Competitor Benchmarking

We’re not supposed to give secrets away are we? Oh well… let’s break the rules & throw caution to the wind… I’m going to give you a leg-up on competitor benchmarking because it’s one of the most important tasks we perform in UX.

The term “benchmarking” is relatively new but the concept is as old as competition itself. Whether in industry, sport or in other aspects of our daily lives, we continually need to reference our own performance against others.

All of us benchmark most of the time without realizing it. At one time the concept was known as ‘interfirm comparisons’ because in an industrial sense, that is what it is.

As a task it’s important to make it very clear that this is ‘subjective analysis’ not ‘objective research’. You can of course go through stats if you have them and look at two or three websites against each other, but the chances of your having that kind of data are almost non-existent, so assume this is you as a UX person or intern looking at lots of different sites, following some rules & guidelines & grading them based on observation. Subjective observation. Doesn’t make it wrong, it does however make it someones opinion for a lot of things.

The criteria

So here’s a start for ten… if I was going to look at four sites and compare them against each other I’d take the the following areas & give each site a score out of 3. 1 being dreadful and 3 being top of the class. Scoring is of course entirely a decision you can make for yourself. I just like to keep it simple.

1 Findability

  1. Site was easy to find using Google
    • Search for brand found main site quickly
    • Search for “SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE INDUSTRY” directed me to this brand
  2. Search results were helpful

2 First Impressions

  1. Website was well branded
  2. Clarity of next steps was obvious (you found what you were looking for)
  3. The site is very product led
  4. The site is very campaign led
  5. The site has offers and incentives up front
  6. The site has clear data-capture opportunities up front

3 CTA effectiveness

  1. Visibility
  2. Clarity
  3. Simplicity
  4. Page position
  5. Competition from other messages

4 Ease of use

  1. Navigation
    • Simplicity
    • Contextual signposting
  2. Major headings on pages are clear & descriptive
  3. Styles & colors are consistent
  4. Emphasis (bold, etc.) is used sparingly
  5. Main copy is concise & explanatory
  6. URLs are meaningful & user‐friendly
  7. HTML page titles are explanatory

5 Content

  1. Emotional connection
  2. Commerce
  3. Tools

6 Accessibility

  1. Site load‐time is reasonable
  2. Adequate text‐to‐background contrast
  3. Font size/spacing is easy to read
  4. Flash & add‐ons are used sparingly

7 Personalisation

  1. Website can be personalised
  2. User can choose what content they are shown
  3. The experience can be customised to interest

As I mentioned… this isn’t an exhaustive list of criteria, it’s just the list I use and from time to time I change it on an ad-hoc basis dependent on the client I’m doing the benchmarking for. You’ve got to keep it flexible & play to the audience.

It’s actually what you do with the data that can be useful.

Analyzing and using the benchmark

Using something like Excel to do the benchmark I’d recommend giving each point on the list a score and then a final ‘average’ for each section (you’ll see what I mean on the sample spreadsheet I’ve attached). It’s the average score that you can then use to generate the chart(s) you’ll want to share with the client. I recommend using a ‘Radar’ chart for the visualisation. Simply because it overlays everything on top of each other in a way that lets you see exactly what the lay of the land is. They look fun too.

What I look for in a visualisation like this is not just where your client is performing well against it’s competitors, there’s a chance because of marketing etc that it always has and always will compete heavily in some areas more than others (like SEO / findability) what this shows us very quickly is where opportunities to disrupt the marketplace are. Take the example on the right, there’s clearly nobody in the area of personalisation. Move into that space before someone else & you can grab the point of don-displacement first.

Summary

A benchmark is a quick, simple way of hitting a client with some insight that will conceivably justify decisions you want to make as an agency. It also gives you an opportunity to go back to a client after you’ve done some work and say “You’re score in the area of XXXX was XX, it is now XX therefore we’ve improved usability”.

I’ve included a sample spreadsheet so you can have a fiddle. Punch in numbers where the 1’s are on the first sheet and you’ll see the rest generated automatically. Please note I don’t do technical support… so if you break it that’s not my problem… it’s literally to give you a foot-up and show you the idea.

Download sample benchmark

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