User experience is relative. A customer’s decision to transact (or not transact) with you is significantly influenced by how good (or bad) their experience is on your website compared to competition. In an industry where all websites are equally bad, customers are more likely to transact with a site that sucks the least.
This is exactly why governments often get away with poorly designed apps – their ‘customers’ are going to come to them regardless of their experience.
In my earlier article here on UserBrain, I talked about ‘peer benchmarking’ as a technique to test your eCommerce website for conversion. Peer benchmarking is essentially comparing your interface with competition with the help of publicly available metrics. For instance, if you run an online store, you could know whether or not your ‘free shipping’ feature is a good idea by comparing your site’s public metrics with those of your competitor stores with similar interfaces.
This is of course a very crude way of benchmarking your site against peers. In this article, we will dig deeper into some benchmarking techniques that will help you design a better interface for your website.
The Components Of Good UX
User experience on a website or app is measured by four specific components:
- Information Architecture
- Interaction Design
- Visual Design and
A comprehensive peer benchmarking process should evaluate the performance of your site against competition in each of these specific component areas.
Information Architecture (IA)
How the content is presented on a website is determined by the demographic that the business caters to. Customers buying industrial equipment online would be interested in the technical specifications of the product on your shelf. In such cases, the content is best presented in a tabulated form. On the other hand, customers buying fashion accessories would be interested in images showcasing the product.
An ideal IA benchmarking process starts with identifying the list of competitors in this space. It is a good idea to pick at least the five to ten market leaders in your space and benchmark on various information architecture parameters like:
- Content Findability and Discoverability: Compare if your content can be found by users using card sorting or tree testing.
- Content depth: Compare average number of words, pictures or videos being showcased.
- Content complexity: Benchmark Readability scores like Flesch-Kincaid levels, Gunning-Fog scores, Coleman-Liau index and SMOG index.
The effectiveness of your content depends to a great extent on the way it is presented. This includes seemingly minor factors like the font, font size, visual overlays, interface design (button fade-ins, blinking text, etc.) and so on. Interaction design also includes more important factors like the webpage responsiveness and the use of AJAX to make content delivery more seamless.
To benchmark interaction design, you could use the following methods:
- Usability studies: See if people outside your own four walls are able to interact with your webpage.
The visual components on your site are an extremely critical aspect of user experience. The visual design not only refers to the mere use of images and videos in your page, but also the impact that such visual content delivers. In one study, showing real pictures of artists was found to double the conversion rate of an art store. At the same time, another study on a travel company found that conversion rates dropped when a human face was displayed.
Where you source your images from may also matter. Stock photos are often not a great idea for online stores. Your benchmarking process should document factors such as the use of images, display of human faces, the kind of image being shown (happy family, a working professional, etc.), whether the person is smiling or not, whether or not the image is a stock photo and finally the uniqueness of the image.
You could make use of one the dozens of tools to reverse search the image on your competitor pages for this purpose. If you are an online store with hundreds of products, you could perform this benchmarking process for the top 20% of pages in terms of revenue.
Usability is an umbrella term that encompasses a number of objective and subjective elements regarding the way your customers interact with your website or app. In terms of objective evaluation, you must look into parameters such as the number of pages to navigate through before checking out, the color contrast ratio and also the type of web elements (dropdowns, checkbox, etc.) present on your page.
For high usability, a page must have minimum friction through the checkout process, a high color contrast ratio and also an ability to navigate quickly between the various input fields. A dropdown form takes relatively more time to fill over auto-complete and this is a usability issue.
The second component of usability is subjective – how your visitors perceive the overall page in terms of trustworthiness and a desire to engage. This is achieved with human feedback obtained through tools like UserBrain.
Performing A UX Benchmarking Study
Now that we have gathered valuable information relating to your site and those of competitors, it is time to perform a benchmarking test. It is good practice to execute the benchmarking process in the order listed above.
A usability benchmarking study of this nature is essentially a two step process. The first step is an in-house benchmarking process that evaluates the performance of your site against competition in each of the different parameters mentioned above. For instance, the content complexity benchmarking process would involve comparing the Flesch-Kincaid scores on your webpages and comparing them with peers. Do you see a significant difference in these numbers? This presents an opportunity for improvement.
The second step of the benchmarking process involves the use of third part input. While human feedback is usually only sought for usability purposes (like assessing the points of friction during the checkout process), this is not the only thing you must be assessing. It is important to assess each parameter listed above from a potential consumers’ perspective. Take content complexity for instance.
A website that caters to an expert audience group (like medical professionals or investment bankers) would need content that appeals to this audience. A low Flesch-Kincaid grade level in this case may not actually be desirable. Similarly, make use of tools like UserBrain to gauge inputs from your target group on each of the parameters listed above to assess your website’s performance against competition.
The Next Step
Once you have the benchmarking report ready, the next step is to identify the changes to make on your site. This is a lengthy process that involves identifying the elements that could help your business improve conversions and making these incremental changes. The idea is to measure the impact of these changes on conversion and either confirm these changes or revert to what worked better.
User testing and conversion rate optimization is a continuous process and the benchmarking test above will help you prepare a roadmap to continually improve your website vis-a-vis competition.
About the author
Shawn Arora is the founder of LaunchSpark, a Toronto-based explainer video agency with a focus on ROI. LaunchSpark works with SaaS / tech vendors to distill complex messaging into clear and concise insights that increase conversion rates.