In a competitive marketplace, success can hinge on effective web design and good user experience. UX design can either add to or impede your potential customer or client’s journey across your website.
To that end, UX competitive analysis can be an important strategy in your design research process, along with getting participants for user research, heuristic evaluations, value propositions, product strategy, and A/B testing, to help you identify design solutions and implement them early in your design process. It’s not about keeping-up-with-the-Jones’, rather comparing the 4-F’s of UX design—flow, features, feeling, and function—of your competitors’ sites and products and making the appropriate tweaks to your own designs to recontextualize your own website or app within the competitive environment of the market.
So what is a UX Competitive Analysis?
A competitive analysis for UX Design is a way for designers and stakeholders to garner strategic understanding of what your competitors are doing with their products so that you can harness that information and use it to make your own design choices more strategic. In turn, this will allow you to offer your users a better experience with your product or website.
By understanding your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as your own in comparison, you’ll have a better overall knowledge of:
- Next steps to take in the design process
- Any discernible gaps that exist in the field or marketplace
- Possible solutions for usability issues for your own design or product
- Quantitative research to back up your design decisions
- Sources for vision and creativity for your own team
- A way to find and define unique market opportunities
Why do we need a UX competitive analysis?
There’s an old Russian proverb that goes, “If you don’t have time to do it right, you must have time to do it over.” If only. In a fast-paced work environment we often need to work smart, work fast, and provide a delightful experience on our first try. A UX competitive analysis is an important step in your research process, before usability testing or design finalization, that can help identify and neutralize mistakes before they become incorporated into the final product.
Without competitive analysis, it’s easy for mistakes to be made, gaps to go unnoticed, and usability issues to remain unresolved without your team detecting it until the product is near completion, which can cause frustration on the frontend for users and the backend for the product design team stuck fixing problems instead of focusing on new tasks.
What are other benefits of a competitive analysis for UX design?
Additionally, UX competitive analyses can have far-reaching benefits for your team and organization beyond just insight into how to build your own product or application.
Bolster subject knowledge
First, in-depth analysis of your competitors can provide your team with insight and knowledge of usability, functionality, and content within your field that they may not have come across otherwise. This is especially beneficial when not all team members have the same background or subject knowledge. For example, some team members might be new or some may have moved from other teams, etc. It gives the team extra insight and information that allows for better, more educated decisions further down the pipeline and on future projects.
Encourage strategic boldness
Anyone working on a team is aware that an idea is only as good as the buy-in it can get from others, be it on your design team, in development, or executives. You can have the world’s best idea, but if you can’t get others to support it, it can often be dead in the water. That’s where a comprehensive UX competitive knowledge can be a boon. When you have dived deep into your competitors’ products and strategy, the data you gather can be invaluable in opening up doors and conversations that can help take your own strategic planning to the next level.
Identify current best practices
An important benefit of running a competitive analysis early is that it can give valuable insight into what others are doing on the web. It allows you to explore, identify opportunities, and pinpoint what others in your business spheres are doing consistently, therefore what your own consumers might expect from you.
It can also allow you to identify where competitor websites are making mistakes that disrupt the user experience and hamper user interaction. When you can identify these kinds of mistakes on your competitor’s websites, it better allows you to iterate solutions that improve implementation and functionality.
When in a product cycle is a UX competitive analysis best to perform?
Ideally, a competitive analysis is run very early in the design and research process, and before any substantive design work is done on the project, since a competitive analysis can help aid as a roadmap for design. However, markets are ever-shifting and the products your competitors—and in fact even who your competitors are—offer changing, so it can be important to periodically revisit how and what competitors are doing in comparison to your own offerings.
In general, the sooner you analyze the competitive landscape, the easier it will be for your team to remain agile and iterative. Early analysis will allow you to:
- Create a list of crucial product features
- Set a path for future product updates
- Eliminate unnecessary or impractical features
- Ensure that your product features are up-to-date and fresh
If competitive analysis is a step that you inadvertently skipped in your design process, there is still a lot of value to be had from running one even later in the process. A competitive analysis for UX at any point can help you identify changes in user behavior, introduce newer and better functionality in your product, develop new strategies for product growth, and identify unnecessary features that may be past their prime.
How do you run a UX competitive analysis?
Now that we understand the why’s of competitive analysis, let’s take a look at the best steps to take to run an effective and valuable competitive analysis for UX.
Step 1: Identify your competitors
The first step is to identify who your competitors are. Identify between 5-10 direct and/or indirect competitors to analyze and gather the information you’ll need.. If you will be comparing mobile apps, try to find a simulator that will allow you to test the products on your computer screen for better visibility and ease.
Step 2: Identify your goals
For this step, it’s important for you to pinpoint and identify the goals you have for both your product and your business. Without an understanding of what and why you are doing something, you won’t have a clear way to map the results you have. Do you want better conversion rates? Are you looking to become a knowledge leader in your field? Hoping for more app downloads, etc.? By understanding your end goal, you will be able to clearly define the aims of your competitive analysis and fine tune your heuristics. Which brings us to….
Step 3: Allow your business and strategy goals to influence the heuristics you use
Depending on what your ultimate goals for your application or product is, now is the time to decide what you would like to find out about your competitors. These usability principles, more often referred to as usability heuristics, will look at the functionality of your competitors’ products. You may also hear it referred to as a “usability audit” or an “expert review”. This shouldn’t be confused with usability testing, a step that comes further along in the design process. Many of these heuristics are the standard in UX research such as:
- Site or product navigation
- Design consistency
- Organization simplicity and ease
- Calls to action
- Site loading speeds
- Review of implementing and completing the main task
Others might vary depending on your individual product needs and could include heuristics concerning social media signups, mailing lists, informational architecture, interaction models, and so on. Remember that you may be working with both qualitative as well as quantitative data, so consider what that will look like as you run your analysis.
Step 4: Build a table
This step doesn’t have to be complicated. Simply build a table or spreadsheet with your competitors’ names along the header of your table and your usability principles along the first column. You can also build in extra space for making notes on each website/product as you work.
Example of a competitive analysis of a language learning application
Step 5: Analyze your competitors (and yourself)
Now is the time to analyze your competitors and, if you have a product that is far enough along in the pipeline, yourself. For each competitor you’re analyzing, go through each of your heuristic criteria and record your insights and findings. This is the meat of your UX competitive analysis, so don’t rush through it. Take your time to really identify all of the good and bad functionality and record your findings in your table. Take thorough notes of everything you loved, you hated, the things that surprised you, etc. Remember you’ll be presenting your findings to your team/stakeholders, so take screenshots and document your research.
Step 6: Prepare a presentation
This step is the fun part. Once you’ve obtained your data, now is the time to analyze it and prepare a report or presentation that can be shared with other stakeholders. Utilize your data, as well as your notes, to prepare a summary of your findings for each competitor as well as a more in-depth dive into what each competitor is doing well and where you found areas for improvement.
Step 7: Keep your data at hand
After you’ve presented your findings, you want to make sure that your documentation stays at hand and is available for the entire team and other stakeholders who may need to refer back to it as you continue along in the design process. Periodically revisit it and, if the project warrants, consider running additional UX competitive analyses as your product and the market evolves and changes.
Conducting an in-depth competitive analysis that looks at what (and how) your competitors are delivering their product to market will help give you the data and information you need to find solutions and functionality that distinguish you from your competitors and give you the upper hand. With a deeper understanding of your competitive environment, you will be able to find the hidden opportunities that will help to inform your product strategy and design choices as your product develops and grows.
If you’re ready to delve even deeper into UX research, check out this roundup of the best UX research tools we’ve found to help you along the way.