4 Ways to Recruit UX Research Participants in 2023

Learn how to recruit real users for user-centric research. Gain key insights into user needs and behaviors you won't find from agencies or generic panels.

The Importance of Recruiting the Right Participants for UX Research

Recruiting the right participants for UX research is critical to obtaining accurate and meaningful insights that inform and enhance the design process. Selecting participants who actually use your product or represent your target user groups ensures that the data collected is relevant and reflects your intended audience's needs, preferences, and behaviors.

Conversely, choosing participants who do not use your product and do not represent your user groups can lead to misleading results and incorrect conclusions. These non-representative participants may have different motivations, experiences, and expectations that do not align with your target users, causing potential misinterpretation of data and suboptimal design decisions.

Ultimately, recruiting the right participants is essential for a more effective and user-centric design process that caters to the specific needs of your target audience.

Intercepts for UX Research Recruitment

Intercepts are a method of recruiting UX research participants by targeting users while they are actively interacting with your product or service.

UXRs use popups and other UI patterns to intercept users and ask them to join a study in return for an incentive. The user can agree, complete a screener, and enter the study (survey, interview, etc.) within minutes of using a product or feature.

This real-time recruitment strategy offers several benefits, including relevance, authenticity, and access to users with real-world experience. By intercepting users in their natural context, researchers can gather highly valuable insights that reflect actual user behavior, needs, and preferences.

Relevance and authenticity

Intercepts ensure that the participants recruited for UX research are highly relevant and authentic, as they represent actual users of your product.

This approach minimizes the risk of collecting data from individuals who do not share the same motivations or expectations as your target users, which can lead to misleading results and muddy user research. 

By recruiting participants who are genuinely interested in and engaged with your product, you ensure that the insights gathered are directly applicable to your user base and design process.

Access to users with real-world experience

One of the key advantages of intercepts is the ability to access users with real-world experience using your product or service. These users have firsthand knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of your product, which is invaluable for informing design decisions and improvements.

By involving users with product experience, you can better understand their needs and pain points, leading to more effective and user-centric solutions that address real-world issues and enhance the overall user experience.

How to implement intercepts effectively

Implementing intercepts requires a combination of JavaScript and cookies to display targeted invitations to potential participants while interacting with a website or app. These invitations often utilize popups or banners and should be carefully designed to be unobtrusive yet noticeable.

By utilizing user behavior, demographics, or other criteria, researchers can customize the targeting to ensure that you recruit the right participants. It's also essential to monitor and adjust the frequency and timing of the intercepts to optimize the response rate and minimize disruption to the user experience.

Using Ethnio for intercept-based recruitment

Ethnio is a UXR platform that streamlines recruiting participants through its robust Intercepts feature the team has spent over a decade optimizing and perfecting.

Where many UX recruitment platforms have chosen the path of reselling databases, Ethnio focuses on providing the tools and features to intercept and recruit participants relevant to your product.

With its robust targeting options, customizable screener surveys, and seamless integration with popular analytics and usability testing tools, Ethnio simplifies participant recruitment while ensuring high-quality, relevant users. By leveraging Ethnio's features, UX researchers can quickly and effectively identify and recruit the right study participants.

Examples of intercept targeting

Ethnio's Intercepts enable research teams to narrow campaigns to specific user groups. Here are four common examples:

  • Precise attributes from your product - anything you store about logged-in users or site visitors can be sent to Ethnio with variables and parameters to decide exactly who sees an intercept

  • Logged-in users: Target users who are signed in to their accounts, ensuring the participants are familiar with your product or service.

  • Users who have completed a purchase: users who have made a purchase enable researchers to speak to actual customers.

  • Specific languages or regions: targeting users from particular geographic locations or specific language speakers, enabling localized research.

  • Paid vs. freemium users: Differentiate between users with paid or freemium access, allowing for comparisons and insights specific to each user segment.

  • Pass targeting variables all the way to Ethnio’s CRM, Pool. Any attribute you use for targeting can also be used to tag and organize your participants by segment for future research

Live intercept recruiting vs. scheduling

Live intercept recruiting involves inviting users to participate in a study immediately while interacting with your product or service. This approach captures users' real-time feedback and experiences.

Scheduling intercepts allow participants to select a future date and time for their research session. This approach can increase participation rates by offering flexibility and accommodating participants' schedules. Both methods have their merits and can be used depending on the research context and goals.

Understanding intercept logic

Intercept logic allows researchers to route respondents to different actions or surveys based on external variables or their answers to specific questions.

This automated routing enables UXRs to tailor the recruitment process and ensure that only the most relevant and appropriate participants participate. For example, directing a respondent who indicates they are a paid user to a survey focused on premium features while guiding a freemium user to a different survey.

Sensitive or timely topics

Ethnio has streamlined our research ops without sacrificing a fantastic experience for participants and researchers.Ansaria Mohammed Senior UX Researcher at Turo

When recruiting participants for sensitive or timely topics, such as disabilities or illness, intercepts offer a unique advantage over traditional research recruitment methods. These participants are challenging to find and engage through other means, such as panels or agencies.

Intercepts allow researchers to reach these participants while they're actively using your product, ensuring that you gather insights from users who genuinely represent the specific condition or characteristic of a study.

This approach provides valuable insights into the user experience of these hard-to-reach groups while ensuring that your research is more inclusive and comprehensive, leading to better overall design decisions.

Alzheimer's Society — An Intercepts use case

Alzheimer's Society is the UK's leading support and research charity, with over 2,600 employees and 10,000 volunteers. The organization battled with recruiting participants affected by dementia, even though researchers knew thousands were using their website daily.

Even when we managed to find someone using our internal teams and systems, contacting and screening the person meant navigating through inefficient workflow processes. For example, it would take days to weeks before the participant was contactable for an initial screening.Rik WilliamsUser Experience Architect at Alzheimer's SocietyThe Alzheimer's Society switched to Ethnio and used Intercepts to invite, screen, and manage users. Instead of working across systems and through many intermediaries, Rik, and his team were able to contact and screen all participants and collect an almost infinite, self-sustaining pot of potential participants for research.

"Ethnio reduces the time and effort it takes to contact a single participant from hours and sometimes even weeks to mere minutes. The impact is like having a dedicated research operations role (#researchOps) supporting my research, but on-demand and at only a fraction of the cost." Rik Williams, User Experience Architect at Alzheimer's Society.

Internal Email Lists

Internal email lists are another valuable resource for recruiting UX research participants. By leveraging an existing user base, researchers can access a wealth of potential participants already familiar with the product or service.

Internal email lists contain contact information for users who have opted to receive communications from your organization. These lists offer several advantages for UX research recruitment, including access to a pre-existing user base and higher response rates.

How to leverage internal lists effectively

To make the most of internal email lists for UX research recruitment, consider the following best practices:

  • Segmenting and filtering: Organize your email list by user characteristics, behaviors, or preferences to target specific user groups for your research. For example, you might filter and tag users based on their subscription type or product usage frequency.

  • Ensuring user privacy: Protect your users' privacy by adhering to relevant data protection regulations, such as GDPR, and obtaining explicit consent for research participation. For instance, include an explicit opt-in and opt-out option in your recruitment emails.

  • Syncing with organizational CRMs: Keep your email lists up-to-date by integrating them with your organization's Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. This sync ensures you have the most recent and accurate user information for your recruitment efforts. For example, sync your email list with Salesforce or HubSpot to keep user data current while automatically enriching user profiles.

  • Cleaning email lists: Regularly review and clean your email lists to remove outdated or invalid email addresses, reducing bounce rates and improving your recruitment success. For example, use an email verification tool to identify and remove invalid email addresses from your list.

The Zebra — An email list use case using Ethnio's Pool

The Zebra's research team used multiple tools to send emails, recruit participants, create surveys, and track respondents. This fragmented workflow created roadblocks and took time with many manual operational tasks.

The research team switched to Ethnio and discovered the power of Pool, a CRM built by UXRs for UXRs.

With Ethnio, I am able to upload, filter, and survey participants faster than we've ever done before—and all from one tool. I can email thousands of respondents within a few minutes, get plenty of completes and manage opt-outs within a few minutes. That includes making sure opt-outs across all our tools are synced; which means I can export opt-opts from Ethnio and import them to our other tools. This is an easy extra step that makes a world of difference for compliance and lets me provide faster insights to my stakeholders, so I can move on to other fun research tasks.Sarah KettlesDirector of Research at The ZebraAgencies for UX Research Recruitment

Agencies are specialized firms that offer participant recruitment services for UX research. These agencies have expertise in identifying and recruiting research participants. They provide access to diverse participant pools and work to ensure your research includes users relevant to your target audience.

How to select the right agency for your research needs

When choosing an agency for your UX research recruitment needs, consider evaluating the agency's credentials and experience in the field. 

Ensure that the agency has a track record of successful participant recruitment and that their capabilities align with your research goals. It's also essential to discuss how they source participants. For example, they may mention a product or service with a poor reputation for fake participants.

Additionally, discuss your specific requirements and expectations with the agency to confirm their ability to meet your project's needs.

Take control of your UX research and recruit participants who actually use your products

Challenges with using agencies in UXR

While agencies can provide valuable support in UX research recruitment, there are potential challenges to consider, notably:

  • Costs: Agencies typically charge fees for their services, which can add to your research budget, particularly for companies conducting high-volume UX research.

  • User relevance: Agencies may not have access to your specific user base or product users, which could lead to less relevant participant recruitment and outcomes.

  • Lack of control: Working with an agency may result in less control over the participant recruitment process, as the agency handles most aspects of recruitment.

Access to user data: Some agencies don't provide comprehensive user data or are restricted by privacy regulations, limiting your ability to understand study participants fully.

Purchasing External Panels

Purchasing external panels involves accessing a pre-existing group of potential research participants, typically from a third-party provider. These panels can offer a large pool of users to recruit cheaply, but they may have certain drawbacks.

Reliability concerns and lack of real-world product experience are two primary issues synonymous with purchasing panels. The participants in these panels often don't represent your actual user base, leading to irrelevant insights for your research.

Panel participants often don't use your products or are unfamiliar with your brand. They lack real-world experience with your product, which can result in data that does not accurately reflect your target audience's needs, preferences, and behaviors.

Sadly, external panels are the default for many organizations to run UX studies due to the low cost and minimal impact operations.

When purchasing panels can be helpful

There are situations where purchasing external panels may be appropriate for UX research recruitment, notably:

  • Exploratory research: When conducting early-stage, exploratory research, purchasing panels can provide a wide range of user perspectives to help identify potential areas of interest or improvement. For example, a company looking to enter a new market might use a localized panel to gauge initial reactions to a product concept or prototype.

  • Broad user feedback: If you need to gather feedback from a large, diverse group of users, purchasing panels can help. For example, a company seeking to understand how different demographics interact with its website may use a panel to recruit participants from various age groups, locations, and backgrounds to collect a wide range of insights.

With both examples above, we recommended supplementing this external research with first-party data to determine its relevance.

Get meaningful insights from the people who actually use your productsFind out how you can streamline user recruitment to connect with the right participants

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