Testing your interfaces before they go live is imperative for success. Comparative usability testing is just another tool to guarantee everything runs smoothly during the user experience. There are multiple tests that you can run – all with many benefits and with the end goal to improve the experience for your customers. 

With the latest CXM Guide we aim to provide you with everything you need to know to inform your decisions. 

What is comparative usability testing?

Competitive or comparative usability testing refers to comparing existing user interfaces by testing each of them with representative users. By doing so, you are completing a fair investigation into each method, to provide a balanced overview of the selected solution. 

No matter the method of testing, the overarching goal is to identify any usability problems. By doing so, you will collect qualitative and quantitative data, and determine the participant’s satisfaction. Finding errors in the comparative usability testing stage, before anything goes live, assures the chance to fix them ahead of time. This means more time and dedication can be spent on these issues to perfect them. Additionally, the earlier that issues are found and mended, the less expensive they will be for organisations to amend. 

This method of user testing is especially helpful the effectiveness and efficiency of your designs perfected. And these are crucial for digital user experiences

Running the test

To run an effective usability test, you need to:

  1. Develop a solid test plan. This includes setting a timeframe for testing and defining what the object of the test is.
  2. Recruit the right participants by running a screening survey. This will make sure they are the audience you want to take part in the test. 
  3. Make notes and record. If possible, transcribe!
  4. Analyse findings 
  5. Make suggestions for improvements

Although competitive usability testing won’t provide direct opinions on each interface, it provides much more technical feedback. Through this, you can see if users can complete basic and end-goal tasks and how well performance works. The comparative element will then allow you to assess which prototype functions better on a technical level. 

Once you have the foundation built of a great user experience, you can only build from there. This is when further human feedback on areas such as design and imagery can come in. Comparative usability testing is a great way to kickstart a new user experience and ensure that, at its foundations, it performs without any error or mishap. 

Different methods of testing you can perform

The two main approaches to comparative usability testing are typically cited as the following: 

A/B testing

a/b split testing for comparative usability testing

Also known as split testing, this is a randomised experimentation process. With this, two versions of the platform (in this case, perhaps an app) are shown to different segments of app visitors at the same time. Competitive usability testing can easily be implemented here. This will determine which one delivers maximum impact. 

This is a great method for long-term testing, and with a larger audience. By this, you can get a clear view of which performance is preferred. This method will also help to answer questions on which interface will be favoured by your user base. 

Unmoderated user testing

This is just as it sounds. For this usability test, no one else will be present during the study except for the direct user contributor. They are not guided and monitored by the moderator. Therefore, they can conduct the test and complete needed tasks at their own pace, and at a time and location of their choosing. 

The great thing about this method is the factor of authenticity. Unmoderated testing will mean that users can perform tasks that they would do of their own accord in non-testing conditions. You will receive authentic results of what your users will really be doing on your interface, and see how well it works for them. 

At the end of this, if you can see that a user’s usual, unmonitored tasks are performed without issue, you know it will be used by them. On the other hand, if that doesn’t work, you will be able to see exactly what to improve on an angle you may not have considered if the test would have been internally directed. 

Of course, there is also the option for moderated user testing. In this instance, the participants will be set a series of tasks by the moderator, and assess their ability to perform these on the interface.

Comparing the above 

The two above-mentioned methods are typical of user testing. They can be easily implemented into comparative usability testing. You can perform A/B testing multiple times across different platforms and compare 

The elements and steps to consider before testing

While comparative usability testing will save you money in the infancy stage of platforms to fix minor errors, there are still many elements to consider. Being aware of these will keep you aware, and prevent surprises further down the line. 

The most important element to consider is the time it will take. Comparative usability testing, when done thoroughly for maximum impact, has many different stages. You will need sufficient time for each of them. This includes planning; allowing your participants and usability specialists to become familiar with the test specifications; running the test itself; analysing the data at the end; writing the report; and presenting the findings at the end. 

Time is the largest element to factor in and consider how to work around. Aside from that, cost is a large component to look into too. You will need to consider: 

  • Recruiting costs 
  • Participant compensation – travel costs and reimbursements, etc
  • Rental costs – using monitoring or recording equipment, renting labs and other equipment and relevant locations. 

Some more factors which can affect your costs include:

  • Type of testing performed 
  • Size of the internal team assigned to the test 
  • Number of participants 
  • Number of days you will be testing (this will come into participant compensation and rental costs listed above)
competitive usability testing

What are the benefits of comparative usability testing? 

The great thing about comparative usability testing is that you will be presented with the best solution out of many interfaces almost instantly. By seeing the direct results of each test, the comparisons can be done easily and side by side. 

Doing this form of testing will also assure that you have every possible aspect of information at your disposal. This includes:

  • The ability to completed specified tasks successfully 
  • Identifying how long it takes to complete specified tasks 
  • Identify changes required to improve that user performance and satisfaction 
  • Analyse the overall performance to see if it meets your usability objectives 

Another benefit of this testing is that you will directly be involving your own users, and getting an understanding of precisely how the interface will be used. That way, your test results are much more accurate and authentic to how the platform will be used in everyday interaction. 

Of course the main benefit, and core reason to perform this testing in the first place, is to improve the customer experience. If the user interface experience is smooth, streamlined, and satisfactory, your consumers will be happy. This will produce loyal, happy customers, and improve your reputation as a great company. 

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