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Benchmarking Web Performance With Google Analytics

November 14, 2016 | By Jonathan Tam

  • Benchmarking provides an important starting line for performance analysis
  • “How is my Web site doing?” is a key question asked by all organizations
  • Google Analytics offers a free benchmarking tool, but metrics must be analyzed properly

When I recently began running, my only goal was to run three to four times per week. After a month had passed, I started to wonder how exactly I was doing. Was I running long enough? Was I running far enough? Was my pace fast enough, or perhaps too fast? If I kept at this new exercise plan for the next few months, how much longer and faster could I run? I needed something to compare myself against.

At my previous company, I was in charge of digital marketing and often asked myself similar questions about marketing performance. For Web sites, it all boiled down to one question: “How is my Web site doing?” I know I’m not alone; most companies consider their b-to-b Web site their most valuable real estate. It serves many audiences and use cases, and talks to more people than the rest of the company combined. With that level of impact, it’s no surprise that marketers want to know how it’s performing. Finding a comparable benchmark seems like an impossible task, since no two Web sites are the same. Web sites represent different products and services, different audiences, different levels of sophistication and have other differentiating variables. However, while it’s true that every Web site is unique, it’s important to have a benchmark to compare against.

Fortunately, Google Analytics provides a free benchmarking tool for its users. Google provides benchmark data by aggregating anonymous data from other sites using Google Analytics; these sites have opted in in exchange for comparative data. Using the benchmarking feature, marketers can provide context around data and trends that they are experiencing with their own Web site performance.

To utilize the benchmarking feature, users simply check a box within the admin section of their Google Analytics account. From there, marketers can view benchmarks in the audience section of the platform, and can choose their industry, region and average daily sessions to view the following benchmark data by channel (e.g. direct, email, referral, social, organic search, paid search, display, other), location (country) and device (desktop, tablet, mobile):

  • Sessions. Total number of sessions/visits within the given time period. A Web site is only as good as the people who see it, so the number of sessions is an important metric to benchmark. Instead of only looking at total visits, monitor sessions by source to understand where the Web site is receiving traffic.
  • New users. The absolute number of new users who have visited the Web site within the given time period. For new users/visitors, content should focus on communicating how to navigate the site and how visitors can find the content they are looking for. By evaluating the percentage of new users/sessions, the purpose of the Web site can be better understood.
  • Percentage of new sessions. Percentage of new users within the given time period. Understanding the percentage of new sessions is important when evaluating the objective of the Web site and the sources driving users to it. If the focus is on driving new traffic, this percentage should be maximized and content served to new visitors. However, to drive returning visitors, the Web site should focus instead on encouraging the content, tools or conversations that will motivate them to return. This may vary significantly by source.
  • Pages/session. Average number of pages viewed per session. In theory, a higher pages/session average indicates greater engagement with the site and thus, a positive result. However, for the purpose of demand creation, pages/session should align closely with the number of pages required to get to a conversion.
  • Average session duration. Average time spent on the site per session. Balancing out average session duration with pages/session can lend insight into the amount of consumable content on a page. A low session duration and high pages/session may mean there is too little content and too much clicking required. For the reverse, the information may be too dense or confusing.
  • Bounce rate. Percentage of visitors who only view a single page. A high bounce rate may be indicate irrelevant content (causing visitors to leave immediately), accidental clicks from media to a page or poor navigation elements on the page that cause individuals to leave after consuming the content.

While this data is not comprehensive, it provides a starting point for companies seeking to analyze their Web site performance against relevant benchmark data. Over time, companies can establish their own baselines and compare performance against prior months, quarters or years, while using the benchmark to provide context within the industry. Understanding how a Web site is performing requires marketers to go beyond the metrics provided here, and Google Analytics provides a nice (free!) starting point. For organizations not utilizing Google Analytics, the above analyses are critical to answering that one big question: “How is my Web site doing?”

Jonathan Tam

Jonathan is an accomplished marketing executive working in SiriusDecisions’ Account-Based Marketing Strategies service. He has deep experience implementing and optimizing marketing automation platforms, marketing process improvements, demand creation strategy and execution, inbound marketing, search engine marketing and telemarketing.