Competitor reviews are common when beginning an experience design project. But because they’re commonplace, it’s easy to just add them to your to-do list and make sure the box gets checked. But don’t discount this step. By looking beyond your direct competitive set and seeing how others are leading in the digital space, you can gain unexpected insights and identify new opportunities to pull ahead of the pack.
Analyze competitors with a strategic lens
Don’t just score competitors against best practices. Identify key criteria by which you want to measure the success of your competitors, as well as your current experience. These criteria should be based on business goals and user tasks gleaned from stakeholder interviews, analytics and search data, and other pertinent brand or strategy information.
Push on the main directive: Why are we doing this? How will we know we've succeeded? Then use these drivers to measure your competitors to learn who’s doing it well, who’s lagging, and where you have the opportunity to differentiate.
Look outside your own backyard
Don’t just look at direct competitors. Include an organization or business to represent a “best-in-class” example of digital engagement, even if it’s outside your vertical space. Look for places that have a similar user path or emotional states at the point of conversion. Such a view may highlight opportunities that others within your vertical haven't considered and allow your business to outpace the rest.
That’s the approach we recently took on the web content strategy for Salem Health, a regional healthcare system in Salem, Ore. Rather than just reviewing other healthcare industry websites, we also looked at USAA, a financial services company known for exceptional customer service and quality. We chose USAA because they successfully deliver the same kind of digital experience that were striving for with Salem Health’s website redesign:
- Connected: being part of a community
- Compassionate: more than a business and focused on individuals' needs
- Trusted: a credible source of information
One key finding we took away from reviewing USAA is that their website does not present all types of information in the same manner. Instead, they tailor information to convey meaning in the best way. For example, details about life insurance and home insurance are organized differently. This doesn't pose a usability problem, because the audiences for the page are unlikely to overlap, and there are very different considerations that go into purchasing the different types of insurance.
Salem Health used a similar approach in their “Patients and visitors” section. This is an area where users need to find information quickly but are more likely to engage with longer-form content than in other areas of the site. With this in mind, we designed the experience to be more linear than you often see in digital experiences, with quick links to pertinent sections but also easy navigation from one piece to the next, so anyone wishing to view all the content can advance through it like reading a book. We also broke the section out of the frame of the rest of the website to keep users focused on the content at hand.
The new experience has had a measurable impact on Salem Health’s website engagement:
- Page views increased 238%
- Bounce rate decreased 20%
- 31% more visitors clicked to read more
This approach of looking outside healthcare has even helped Salem Health improve the new content they develop.
“We’re using our business objectives in combo with our personas to develop non-service line specific content to further engage our consumers with the goal of expanding on our content marketing efforts through various channels,” said Ben Mendoza, Manager, Digital Marketing and Web for Salem Heath. “Vox.com is a major influencer of the model we would like the emulate. Clearly, we don’t have the resources to create our own Chorus (Vox.com’s CMS/digital publishing platform), but the experience they provide is what we’re after. We are trying to leverage our new system to replicate that as best we can in the healthcare world.”
The lesson? Don't get complacent with the “old school” exercise of competitive reviews. Keep the criteria aligned with business and experience goals and include a competitor that’s a little outside the box. You might just uncover an unexpected opportunity.
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