How to evaluate usability strengths and weaknesses against competitors.

Benchmarking is a familiar concept among business professionals. It provides a snapshot of your digital performance and helps you to understand your position in relation to a particular standard – either how your site fared previously or against competitors.

Benchmarking your website against the competition in particular is a valuable exercise; it’s a great way of identifying your strengths and weaknesses, helps to improve conversion rates and optimizes your digital brand experience.

In this blog we will look at the drivers for benchmarking and how the process can help to shape your business decisions. We will also look at benchmarking best practices: what you should consider beforehand and the methods available.

“Why should I benchmark my customers’ online experience against that of my competitors?”

UX Benchmarking essentially enables you to define what your competitors are doing, how they’re doing it and the ways in which these decisions impact a customer’s perception of the brand. When compared to your own website’s performance and the experience of its users, this valuable insight can be used to either validate your design decisions, or help you to change and improve your strategy in order to maintain a competitive edge.

Looking at the average website, it’s possible to benchmark across two key areas: web design components (e.g navigation, content quality, interactive elements) and brand components (affinity / likeability, attitude towards the brand). Each area has its own set of metrics for measurement, such as task completion, time on task, number of clicks and more for web design. NPS (Net Promotor Score), CSAT (Customer Satisfaction) and other attitudinal metrics to measure brand components. Measurement itself can be carried out via several methods – more on that later!

Once the relevant metrics have been analyzed for your website and those of your competitors, the findings can prove beneficial in many ways:

  • By learning what your competitors are doing you’re able to leverage their research. For example, a competitor may have a very interesting way of presenting an offer or discount to a user that is actually far more effective than your methods.
  • Alternatively, the competitor may have a unique navigation system that works well on a mobile device. By defining these methods, you can integrate elements into your own web designs to create something that is unique to your brand but also places you at the cutting edge.
  • Benchmarking can help you to adapt your web strategy based on customer needs and behavior.
  • Data uncovered through benchmarking can help you to better understand your customer base. You can learn about your customers’ attitudes towards other brands, how they interact with other websites, what they like/don’t like about your website in comparison to others, etc.
  • Benchmarking data can provide brand marketers with valuable insight into a company’s online brand. For example, in the case of a customer who has little awareness of a given brand, it is possible to see the extent to which the customer’s online experience alters this perception.

Best Practices for Benchmarking: First Steps

Planning really is the key to a successful (and actionable) benchmarking exercise. You may already have a good idea of the kinds of metrics that will form the basis of your comparisons, but before undertaking any form of data collection, it’s important to consider the following requirements:

Tools: In order to gather reliable and fair data your screening methods should be those that will work across various devices, from a smartphone to a laptop. Also, as you’ll need to track audiences on a competitor’s website as well as your own, it’s important that your chosen benchmarking tool is website independent.

Audience(s): You need to make sure that you select the right audience for the benchmarking process. This should include your target audience e.g. existing customers, potential customers or your competitors’ customers. You may also want to consider counter audiences such as those who have no awareness of your brand.

Partner: It’s essential to find the correct study partner – one that is impartial, will let the data speak for itself and can offer experience from a variety of industries.

Types of Testing

In addition to the factors outlined above, it’s also important to consider the type of testing that is most suitable for your defined metrics. In other words – how you are going to collect data.

When it comes to testing websites, two of the most popular methods are: moderated in-person testing (where customers take part in one-to-one interviews in a dedicated lab) and remote unmoderated user testing. The first method is helpful in exploring the more complex issues, such as brand likeability, as it presents an opportunity for more in-depth analysis. However, it can be expensive and sample sizes are usually no larger than 20 participants.

Remote unmoderated user testing is, generally speaking, more beneficial for benchmarking. Conducted ‘in the wild’ (whereby users participate online from their own natural environment such as their home / office / a café etc, using their own personal devices), it allows for better geographic representation, larger sample sizes, and faster turnaround of data. As there are no lab or moderator fees, cost of entry is significantly lower.

Conclusion

Online customer experience benchmarking is an incredibly valuable tool for monitoring performance and helping to steer investment decisions. Given the right plan, methods and tools it can provide you with unparalleled insight and ultimately a competitive edge. Remember, your website and the user experience it creates will have a huge impact on your brand. If you want to stay ahead of the game you need to measure it, invest in it and improve it!