Competitive Analysis on a Budget
User research is a key element in meeting the needs of your audience, but can it be done on a budget? We think so.
Photo of woman holding up paper cutout of heart over face
Competitive analysis is an exercise, the importance of which transcends the borders of many industries, including healthcare. By taking a look at how your site compares to your competitors, you can ultimately make changes that allow you to better serve your patients' specific needs.
In recognition of Women’s History Month, we are focusing on women’s health, specifically heart disease, the number one cause of death for women in the United States. We are also honing in on on DrupalCon-host city Baltimore, which has launched several initiatives to combat cardiovascular disease. The goal is to take a look at how two health systems in Charm City categorize and present information about cardiovascular disease on their public-facing websites.
Let’s imagine you have been tasked by the American Heart Association (AHA) to compare and evaluate websites of local health systems in the field of cardiology in how they serve women patients who suffer from cardiovascular disease. Where do we begin? What competitors will we look at? What dimensions or features/site attributes are we comparing? What key tasks are important to patients and caregivers? How does search impact the site visitor journey to each competitor website.
By the time you finish reading this post, you will have the know-how to do a competitive analysis for a health-system or hospital website with a focus on particular health specialties and demographics. You will be able to see how your website measures against the competition at the specialty level and also in meeting the needs of specific patient and caregiver audiences.
As we discussed in Competitive Analysis on a Budget, competitive analysis is a user experience research technique that can help you see how your site compares with competitor websites in terms of content, design, and functionality. It can also lead to better decision-making when selecting new design and technical features for your site (e.g. search filter terms or search listing display). In this post, we’ll focus on the navigation and internal menu labels as our dimensions.
Johns Hopkins Medicine and the University of Maryland Medical Center are two large university hospitals local to Baltimore that have centers dedicated to women and heart disease. The two centers are considered direct competitors because both offer the same service and function in the same way.
Fast Facts for Context
- Women’s heart disease symptoms are complex and often differ from mens’ symptoms.
- Women suffering from heart disease may not experience any symptoms at all.
- In 2015, the Baltimore City Health Department released a report that cited cardiovascular disease as the leading cause of death in the city.
- According to the 2015 Maryland Vital Statistics Annual Report, approximately 1 in 4 deaths in the Baltimore Metro Area were related to heart disease.
- National and statewide statistics confirm cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for men and women.
Search plays a key role in how patients and caregivers, especially women, find information about health conditions and treatment. In 2013, Pew Research’s Health Online Report noted that “women [were] more likely than men to go online to figure out a possible diagnosis.” The report also noted that “77% of online health seekers say they began at a search engine such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo.”
Specific search queries will likely bring this group of site visitors to a specific page, rather than to the homepage. This means the information architecture of health system internal pages plays a key role in providing patients and caregivers with information and resources about medical conditions and services. Competitive analysis can help us understand if and how these pages are meeting patient and caregiver needs.
Keyword selection drastically impacts the results that are returned during a patient and caregiver search query. To demonstrate this, let’s start with a basic keyword search to evaluate how sites are optimizing search for topics like women and heart disease. As shown below, keywords can transform the information-seeking experience for women.
The first figure shows the search query results for “women heart disease baltimore md.” Johns Hopkins Women’s Cardiovascular Health Center and University of Maryland Medical Center Women’s Heart Program landing pages are both listed in the search results (Figures 2 and 3).
Search significantly impacts patient and caregiver access to health and hospital information. Google provides results based on previous search behavior, so results may vary by browser and search history, among other factors. We tried these terms using a private session and when logged into Google and saw little to no variance.
As shown in Figure 4, using different keywords in the search query yields different search results. “Heart disease hospital baltimore md” returns Johns Hopkins Heart & Vascular Institute as one of the top search results, but University of Maryland Medical Center’s Heart and Vascular Center is not returned as a top result when logged into Google Chrome on during a private session.
This is important to note because the University of Maryland Medical Center may want to look into methods to improve search engine optimization. There are different ways to address the absence of your website or landing page, product or service at the top of the site visitor’s search results listing.
If women with heart disease choose keywords like “heart disease hospital baltimore md,” and do not indicate their gender in their query, they are brought to Heart & Vascular Health landing pages for each respective health system. Both landing pages use alphabetization to organization centers and programs, Because the centers or programs dedicated to women and heart disease begin with “W,” they are situated at the bottom of the internal navigations.
This may pose a challenge to patients and caregivers entering the site from search queries that omit the word “women” (i.e. heart disease hospital baltimore md). These search query examples are not meant to represent the most common queries for people looking for information about heart disease in Baltimore; rather they demonstrate how different search queries can yield different results for people seeking this information.
Now that we see how search impacts visitor pathways to the health system sites, let’s take a closer look at how Johns Hopkins Medicine and the University of Maryland Medical Center, differ in presenting information in the internal menus for the centers and programs dedicated to women’s heart disease and heart health.
Multiple internal navigations within the Johns Hopkins Heart & Vascular Institute landing page and the current placement of the Women’s Cardiovascular Health Center at the bottom of the navigation hierarchy might make it challenging for patients looking for this particular center. Since centers provide services for patients, the placement of “centers of excellence” under “clinical services” may complicate site visitors’ understanding of resources and the relationship between services and centers. These types of naming conventions should be examined more closely.
Like its competitor, the University of Maryland Medical Center has multiple internal navigations, which may also be cumbersome to users. Patients and caregivers have too many options which may make it difficult for them to understand what they should do on this page. It may also make it challenging for them to complete key tasks (i.e. researching risk factors, find a physician, schedule an appointment, etc).
The University of Maryland Medical Center’s “Centers and Services might resonate better with site visitors because they can find both Centers and Services under “Centers and Services;” Johns Hopkins Medicine’s placement of Centers of Excellence under Clinical Services could be confusing. Patients typically go to a center to receive clinical services; they don’t often go to a clinical service to find a center.
The University of Maryland Medical Center’s Heart & Vascular Center use of “Services’” for one of its navigations might not be intuitive to site visitors. “Services” plays the role of a catch-all for conditions (i.e. aortic disease), topics (i.e. women’s heart health) and treatment options (i.e. heart and lung transplant) and may make it challenging for visitors to find what they are looking for on this page.
More specifically, a patient or caregiver looking for women’s heart health may not necessarily expect to find a program under “Services.” These items could be surfaced more quickly and more efficiently organized within Centers and Services so that the pathways to Women’s Heart Health are more intuitive to patients and their caregivers.
We’ll know if this is the case after we test these health system site pages with real visitors.
So how do you design a website for women who may have asymptomatic heart disease? How do you integrate the needs of potential patients who experience neck and back pain as a symptom of their heart disease? We can gain a better understanding of specific cases like this by understanding the user journey of patients who exhibit non-traditional symptoms of heart disease and their caregivers by conducting competitive usability tests of these sites.
Now that we’ve provided a cursory analysis and heuristic evaluation of the internal navigations of two health system sites, we’ll perform user tests on the websites to validate the some of the hypotheses we discuss in this blog post and compare the content and design of the two health system sites. Keep an eye out for that post in a couple weeks!