Planning to re-do your website? Start with your competitors. An often overlooked and extremely insightful exercise is to look at what your competitors offer online and how well they are serving your target audiences. I often compare the website development process to building a house and there’s nothing more insightful that looking inside a few models.
If you are thinking you do not have the time or money to do competitive testing, don’t fret. This can be as simple or as involved as you like, but you can get the essential information that you need by just asking a few people to sit down and use other sites.
Further, competitive usability studies provide a way for you to assess different design patterns and user flows, and determine which concepts might work and not work for your audience. They allow you to test ideas without having to build the designs yourself and to discover new interactions for your site and avoid mistakes made by others. In other words, this step can actually save you time and money.
What You Can Learn
Competitive tests can help you with the following:
- Evaluate future features. Before you build a new feature, learn whether customers consider it valuable or how it could be designed better. Seeing how customers react to features on the competitor’s site can help you determine whether they’re worth the effort.
- Examine similar features. Your site may offer features similar to those on competitor sites, but one process might work better than the other. You can quickly identify the elements that work and make your design better while avoiding mistakes made on other websites.
- Discover better ways to doing things. Testing other sites might reveal features and interactions that you haven’t thought of. Having people react to different designs gives them an opportunity to compare and contrast. Participants are often better at articulating their thoughts and retrieving memories when they have several examples to which they can refer.
Conducting Competitive Usability Tests
Select sites with features you want to consider. Don’t waste your time testing sites that you know are bad. The study will generate more valuable ideas when you include sites that might outperform your current site.
Set aside two days and sign up about 6 testers. Have a series of questions or tasks that testers can answer by looking at your current website and 1-2 competitive websites. As they go through the tasks, ask testers to think aloud and document what they say.
To combat order effects, alternate the sequence of the websites that participants evaluate. For each participant, keep the number of websites they evaluate at 3 or less. When evaluating too many sites, tasks become monotonous and difficult to track for participants.