Google Analytics Benchmarking

It seems that barely a week goes by these days without a Google Analytics update. Recently we’ve seen some major changes to the ecommerce reports and changes to how the reports are structured. A change that we’ve been waiting to get access to for a while now is the new Benchmarking report, which allows you to compare your site to others in the same industry. This morning, for the first time, we’ve been able to access these reports for some of our clients and this blog post gives a bit of insight into how they work and how they can be useful for your future analysis.

Accessing the reports

Google Analytics benchmarking screenshot If you have access to them you can see the benchmarking reports under the Audience menu. If you’re not seeing these then you might want to check that your account is set up to receive them as only reports set up to share data with Google will have access to benchmarking data.

To check this go to Admin and then Account Settings. Under here you need to ensure that you’re sharing your data ‘Anonymously with Google and others’, and you also need to ensure that you’ve set the correct Industry Category in your Property Settings.

Viewing the reports

If you can view the reports in Google Analytics you can begin to see how your site compares to others in your industry. There are three options available for benchmark comparisons and they are:

Channels – Allows you to compare various metrics from different channels to your competitors
Location – Let’s you see what countries your competitors get visitors from
Devices – Shows how your site performs on desktop/mobile/tablet compared to your competitors

I’ll go into more detail on these reports later but before looking at these in any detail you need to make sure that your reports are set correctly.Google Analytics benchmarking screenshot

Along the top of the page there are some options which are vital for ensuring that you’re comparing your site to similar sites. Firstly there’s the Industry Vertical[1], this allows you to drill down into an industry to ensure that you’re getting more relevant benchmarking data. In the example below we’re looking at a company who offer tailored specialist holidays, this means selecting Specialty Travel will obviously give us more accurate data that just selecting Travel as a broad category.

The next two options are easily overlooked but very important for getting an accurate comparison. Firstly there’s the Country/Region[2], which enables you to select a country to compare sites to. Left blank this gives you a global comparison but if you only want to compare with other UK sites, for example, then this can be changed here. Finally there’s the Size by daily sessions[3] option. GA will set this by default for you so you might not need to change it. If for some reason it’s showing a different number of daily visits to your site than you were expecting then you can change that here.

With those three options set correctly you can see how many sites that GA is comparing your site to[4]. You can now begin to look at the data in the reports.

Reading the reports

The new reports have an easy to read interface clearly showing where your site is outperforming competitors, and where it lags behind. We can see at a glance, in the Channels report below, that this site is performing better than its competitors on Organic and Direct, but is lagging well behind in Social. So if you were the company’s digital marketing agency you can very quickly see that there’s an opportunity to do more on social media here. It’s encouraging to see that the bounce rate is lower than the benchmark for most channels however; the bounce rate for PPC seems very high here so this is an area that should be looked at.

Google Analytics benchmarking screenshot

The usefulness of the Location report will depend on whether you select anything from the Country/Region option. If you select a single country here then you will just see the benchmark for that country. If you select all countries though then you will see how your site compares to the benchmark for all of them. This is useful if you are targeting an international audience as it allows you to see whether there are any particular countries that your site is underperforming in.

Google Analytics benchmarking screenshot

The Devices report gives you a clear way to see how your sites compares to similar sites across mobile and tablet. In the example below we can see that, while the site gets more visits across all devices, the mobile experience seems to be lagging behind competing sites. A high bounce rate and a low amount of pages per session means that there is room for improvement with the mobile version of the site. In this instance there is no specialist mobile version, and the site isn’t currently responsive. If the site was made to be responsive across different screen sizes and devices then we would expect that the Behaviour metrics would be better than the benchmark.

In Summary

We often get asked whether certain figures are ‘good or bad’ in terms of Google Analytics reports. Clients wonder whether their bounce rate or conversion rate is too high or too low and, until now that’s been almost impossible to answer. These benchmarking reports give a good indication of how a site stacks up against competing sites and allows you to compare your metrics to come of your competitors. In theory this means that people can set realistic targets and objectives for their site based on real data. In this case the reports highlighted two existing known areas for improvement, which goes some way towards showing that they are accurate.

Having said that though these reports can cause problems if people focus on them too much. Different websites can’t always be compared, even with sites in a similar industry. If you drill down into Industry Verticals the categories are still very broad so you may not be comparing like for like.

These reports give you insight that has not been available before and allow you to look beyond your site’s historical data. Be very wary about taking them too seriously or making big decisions based on them though. I’d advise using them to identify potential areas for improvement and them making changes to your site with the aim of raising it above the benchmark figures.

Over time I expect this data to become more prevalent across the range of reports but, for now, they’re a useful add-on letting you get a better idea of how your site is performing against its competitors.

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