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A Guide to Finding Free and Paid Participants for Usability Testing

We've put together a small guide to help take the anxiety out of recruiting

So you’ve created your initial prototype or maybe you are much further along and ready to build your app or website, but wait, have you done any user testing?

To make user testing worthwhile for you and your project, recruiting the right participants is crucial. They must be representative of your target group or potential users, otherwise, their feedback might not translate into something that you can use to further your design.

There are many different ways to recruit participants, the best approach depends on your project’s budget, time availability and user requirements. The great thing is that user testing doesn’t have to be expensive or as time-consuming as you may think.

We often hear from our customers that recruitment is one of the biggest pain points of user testing, so we’ve curated a list of the best places and different ways that you can find free and paid participants for your user testing sessions.

Free recruitment methods

On the streets with guerilla testing!

You might not always have access to the people you need for your research. But if you are looking for a group that don’t have any experience with your product or you are dealing with very specific criteria that you can’t source yourself then you can always try guerilla testing on the general public.

This type of testing is perfect for consumer-based apps such as banking, travel, healthcare, etc and is informal, fun, low cost and yields quick results.

We recommend incentives such as vouchers, snacks or swag to attract people to stop and spend 5-10mins with you! The ability to withstand a lot of rejection will also help.

We’ve just released the ability to launch recorded user test sessions directly from the Marvel iOS app so if you’re testing mobile-based apps check it out, it’s perfect for testing on the move.



Using Marvel for guerilla testing

  1. Grab your laptop or phone get out on the streets
  2. Create your user testing project (click here)
  3. Click ‘Start a test’ to launch a test from your own laptop. If you are testing for iOS, grab the Marvel iOS app and tap the video icon to launch a test on the device.
  4. Hand your laptop or phone over the kind participant you’ve just recruited to start using your prototype
guerrilla free paid participants

Photo from Unsplash

Your colleagues

If you don’t have the budget or resources for recruiting participants, or are still in the process of making a case for research in your organisation, recruiting internally might be your best option.

Using internal staff isn’t a great idea in the long run (unless you are specifically building internal tooling), but they can be useful for piloting early designs and low fidelity prototypes. Make sure that they still represent your target audience and have not had any involvement in the development of your product.



Using Marvel to test with colleagues

  1. Grab your laptop or phone and walk over to a desk
  2. Create your user testing project (click here)
  3. Click ‘Start a test’ to launch a test from your own laptop
  4. Paste in the email addresses of the users collected by your support team
  5. Click ‘Send

Within your product

Another popular method to recruit free participants is within your product itself.

We also use this approach at Marvel and it’s one of the best ways to hyper-target users, as you can message them in-app whilst they are doing a particular action. It’s a great method and mostly automated so low effort too!

For example, let’s say you are thinking about redesigning your My Account section of your app, with in-app messaging, you can show a popup whilst the user is viewing that part of your product and recruit them or ask for their feedback on your new design.

This means you get the right person, at the right time, resulting in very accurate feedback.



Helpful links

Using Marvel when recruiting via Product

  1. Create your user testing project (click here)
  2. Click ‘Invite participants’, then ‘Copy Link
  3. Paste in the link into your in-app message, allowing the users to take the test there and then. Alternatively, you can send it to a list of users you’ve recruited via the in-app message

Leverage your customer-facing teams to recruit users

This is one we use at Marvel and I absolutely love it. In most companies, it’s not the product teams that speak to the end-users the most, that award goes to Support, Sales and Customer Success.

These teams are having dozens if not hundreds of conversations each month. Whether that’s users with problems, power users, or potential new customers, each giving you the ability to test and validate different things.

The key to using internal teams to recruit is utilising the tools each team use to flag when they speak to someone who matches the criteria you are looking for.

Here are a few examples of how to utilise each team:


Your sales team will frequently be speaking to potential customers evaluating your tool who will often be requesting features that do not exist or are within competitor products they may already use. This provides a great opportunity to recruit them to test new features that align with those needs.

Let’s say you are thinking about bringing a feature to market that solves a demand that frequently comes up in sales conversations. By using a sales CRM like Salesforce, you can use ‘required’ fields that prompt your sales team to fill in the answers to various questions that make the lead the right fit for further research.

Then each week/month you can easily pull lists of potential people to recruit for research. We use various forms of this at Marvel and it works well!



Helpful links


The heroes in your support team are constantly speaking to users with questions, feedback or problems – perfect candidates for research!

Support can unearth users who are already familiar with your product and have reached out regarding a confusing flow or feature request. For example, a user how sends in an email asking how to use a certain feature could be a great candidate to user test your prototype of improvements around that part of the product.

If your support team uses a ticketing system like Zendesk or Helpscout, you can create custom data capture fields or tags that the team can use when someone’s email or persona matches your requirements.



Helpful links

Using Marvel when recruiting via Support

  1. Create your user testing project (click here)
  2. Click ‘Invite participants’, then ‘Send email
  3. Paste in the email addresses of the users collected by your support team. Alternatively, you can craft your own email and paste in the link to the test.
  4. Click ‘Send’

Customer Success

Customer Success teams tend to have strong, long term relationships with existing customers and will constantly be involved in conversations around the best and worst bits of your product, and probably hundreds of feature requests too!

Keeping track of the requests and feedback can be a great way to circle back when you are ready to test your designs or conduct further research.

We’ve found the easiest way to track these CS requests is by using a simple Google sheet, unless you have several hundred feature requests each month, you don’t need a fancy solution.

This is a great way to kick off a ‘Customer Champion’ list too!



Using Marvel when recruiting via Customer Success

  1. Create your user testing project (click here)
  2. Click ‘Invite participants’, then ‘Send email
  3. Paste in the email addresses of the users collected by the Customer Success team. Alternatively, you can craft your own email and paste in the link to the test.
  4. Click ‘Send

A very free, but very slow option – Build your own customer champions participant list

As you already have access to your current user base then curating a list of your most ardent supporters gives you an instant pool of potential participants for your user tests as and when you need.

This does require some upfront planning, so this isn’t something you can do at the drop of a hat, but it’s a really good method of having a sustainable process for finding research participants quickly and easily. This method tends to have a high response rate as your participants are already interested in helping in making your product better.

The process is simple, you ask all the teams within your business to add the most enthusiastic and passionate users to a list of ‘Customer Champions’. Then once you’ve curated that list, simply ask them if they would be interested in trying out new features, flows, and ideas. Anyone that agrees moved into your ‘confirmed’ section.

If you want to speed things up, send out an NPS survey to your entire user base, then anyone that rates you 9 or 10, send a follow up with a request to be part of your Customer Champion participant list.



Using Marvel with your Customer Champions list

  1. Create your user testing project (click here)
  2. Click ‘Invite participants’, then ‘Send email
  3. Paste in the email addresses of your Customer Champions and click send. Alternatively, you can craft your own email and paste in the link to the test

Low-cost methods

Using super-targeted paid ads to recruit participants

If you’re breaking into new markets or at the very start of validating an idea, recruiting via targeted paid adverts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google Display Network, and Youtube are just a few inexpensive places to start your process.

This approach works great for consumer-based apps where you may be trying to find an audience that is not easily accessible to you today. For example, if you are launching a country thousands of miles away, looking for a specific age range, skillset and interest.

In the past, you would have to spend thousands using an agency or service on the ground to recruit users. In comparison, you can use this approach by using just $50-200 worth of ads.

The advert can either link directly to your Marvel User Test (and use intro messages to give context) or to a form to collect enough information so you can reach back out to them when the time is right.

If you choose this method, we recommend combining it with incentives such as Amazon vouchers or swag as this audience has no connection to your product, therefore, will be less interested in helping.



Helpful links

Testing Time

Price: Starts at £60 per participant

TestingTime is a great way to quickly find participants based on specific demographic criteria. They can also go above and beyond to locate people based on a very detailed set of requirements (for example, a 20-year-old seafood chef in Brazil).

You can then add your Marvel prototype or User Testing link and send it to the participants to test.

Using Marvel with TestingTime

  1. Head to testingtime.com
  2. Create an order on TestingTime (click here)
  3. On the Setup screen, select ‘Unmoderated’
  4. In the ‘Public link’ field, paste in your Marvel prototype link or your User Test link

User Interviews

Price: Starts at $30 per consumer, or $70 per professional participant

User Interviews helps find users from a pool of 200,000 professionals and consumers based on your criteria. You can then add your Marvel prototype or User Testing link and send it to the participants to test.

Using Marvel with User Interviews

  1. Head to Userinterviews.com and sign-up
  2. Create a new project
  3. Select ‘Unmoderated Task
  4. Paste your Marvel prototype link or user testing link into the ‘Details for confirmed participants‘ section

The Takeaway

We know how anxious recruiting can be, hopefully, this list gives you some inspiration about where to find your testers for your next Marvel prototype!

Don’t forget, testing can be done at almost any stage of the design process and you don’t have to wait until you have a shiny, high-fidelity design – you can start testing ideas using low fidelity paper prototypes made with our apps.

Interested in User Testing with Marvel? Find out more here.

If you think we’ve left out a resource or tool then let us know via Twitter and we’ll add it to the list!

Further reading:

Content and Social Media Manager at Marvel | Photographer | Sewer

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