You walk into your VP's office and say, "Our conversion rate was 3 percent this quarter, up half a point from last quarter." You're very proud of yourself and your team. Rather than sing your praises, your boss asks, "How does that compare to our competition?" You have no clue. Your triumph is ruined by lack of competitive intelligence. Maybe 3 percent is stellar in your industry segment. Maybe it's terrible. Do you know?
Many companies can supply you with very detailed data about Web use. This kind of information is crucial if you want to understand how your site is performing compared to your competition's. Today, we'll look at some free resources you can use if you don't have the budget to pay for benchmark data.
Google Analytics Benchmarks
For those of you who use Google Analytics, you now have access to Google Analytics Benchmarks. The benchmarks you can currently compare your site to are number of visits, bounce rate, page views, average time on site, pages per visit, and new visits. Additionally, you can let Google Analytics automatically compare your site to other sites with similar metrics, or you can choose an industry segment to look at. This is important, because you want to compare your metrics to those of companies in a similar space.
The metrics are generic but useful. By comparing these benchmarks against your site's, you can confidently tell your boss if more people are coming to your site than your competitor's (on average), if visitors are spending more or less time on your site, and how well your acquisition programs are working (as judged by the number of new visitors to your site versus those to your competitor's).
Of course, if you don't use Google Analytics (or haven't opted in to share your data), you don't have access to these reports. If you do, however, this benchmarking is the first step to understanding your success relative to the market.
Nielsen//NetRatings publishes free benchmarking data on its site. Its benchmarks are more robust than Google Analytics's and focus more on the advertising space.
Like Google, Nielsen includes basic Web metrics, such as sessions per visit, page views per session, and length of session. Unfortunately, you can't choose an industry segment or a time frame to use. That makes the numbers somewhat arbitrary, as they may not really relate to your industry. For instance, I compared some Nielsen numbers with some Google numbers. They were completely different, because I chose specific segments and time frames in Google Analytics.
Nielsen also has a wealth of ad-related metrics available for free, including leading industry advertisers (by industry), top site genres (by vertical), and most popular ad sizes. Again, these metrics might be too general to be useful, but if you need this kind of data Nielsen is a great resource.
LIVEmark is probably the most robust data among these free benchmarking tools (full disclosure: Coremetrics is one of our partners).
For basic data, LIVEmark has all the same basic information as Google Analytics. It publishes numbers based on month timeframes (whereas Google lets you choose a timeframe). It also shows the year-to-year numbers so you can track trending.
More interesting, however, LIVEmark gives specific conversion information relevant to retailers. This includes average items per order, average order value, shopping cart conversion rate, cart abandonment, and new visitor conversion rate. These numbers are crucial to understanding what the average conversion rate in retail is and comparing your internal numbers. While the free benchmarks are generalized to all retailers, Coremetrics customers can choose very specific subverticals for comparison. As with Google Analytics, this functionality allows you to really compare yourself against similar companies.
LIVEmark also shows traffic, sales, and conversion rates broken up between direct load, natural search, and referral traffic. These numbers can tell you how your various external campaigns and programs stack up against the general retail space. For instance, if your direct load conversion rate is on par with other retailers' but your natural search numbers are far lower, it's time to take a serious look at SEO (define) and learn why your site isn't showing up in the right places on search engines.
Finally, look at JupiterResearch, Forrester, and other research houses. While most of their content must be paid for, a lot of digging can uncover executive briefs or document summaries that include great free benchmarking data.
How Does Your Site Compare?
The next time you report your metrics to your boss, be prepared with industry benchmarking statistics culled from the resources listed here and others you can find on your own. They'll help everyone in your company understand how your site's performance stacks up against others'. If you can look at specific subverticals (if you're a Google Analytics or Coremetrics user), those numbers will be more of an apples-to-apples comparison. But if you can't, use the general data. It's better than nothing.
Questions, thoughts, comments? Let me know!
Until next time...
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Jack Aaronson, CEO of The Aaronson Group and corporate lecturer, is a sought-after expert on enhanced user experiences, customer conversion, retention, and loyalty. If only a small percentage of people who arrive at your home page transact with your company (and even fewer return to transact again), Jack and his company can help. He also publishes a newsletter about multichannel marketing, personalization, user experience, and other related issues. He has keynoted most major marketing conferences around the world and regularly speaks at Shop.org and other major industry shows. You can learn more about Jack through his LinkedIn profile.
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