorts, A/B tests, task analysis, and other types of remote unmoderated research
  • Why researchers love recruiting for unmoderated UX studies with User Interviews

🆚 What’s the difference between moderated and unmoderated research?

Unlike moderated research, which requires researchers to observe participants during live (remote or in-person) sessions, unmoderated research is a type of user testing that does not require a researcher to be present during the session. Instead, participants are provided with materials and instructions to conduct the session on their own. 

Unmoderated user testing methods include:

  • Surveys
  • Qualitative usability testing
  • A/B testing
  • Tree testing
  • Preference testing
  • Diary studies
  • Card sorting
  • Task analysis
  • First click testing

The best thing about unmoderated studies is that researchers can run them fairly quickly, easily, and cheaply, with many users simultaneously—a massive boon in 2023’s economically-uncertain market.

As Ryan Glasgow, CEO of Sprig, says

“With budgets being cut and teams needing to do more with less, unmoderated research is going to be invaluable next year [2023]. It’s faster and easier to get feedback from your users, and while you can’t get as deep, it fills a crucial gap when teams don’t have the time or capacity for larger, meatier conversations.”

🧙✨ Looking for the best tools for unmoderated research? Discover the newest, best, and more popular tools with the 2022 UX Research Tools Map, a fantastical guide to the UXR software landscape.

✅ When to do moderated vs. unmoderated user testing

The view on when to do moderated vs. unmoderated user studies is changing.

Traditionally, unmoderated research was limited to short, straightforward flows where you need lots of testers fast and you don't really care who they are—for example, assessing a pass or fail on whether a simple flow passes a usability threshold. More in-depth qualitative studies weren’t practical for unmoderated research, because the old tools weren’t sufficient for the job, and drop-off rates were high. 

But, the landscape has changed: Unmoderated tooling has improved. Platforms like User Interviews are providing more (and better) options for recruiting targeted, high-quality participants. This, paired with increasing bandwidth constraints on research teams, makes unmoderated studies a more attractive option for a greater variety of methods. 

So what’s the modern take on when to run unmoderated studies? 

When you have access to a reliably high-quality participant pool, you can run longer, more in-depth unmoderated studies with lower drop-off rates. 

Yes, you heard that right—unmoderated research is no longer limited to answering a fixed, focused, straightforward set of “what” questions. With the right set of tools, you can use unmoderated to answer more dynamic, qualitative “why” questions while still ensuring a high level of participant engagement. 

That’s one of the reasons why using all-in-one research tools like UserTesting aren’t always the best option for unmoderated testing. All-in-ones have fixed plans and less flexibility than specialized tools, which could cause roadblocks in the long-term. An integrated stack of specialized testing tools will allow you to switch, expand, and adopt the best-in-class solutions as you evolve. 

🧰 Learn more about the pros and cons of all-in-one tools vs. integrated tech stacks for UX research

💻 Unmoderated user research 101: Best-practice resources, expert tips, and guides

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or launching your first-ever unmoderated study, here are some tips, guides, and resources to help you do it right. 

Unmoderated usability testing


🌟 Need survey participants? Ask us about subscriber discounts and save up to 70% per response. Talk to our sales team.

“Think aloud” unmoderated user testing

All unmoderated remote research

🧲 Unmoderated research recruitment with User Interviews

Unmoderated testing tools have improved, allowing researchers to run longer, more in-depth unmoderated studies with a greater variety of research methods. 

But in order for that to work, you need reliable, high-quality participants who’ll see the study to completion—and we can help! 

User Interviews recently launched an expanded suite of features to support unmoderated research recruitment, including a new, more adaptable workflow (“smart flow”) and more one-click integrations with the unmoderated testing tools you already use and love. 

Researchers love recruiting for unmoderated studies with User Interviews because of our:

  • Precise, streamlined recruitment: Recruit from our panel or yours and target niche, verified audiences. Plus, use our Double Screening add-on for an extra boost of confidence that you’re connecting with the right participants. 
  • Integrations: Connect with the unmoderated testing tools you already use and love, including Qualtrics, Lookback, SurveyMonkey, Sprig, Loop11, and Typeform
  • Support for in-depth qualitative feedback and methods that scale: Find top-quality participants for methods like qualitative surveys, complex user flows, “think aloud” tasks, card sorting. 
  • Automated participant management: We’ll put time back into your hands with automated workflow like qualifying participants, tracking progress, distributing incentives, and taking bulk actions on a large number of participants. 

No matter your study type, User Interviews is the fastest and easiest way to recruit participants for UX research. Get access to our 2.4 million vetted participants through Recruit, or bring your own users with Research Hub.

👉 Visit our pricing page to learn more.

Lizzy Burnam
Product Education Manager

Marketer, writer, poet. Lizzy likes hiking, people-watching, thrift shopping, learning and sharing ideas. Her happiest memory is sitting on the shore of Lake Champlain in the summer of 2020, eating a clementine.

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