I was recently asked what five points (or facets) of comparable web sites I would use to create a competitive analysis as part of an IA project. To my horror, I wasn’t able to give a very satisfactory answer at the time, since I have never thought about competitive analysis in this way. I have completed dozens of these types of comparisons as part of the discovery phase of client IA projects, but never really took the time to step back and think about how I was doing it. So, after some thought, here is what I propose as a basic methodology.
The idea of creating a matrix of five points of comparison to apply to websites in similar markets or with similar aims is an excellent place to start, it seems to me. By creating these set points by which all sites can be measured, the IA can not only compare the sites effectively and present this information back to clients and colleagues in a consistent and comprehensible manner, but also start to create a much more detailed picture of each sites’ usability “score”. Of course, this is not science and these comparisons are largely based on opinion, but at least this approach creates a structure and some kind of baseline to analyse web sites consistently.
How about these five facets for a start?
1. Branding/Look and Feel: how well the site presents and preserves the brand or identity of the company or product. This could be expressed in simple terms as a grade from A to F, or be as complex as a more comprehensive brand analysis on and offline.
2. Usability: how easy it is for users to accomplish common tasks, retrieve information, etc., as well as how well the site achieves its business goals. Again, this could be a simple A to F grade or a detailed analysis of the various usability issues/challenges of each site.
3. Features: a list of the discrete site features such as search, commenting, user login, etc. The length and detail of this list is in a sense dictated by the sites being considered: it could be a very detailed list of features and tools, or simply two or three points for each site. This list could be presented effectively as a grid with the sites on the left and columns of comparable features left to right.
Figure 1 – Feature Grid
4. Content: the various types of content the site presents to users, in a similar format to the features list above.
5. Replayability: put simply, would you come back? This can be a measure of the sites’ overall success in terms of satisfying users needs and achieving business goals, or simply a measure of the impression that the site leaves with a user. This could be expressed as a grade or a simple multiple choice: yes, no, maybe, etc.
Through The Matrix
In the near future I will test this methodology by applying it to a few real sites, and post my findings here of course, but hopefully this will suffice as a beginning proposal in answer to an intriguing question.