Watch a Demo

How to Learn Tons from Your Competition with User Testing

| October 22, 2013
Sign up to get bi-weekly insights and best practices, and receive your free CX Industry Report.
Thank you!

Get ready for some great content coming to your inbox from the team at UserTesting!

You can test literally any website with UserTesting.com. If you limit yourself to only testing your site or app, then you are missing out on a very powerful, yet often overlooked tool in your usability testing toolbox.

This guide will show you why you should test your competitors’ sites, and how you can do it effectively.

Test your site along with a competitor’s

Stop testing in fantasy land! Testing your competitor’s site along with your site is testing for the real world.

Stop testing in fantasy land! Testing your competitor’s site along with your site is testing for the real world.

Testing your site along with a competitor’s site is simple. The easiest way to do this is to build a test with two parts. One part consists of the tasks you want users to complete on your site. For the other part, simply duplicate those tasks but for your competitor’s site.  You might be thinking, “I only have so much time during a test. Why would I want to waste it on a competitor’s site?” Here are some reasons testing your site along with a competitor’s is one of the smartest—and easiest—things you can do for your site or app.

People are too nice.

Maybe at some point in your life you had a friend or family member test something you built. If you’ve ever done this, you know how frustrating it can be to get them to give you honest feedback. They don’t want to offend you because they know how hard you worked but in reality all you want from them is honest feedback so you can improve.

Amazingly enough, testers without any personal connection to you or your product are sometimes too nice. They may criticize things on your site, but unless you really frustrate them, they may try a little too hard to avoid being offensive.

One way to offset this tendency is to have users test two websites in one test—yours and your competitor’s. Don’t give any indication which site is yours and have them go through the same set of tasks for each site. Since users don’t know which site is yours, you’ll find they are much more likely to give candid, honest feedback.

Pro Tip: Try to minimize “order bias” when using this method. Start half your tests with your site followed by your competitor’s, and start the other half with your competitor’s site followed by yours.

People need context.

If you drop testers onto your site and ask them whether a page works as expected or is a good experience, you may get some good feedback. However, although their feedback can be helpful and interesting, a problem with this approach is that all they’re comparing your site to is nothing. Users needs context to give you an informed answer. Having your users test yours as well as your competitor’s sites gives them the context they need to give informed and helpful feedback. 

If you think about it, this parallels a real user experience, especially in ecommerce. When a user is on your site, they most likely just came from a competitor, or are going to go check with a competitor before they make their final decision. Testing your competitor’s site along with your site is testing for the real world.

Test to find out who your competitors actually are 

Making assumptions about who your competitors is a dangerous practice.

Making assumptions about who your competitors are is a dangerous practice.

Most businesses believe they have a good grasp of their competitors’ identities. You could probably rattle off a list of companies that are doing something similar to you. However, assuming that customers have that same list in mind when they look at your product can be problematic. In reality, your competitors are likely comparing your product with a much wider variety of competitors than you might think.

For example, a clothing store might assume their competitors to be Gap, Old Navy, and American Eagle. Those are similar stores, but in reality most of their customers might actually be comparing  the store’s products with what they could buy at Wal-Mart or Goodwill.

For years, Blockbuster thought of its competition as the Dollar Video down the street. They focused on those types of competitors because they were the most similar to them. However, customers were really weighing Blockbuster against Netflix and Redbox. As Blockbuster found out, making assumptions about who your competitors are is a dangerous practice.

If you take advantage of the fact that you can test any site, you can use UserTesting.com to learn about your customer’s typical journey, and find out who and what you’re competing with online.

To do this, design a test that imitates the customer journey. For instance, if you’re a hotel in Honolulu, have your testers in your target market start at Google or TripAdvisor (or even ask them to start wherever they normally start their research process), and ask them to go through the process of finding a hotel in Honolulu. Leave your tasks very open ended in this section. Either let them do this during the entire test or have them go directly to your site at a later part of the test.

Whatever your industry, you can use this method to learn a lot about your customer’s journey. The Internet is a big place, and you may be forgetting—or not even be aware of—the competition you’re facing.

Don’t just test direct competitors

The sky is really the limit on what you can test.

The sky is really the limit on what you can test.

Testing your competitors is all about opening your eyes to the many things you can test besides your own site. So now that we’ve got you thinking about how useful it is to test your direct competitors’ sites, we want you to think even broader.

Test comparables.

If you’re a local jewelry store, it may not be very beneficial for you to run tests on the site for the jewelry store down the road if they don’t have a very strong web presence.  It’d probably be more beneficial for you to find a jewelry store that is similar to you in another state that has a strong online presence. Find a company to test who’s doing something similar to you, and seems to be doing a good job at it.

Test aspirational competitors.

Aspirational competitors are companies that you’d love to be competing with someday but you haven’t quite arrived to that level. Have users test this aspirational competitor and then have them come to your site and ask them to evaluate the aspects of your site compared to the other site.

A great use case for this implementation is a company that desires to move into a new market.  Say you’re a budget retailer trying to move into selling more luxury goods. When creating the test, target a more affluent target audience, and then have them test some luxury goods sites that you aspire to. Then send the target audience to your site and ask what it would take to make them your customer.

Test non-competitors.

The sky is really the limit on what you can test. If you like the checkout process on a site, then test it. If you like a wizard on a site, then test it. If you like a nav element on a site, then test it. Learn what works and what doesn’t. It doesn’t really matter what type of site it is. If it’s on the web (or the app store), it’s fair game!

Test a concept developed by your competitor—before doing any work

If your competitor comes out with a cool new feature, don’t panic—test!

If your competitor comes out with a cool new feature, don’t panic—test!

If you’re launching a new project and all you have is an idea, before you do anything, test similar products that are already out there! For instance, if you’re a startup that wants to build a new calendar app, test the existing apps that people are already using. This will help you find what features users expect and how you can improve on the current market offerings.

This strategy is helpful at any point in the life of your company. If your competitor comes out with a cool new feature, don’t panic—test! Before you scramble to try to compete with whatever they just launched, have users test this new feature and see what they like about it and if it’s as useful as it appears. You may find that the feature your competitor spent tons of money on is not actually as good of an idea as you initially thought.

There are tons of relevant things you can test that other companies have spent years and loads of money to develop. By testing, you can see what they’ve done that works, and what doesn’t.

Get a leg up on your competition. If you’re only testing your site, you’re missing out!