When it comes to web design success, artistry and creativity definitely play a role, but it’s vital to remember that the websites you design aren’t (only) works of art. They have a specific role: to help your clients attract new leads and convert and retain their customers.
It matters less whether your new website pushes the design envelope, and much more whether it helps your clients communicate effectively with their target audience.
Sometimes it can be hard to see the flaws in a design or to notice bottlenecks in a UX site flow before a website goes live. Tapping into data about sites for similar audiences, purposes, verticals, or that use similar platforms, gives you an insight into the real impact of certain UX decisions, so you can avoid making the same mistakes.
Competitor analysis means exploring the websites offered by your clients’ direct and indirect competitors. It involves checking out not just the visuals, color schemes, and images they use, but also where they place their CTA buttons, how long it takes their site to load, and web analytics data like bounce rates, conversion rates, and cart abandonment rates.
Comparing all this information — and more — can reveal what web design principles to adopt, and which to discard.
Here are three main web design issues that competitor analysis can help you with.
Obviously, your goal is to achieve nothing less than perfection in a website. But to be realistic, there’s really no such thing as the “perfect” website. What there is, however, is a better website, and competitive analysis helps you discover it.
By running competitive analysis on your client’s competitors’ sites, you’ll be able to see both what works and what doesn’t work for your shared audience, so you can address whatever is lacking to build a stronger site.
For example, maybe your competitors all have images that take far too long to load, annoying the 93% of people who’ll leave a site for that reason, or lack consistent branding throughout the site. Maybe other sites have a long, complicated account creation process that triggers a visitor abandonment cliff, so you resolve to design the simplest account creation process possible.
It can also reveal which design issues are real deal-breakers for your audience. Perhaps you’ll find that every marketing agency’s website out there has a video on the homepage, and a significant majority of visitors watch it till the end. That tells you that video is a must-have for your audience.
User experience, or UX, has more or less blended into effective web design by now. Before selecting color schemes, button placement, or any other individual design element, web designers need to understand how visitors should flow from one page to the next until they complete a purchase, schedule an appointment, or place an order.
But top UX can look very different depending on your client’s vertical, audience, and purpose. The navigation you’d expect for visitors to a B2B company site is going to be very different from that needed for a B2C e-commerce website, for example. And on a more subtle level, you’d probably need a different tone, voice, and flow for a site selling SaaS subscription software than for one selling on-premise enterprise software.
When you perform competitor analysis research, you can see how each design element affects UX flow. Take note of the images, voice, tone, and structure of each page, and compare them against their bounce rates and conversion rates at each stage of the customer journey. Look to see where most customers fall off the site, and try to identify what caused their abandonment each time.
Great web design needs to walk a fine line between meeting the audience’s expectations of what a finance website “should look like,” and still remaining recognizable and memorable. Competitor analysis helps prevent you from subconsciously replicating a stereotypical finance, fitness, or fiction writer’s website and guides you to the best ways to stand out from the crowd.
At the same time, you’ll want to look for design trends that your client’s website needs to follow. It’s important to make sure that your designs don’t look outdated and old-fashioned compared to the competition, aren’t so cutting-edge and innovative that visitors feel unnerved, and also that they aren’t just the same as every other website in your vertical.
While you don’t want to follow the herd and regurgitate the same tired design tropes, sometimes there are design details that the audience expects to find on a specific type of site, and they’d be thrown off balance if they are missing. For example, perhaps fitness websites all need to have a bright color scheme, but bright colors on a finance website might undermine the trust that visitors feel in the company.
Web design marries both art and science, which is why competitor analysis is so crucial. Running competitor analysis of your rivals’ designs can help you save time and actively improve your designs by guiding you to best practices for UX flow, the best ways to improve on competitor sites, and the best approaches to make your client’s site stand out in a good way, so you can deliver the web design that customers have been dreaming of.