Category: UX advice / Research articles
I few years ago I was working for a company when someone in our team stumbled across the website of a brand new competitor in the sector. Their site initially looked familiar, and on closer inspection it turned out they had completely copied ours.
Rather than being angry about it, I was actually more disappointed. They had copied things almost identically on the surface but implemented them poorly, creating a shoddy, knock-off experience.
I would have been impressed if they had been inspired and taken it to another level. Their version showed they had no understanding of the features we had and whether it was right for them (some really weren’t as they were a much smaller outfit).
Of course we understand why people lean on following competitors so often. It feels much safer to do something if one of the giants in your sector are doing it that way. Yet if you’ve worked for one of these big players you’ll know that many of the features they have will be disliked by internal teams and are seen more as legacy than cutting-edge.
There’s a way to do design and UX competitor analysis and it isn’t about faithfully recreating someone else’s site. Only copying one site is like only having one data point: liable to lead you completely astray.
Like it or not some clients are going to want to go big on competitor analysis. I’ve been in meetings with clients where we were supposed to be deciding design direction and they spend most of their time on competitor websites, constantly finding new ideas: “what about this new feature?” or “what if we do what these guys have done?”
It can be frustrating but ultimately a lot of companies don’t want to take risks. You can either fight this reality or try and use the competitor analysis as a space to help them be inspired by the experiences out there.
Along with other quantitative and qualitative data, competitor analysis done right is another valuable source of evidence to design with. Studying competitor sites properly by being a user gives you the chance to see a few things:
As mentioned above, it’s important to be someone who has an opinion on what is good and what isn’t. Don’t just present a bunch of screenshots and a list of features. Looking at other sites with a critical eye allows you to study real-life examples of design features already functioning in the wild and gain ideas about how you can solve the issues for the site you’re working on.
Here’s how I tackle competitor analysis properly and make sure I’m not falling into the rip-off trap:
If you do the above and actually test out the sites acting as a user, you’ll know which parts are working better than others. In your report you can justify which approaches to focus on and you should be able to end it with recommendations for how to combine the best bits for an effective design.
If you want to save a bunch of time when it comes to the reporting, I’ve made a report template here that gives you the slide structure I use.
A competitor analysis on its own isn’t enough though, you should combine this with other evidence on what your users are doing to help you work out the approaches that meet your users’ needs, which will allow you to design a truly effective solution.
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