Once you’ve successfully overcome the initial challenges of test participant recruitment, including what recruitment method to use, and how many people to recruit for your research, it’s time to think about compensation.

As the wise Method Man once stated, “Cash rules everything around me.” And while your family members might be willing to poke around on your prototype for free, you’ll find that you will typically want to set aside budget for compensating your testers.

But how much? That’s the million dollar question (don’t panic, it’s probably not a million dollars).

Let’s start with the easiest: if you’re using a sourcing vendor they will deliver it as a line item. Bada-bing bada-boom. Just send it to the holder of the holy business checkbook and you can be on your merry researching way while they handle it. Be aware, however, that because you’re engaging with a service it will be more expensive than if you did it on your own but it will likely be far easier.

If you aren’t using an external sourcing partner, however, there’s a few things you should consider when it comes to compensating your participants.

  1. Are your users hard to find (low incidence rates in the general population)
  2. Are you asking them to travel to your usability lab or workplace
  3. How much of their time or you asking for
  4. How complex is your study
  5. How invested are they in having an impact on your product or service

Typically speaking the rarer the participant is in the general population, the longer and more complex the study, and the more time you’re asking of them (including driving to and from your usability lab) all add up to a more expensive compensation. We’ve seen anywhere from $25-$60 an hour, and that’s not even for super hard to find participants.


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As for what the number should be, well, that all depends on a mixture of your budget and how the target demographic fits into the above points, my friends.

For example, if a user is a huge fan of what it is you do (point #5 from above) and you impart upon them that they would have a direct impact on the thing they love, they may be willing to help you for free or at a discounted rate. If you wanted to you could even throw in a gift card or a promo code discount to sweeten the deal.

If you’re asking someone to come into your usability lab or workplace they should be compensated more than if someone is allowed to take your study remotely. If your study is complex they should be compensated more than if they did a quick survey.

As much as I would love to share a chart with concrete dollar amounts for paying participants based on their relative expertise or complexity of study, there are simply too many variables.

The answer is: experiment a little and if you aren’t getting much traction try upping the amount.

Yes that’s right, this is a user research question that has a classic user researcher reply: “it depends!” 😬


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