Google Benchmarking: How to Use This New Analytics Tool to Spy on Other Businesses In Your Industry

I love arcade games.

Pinball machines? Paperboy? Gimme a handful of quarters, and it’s on like Donkey Kong, yo.

And you know what’s extra awesome about a lot of those old-school machines?

The scoreboard.

How awesome is it to get to see how you did compared to everyone else who’s played that game? Because no matter how many points you score, unless you can see how many points OTHER people have scored, you have no way of knowing whether or not you actually did a good job.

Your website’s performance is the exact same way.

So you get however many visitors in a month. So a certain percentage of your traffic comes from social, or email, or whatever. How do you know if those numbers are good or not?

There didn’t used to be a reliable way of knowing – but now there is.

It’s called Benchmarking reports, from Google Analytics.

Now, even if you HATE looking at analytics and data, this is super interesting, and gives you the sort of information that can actually make a huge difference – so I’m gonna break it allllll down for you.

Basically, Benchmarking reports allow you to create a customized scoreboard for your website, so you can see how its performance compares to other similar businesses JUST LIKE YOURS. It can show where you’re totally killin’ it, what things you need to work on, and all the stuff in between.

Here’s how to get it.

Benchmarking is a newish feature that Google has been rolling out recently, so you may not have it right away. You’re not gonna get it at all, though, if you don’t have the right account settings.

This tool works by aggregating the results of businesses like yours to create an average (that average is referred to as your Benchmarks). Basically, Google pulls anonymous data from websites, and uses that data to determine average statistics for all those websites put together. If you don’t contribute to the data pool, you don’t get to see the statistics. (Like I said, though, it’s alllll anonymous, so there’s really no reason not to.)

From your Google Analytics dashboard, go to Admin – Account Settings, and under Data Sharing Settings, make sure the box next to Anonymously with Google and Others is checked.

That just tells Google that it can take your analytics data and add it anonymously to the pool – and when it does that, it gives you access to the data in that pool. Got it? SWEET. Because that means you’ll soon have access to THIS guy under your Audience tab.

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Once you do, it’s time to start taking a close look at all the amazing data Google is serving up on a silver platter!

Choosing Your Settings

When you compare your own site’s performance to other sites, you want to make sure that you’re comparing it to companies as similar as possible to your own. It wouldn’t make sense for a local used bookstore to compare their web traffic to Barnes & Noble, right?

So first, you want to narrow down your industry using the “Industry Vertical” dropdown:

The dropdown list is broken up into a whole bunch of categories and subcategories, so you can find something that pretty closely matches what you do.

Next, you can specify a location using the “Country/Region” dropdown:

As you can see, the United States category even splits up into different states – this means if you want to see how your business compares to others in your specific geographic area, you can. (Since mine is an online business with visitors all around the world, I leave it turned to “All.”)

Finally, choose the number from the “Size by daily sessions” dropdown that best reflects YOUR business. This is what ensures you’re looking at businesses with traffic levels SIMILAR to your own:

Quick tip: Not sure how to choose an accurate range for your daily sessions? Go to Audience – Overview and use the date range dropdown in the upper-right corner to set your range for the past 6 months. Divide the number of sessions from that time period by the number of days, and bam – there’s your recent daily average.

Once you’ve adjusted those three settings, Google will tell you how many websites are in the data pool (you can see in the picture above that it’s showing me averages calculated using 252 different sites, all of which fit the criteria I established). When all that is set, you’re ready to start actually looking at the data!

How to Read Your Benchmarking Report

The first thing you’re gonna see in your Benchmarking report is a graph, kind of like the one you see any time you look at your analytics:

In the top-right, as usual, there’s a drop-down where you can select the range of dates for which you want to see data. Then on the left, where I circled, the graph tells you what you’re looking at – in this case, the dark blue line is my own website, and the light blue line represents the data average that Google put together. Down on the graph, you can mouse over wherever you want to get a little pop-up showing you any given day’s specific stats, both for your site and for the Benchmark.

This is all a great way of seeing how your site stacks up in general to the websites most like it, as far as traffic numbers go. For example, you might see that other websites experienced lower-than-usual traffic on the same days you did, or that on certain days, you outperformed other websites by a wide margin (for THOSE days, you should take a look at what you did, so you can try to repeat it).

If you want to see some REALLY useful data, though, you just have to scroll down a little further in the report.

This is where you’re going to see a whooooole lot of data comparing your performance in different areas to the performance of similar sites. Understanding what this data means is super important, especially if you want to avoid a freakout! For example, I could look at this chart, see a lot of red squares, and break out in a cold sweat. But because I’m going to look at the data piece by piece, I can focus on the squares that actually MATTER – and that’s a lot less scary.

This data corresponds to the date range you selected up in the top-right corner of the page. In each square, you see either a positive or a negative percentage, which represents how YOUR site compares to the average. Underneath that percentage, you see the actual numbers, in a Your Site vs. The Average format.

So for example, you can see in the that for this period, my site’s number of sessions was 143.18% of the average – more than double (143,008 vs 58,808). My site also registered more new sessions and more new users than the average.

Now, let’s take a closer look at different acquisition channels – basically, where my site’s visitors came from. This is just a crop of the chart above (tryin’ to make it easier to follow along):

As you can see, my site pulls in WAY more traffic from social media than other sites like mine – more than 10 times as much, actually! (Awesome!) You can also see that of my visitors from social media, a significantly above-average number are new users. Same with visitors coming from email.

Here’s a good reason why Benchmarking reports are so important.

Take a look at my average session duration: 1:42. Under normal circumstances, I might see that number and think, “Oh my gosh! That’s such a short amount of time! I SHOULD JUST QUIT RIGHT NOW.”

With Benchmarking reports, though, I can see that even though my average session duration is still below the Benchmark average, it’s only under by a tiny margin: 20%. Sure, my time may be 1:42, but the Benchmark average time is only 2:08 – so really, it isn’t that far off at all. (*Phew* Perspective sure feels good, doesn’t it?)

That’s the top of my chart – what about the bottom? Here’s where you can use Benchmarks to see what you’re doing right – or wrong.

Display acquisition doesn’t look so hot compared to the Benchmarks, right? Spoiler alert: it’s because I don’t really invest in display ads. Can’t win a race you’re not really running in, you know?

Here’s what’s interesting, though: I may not acquire many visitors from display ads, but the ones I DO get behave pretty favorably once they’re on my site. They spend an above-average amount of time on the site, they look at an above-average number of pages, and the overall bounce rate is below average (remember, bounce rates are like golf scores – the lower, the better).

From this, I can assume two things: One, my display ads aren’t misleading. Whatever people expect to find after they click on one, they seem to be finding it. Two, my display ads are targeting all the right people. They’re like the bouncer at an exclusive nightclub – they don’t invite many people through the doors, but the ones that they DO invite in are juuuuuust right!

If things were reversed, and I had way more sessions than my Benchmarks but those sessions were shorter and carried a higher bounce rate, THAT might indicate that I’m spending my display budget unwisely – attracting lots of visitors, but not necessarily getting anything out of it.

You can apply that same logic to different categories to gauge what’s working and what isn’t.

For example, Google also lists acquisition channels like organic search and paid search. While high acquisition numbers in those categories indicate that they’re sending you above-average traffic, you need to look at the behavior columns, too – if the traffic you’re bringing in isn’t actually valuable, you’re wasting your time, and probably your money, too!

Now, that’s pretty much it for this section, but there’s still more to see!

In the left-hand panel, under Benchmarking, you’ll see there are three different areas you can look at – so far, we’ve just been looking at Channels.

Google Analytics Benchmarking

Next up, you can get a look at Location. On this page, you’ll see a similar setup, with the traffic graph and the chart below, only the chart is divided up a little differently this time.

Here, you’ll see where your traffic is coming from, and how that compares to where it’s coming from for your Benchmarks. Quick note: These locations are limited to what you specified in your Country/Region dropdown back at the beginning. If you narrowed it down to United States, or any one state in particular, you’ll only see one country in this chart.

Finally, Google offers you a page comparing your site’s performance to your Benchmarks across different devices:

This one’s pretty simple, because there are only three types of device that Google counts: Mobile, tablet, and desktop.

This is another one of those places where you can see if you need to make a change.

For example, if your site doesn’t load properly on mobile devices, your bounce rate could be through the roof compared to your Benchmarks. Similarly, if your acquisitions are below average for mobile users, you may want to ask yourself why. Are your main traffic sources things like display ads and paid search, which function differently on desktops than they do on mobile? Are you focusing enough on traffic sources like social media, which is more popular on mobile than it is on desktops? Google will tell you what’s happening on your site – it’s up to YOU to determine WHY.

Ready to Dive Into Your Data?

That’s pretty much all there is to see in the brand new Benchmarking reports! Now all you have to do is head over to your Google Analytics account, get yourself set up, and start seeing where YOUR business falls on the big website scoreboard!

Got any lingering questions about Benchmarking? Post ‘em in the comments below!

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About Laura Roeder

Laura Roeder is a social media marketing expert who gives businesses of all sizes the tools they need to make their mark on the web. She is the creator of the social media scheduling software Edgar, as well as social media marketing web courses like Creating Fame and Social Brilliant.

Comments

  1. Informative post, I’m glad you took the time to explain the most useful features of the benchmarking tool.

  2. THANK YOU LAURA! That’s the most helpful blog I’ve read in ages! Some really interesting data, thanks for explaining it :)

  3. Great article Laura! Lots of great features in benchmarking! However, I have an issue. I have no secondary line from the Google data showing up, so I can’t compare any of my data. Any suggestions on how to fix this? My site doesn’t generate a lot of traffic. Could that be the issue? Thanks.

    • Tom | Team LKR says:

      Hmm, that’s interesting. So when you go to Google Analytics and then go to Audience -> Benchmarking -> Channels, you’re seeing the line for your own business’s traffic, but not a line for Benchmarking data? You may try fine-tuning your “Size by daily sessions” drop-down, if you’re concerned that traffic volume could be the culprit. You can adjust that range as low as 0-100 sessions per day. Once you’ve adjusted your settings, take a look at how many web properties it says are contributing data:

      Benchmarking is still a relatively new feature, so it’s possible that the number of businesses fitting the specifications you laid out is too low to generate enough data. (Or even that it’s just being buggy. They only started the official rollout less than a month ago, so it’s hard to say what kinks are still getting worked out.)

  4. Thanks for sharing,
    Some of the data can be a little bit difficult to interpret. E.g. for social shares in the example above you have got 98.27% more desktop session than the benchmark which at the face of it sounds great, but then you have got 143.22% more sessions in total, so really the desktop sessions are lagging (which is probably a good thing).
    Do you know if there is anyway to harmonize the numbers? Essentially scale the benchmark numbers so they reflect exactly the same size of audience as your own.

    • Tom | Team LKR says:

      Unfortunately, there’s no way at this time to make the traffic numbers more fine-tuned than they already are – you just have the ranges it gives you, like 0-100, 100-500, 500-1000, and so on. Depending on your own average number of daily sessions, that can be a little frustrating, especially if you tend to hover around the edge of two different ranges.

  5. Laura, your posts are sooooooo helpful. Thank you for sharing!
    Curious…How much time does it take you to complete a post like this?

    • Tom | Team LKR says:

      So glad you’re liking it! As for how long it takes to get a post up, it depends on about a million different factors, BUT we’ve found that planning ahead makes things way, way easier. (Laura wrote a post about her process a little while back, if you want to check it out!)