How did website benchmarking begin? The word was first used in land surveying. “Benchmarks” were raised horizontal lines chiseled into stone. They helped ensure a consistent level from one surveyor to the next.
As land surveying expanded, “benchmarking” referred to the practice of setting elevation markers. From the “fundamental benchmark” at sea level, other heights would be calculated and registered.
In business, website benchmarking is how we know where one site stands in relation to others. That knowledge helps you assess your position in the marketplace. It can also provide invaluable information about how and why you and your competitors stand at your current elevation.
Benchmarking is a fundamental tool for creating your strategic plan and monitoring its progress.Benchmarking is a fundamental tool for creating your strategic plan. Click To Tweet
Unlike mountains, businesses are fluid. The company at sea level this year can be the Mount Whitney (the highest point in the contiguous USA) of its industry next year. And benchmarking can hasten that rise.
Website Benchmarking Examples
Benchmarking tells you where your website stands in relation to other websites. It can shine the light on competitive advantages and show you the most effective ways to improve website performance.Benchmarking tells you where your website stands in relation to other websites. Click To Tweet
You can benchmark any measurable part of your ecommerce or lead-generation processes. Here are some of the typical areas of temperature-taking:
- Benchmarking for site performance
- Benchmarking for marketing performance
- Benchmarking for financial performance
- Benchmarking for search performance
- Benchmarking for usability
Most businesses will want to establish benchmarks in all of those areas. How many benchmarks you set and what those benchmarks measure will depend on your own business and your own needs.
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Let’s consider a list of typical benchmarks. Then we’ll consider the “how part” of the benchmarking process.
Examples of Critical Website Benchmarks for Ecommerce and Lead Generation
There are a number of critical benchmarks for ecommerce and lead generation websites, each of which we call a Stuck Point™. Here are a nine examples, each a possible Stuck Point™ that can be resolved through conversion rate optimization services:
- Page Load Time is a critical factor. Studies show visitors begin getting anxious after waiting two seconds for a webpage to load. After three seconds, 40% of those visitors will head elsewhere. USA retail sites currently average 4.09 seconds in load time. That benchmark illuminates a potential way to get an edge on the competition.
- Bounce Rate measures how many of the visitors to your website go deeper than the page they enter on (the landing page). A November 2016 Littledata survey put the median bounce rate for all website visits originating from Google search at 42.9%. Any page on your website can be the entry page for a visitor. If that page is engaging and leads prospects further down the sales journey, the bounce rate will decrease. If not, it will increase. That makes this metric an excellent ecommerce benchmark.
- Bounce Rate from Email Campaigns looks at the traffic you get from email marketing. The November 2016 Littledata survey revealed 42.9% of those visitors leave before going any further than the landing page. Assuming your email campaigns are properly targeted and your mailing list well-pruned, think of the ROI leverage from getting your email campaign bounce rate down to 20% or under.
- Lead Generation Channel benchmarks tell you how well each component of your lead-generation marketing mix is doing. The 2016 Demand Gen Report found most of the respondents (77%) saw email marketing as the top channel for early-stage leads, 56% said SEO leads the pack, and 41% turn first to social media. By knowing which of your lead-generation efforts pay off the best, you can distribute your time and budget accordingly.
- Website Visitor metrics show you how effective your site is at drawing traffic. Total traffic, in turn, is an important component of bounce rate and conversion rate computations. Amazon.com is the most popular website in the USA. It pulls an incredible 183 million unique visits each month. Walmart.com draws 101 million. By comparing your traffic against that of your competitors, you’ll get a measure of how well your SEO, advertising, and inbound marketing efforts are performing.
- Acquisition Source metrics tell you where your visitors are coming from. Similar to lead-generation channel tracking, acquisition source informs time and budget allocations. You’ll need to make the management calls about whether to invest more or less in a particular channel, but acquisition numbers reflect your current effectiveness. They can also shed light on which channels your particular audience(s) prefer. As with all benchmarks, real insight comes from observing changes in metric movement over time.
- Conversion Rates (CR) can make or break your business. They indicate the effectiveness of your strategy and tactics by gauging everything from how many people opt-in to your mailing list to the number of people who come to your site as visitors and leave as customers. For instance, according to Compass Ecommerce Conversion Rates 2016, the average CR for ecommerce traffic arriving from organic search results was 1.18%. For top-performing sites, though, the average CR was 3.7%. Wouldn’t it be great to push your conversions up to 10% or more? Top sites were able to do that with email marketing (9.89% average).
- Cart Abandonment Rate tells you how many prospective buyers select one or more items to buy, begin the checkout process, but drop off before completing the purchase. It’s a heartbreaking metric – your efforts got someone that close, then failed. A Baymard investigative study put the average ecommerce cart abandonment rate at 68.81%. Can you think of a better place to benchmark, then put some serious efforts into improving the metric? If your site is the average, and you can drop the abandonment rate to 50%, you’ve just increased sales considerably.
- Products per Transaction is an excellent benchmark to consider in tandem with cart abandonment. What if you could not only drop the abandonment rate (increase your sales percentage) but simultaneously increase products per order? Would that be cause for celebration? Throw in an Average Order Value benchmark, and you have a triangulation that can send your bottom line profits soaring. Littledata put median products per transaction at 2.
Those are examples of benchmarks. There are many more possibilities. After all, if you can measure it, you can benchmark it.
An excellent starting point is to take a snapshot of the key performance indicators (KPI) for your business and benchmark them. That’s what KPIs are for. They help you monitor your results by alerting you to trouble spots and illuminating the things you’re excelling at.
Benchmarking is an essential management tool. If you don’t know how fast (or slow) you’re going and which direction you’re headed, it’ll be tough to reach your desired destination on time.Benchmarking is an essential management tool. Click To Tweet
Helpful Website Benchmarking Tools
The first step of website benchmarking is to determine where you are now by setting a benchmark. Next, you can compare your number to other websites in your niche or industry. Then, you can take a deep look at why your site and their sites are performing as they do.
One thing to be aware of here: Designers will want to evaluate website designs. Writers will be concerned about content. Marketers will focus on calls to action. Sales might look at advertising, lead generation, and pricing. Let one take the lead and you’ll set yourself up for biased results.Make sure you set benchmarks in each of the primary areas of your business. Click To Tweet
That’s why a slice and dice approach to benchmarking is wise. Make sure you set benchmarks in each of the primary areas of your business. Then look at how each contributes to the results you seek. You may not have the resources to tackle every Stuck Point™ you find at one time, but you can continue to monitor every benchmark while working to change the ones you deem most critical.
Get your Stuck Score™
By the way, how do you determine which Stuck Point™ areas apply to your site? That one is simple. We at The Good designed a tool that will assess your website to provide a customized Stuck Score™ and five scorecards that benchmark key conversion areas of your website, including the Stuck Point™ areas holding back your online revenue.
What does it cost to get your Stuck Score™ and find the Stuck Point™ problem areas holding your sales conversions back? The Good provides the service for free – no cost or obligation. To get yours, click here.
More tools for website benchmarking
There are dozens of website benchmarking tools and systems available. The ones you employ will necessarily focus on the particular needs of your ecommerce or lead-generation website.
Once you’ve determined the benchmarks you want to track, group them according to their relative importance to your most important goal.
For many websites, that means the benchmarks that directly impact ROI.
Here is a list of platforms providing information pertinent to all:
- SUPR-Q – The Standardized User Experience Percentile Rank Questionnaire attempts to gain “perceptions” of measures usability, trust, credibility, appearance, and loyalty. The SUPR-Q consists of an eight-item questionnaire you present to those who visit your site.
- One thing we consistently reinforce here at The Good is the centrality of usability to your success. Users consistently rank their ability to navigate and understand your site as crucial to whether or not they will buy from you, recommend you, and return to your site the next time they need the goods or services you offer.
- SUS – The System Usability Scale was created in 1986 as an all-purpose evaluation tool. The SUS doesn’t diagnose anything. It’s a quick way to get basic feedback on how users perceive your website according to effectiveness, efficiency, and user satisfaction.
- Benefits of the SUS are low cost to implement (the questions may be freely downloaded from the usability.gov website), it’s easy to administer, and it provides a reliable means of determining whether your visitors find your website easy or difficult to use. Downsides to the SUS are the lack of diagnostics and a rather complex scoring system.
- Google PageSpeed Tools – This free tool rates your website according to how easy and fast it is to load on both desktop and mobile devices. This tool also provides suggestions on how to improve your score. Page load speed is a first step to usability. If potential visitors have to wait too long (measured in seconds) for your site to load, they’ll go elsewhere. The quickest way to lose a sale is to fail to present your offer quickly enough.
- Pingdom Website Speed Test – Similar to Google’s PageSpeed tool, this is a popular speed test. It provides a performance grade and compares your load time to the average for all sites tested. The Pingdom performance insights show you where the bottlenecks are and help guide you in fixing them.
- You may choose to compare results from several different tools. Just be sure that your benchmarking measurements are taken with the same tool each time. Google and Pingdom, for example, should provide similar results – but it’s unlikely they will provide the same results.
- Google Analytics – The learning curve can be daunting, but the wealth of information you can mine from Google Analytics is well worth the time investment. Look deeper into the Google Solutions toolkit, and you’ll find the ability to conduct surveys, manage tags, dig deeper into attribution, and more.
- Moz Pro – Search engine optimization (SEO) is a first step in getting your business to show up on the first page of search engine results (SERP). The Moz Pro tool looks at where your site ranks in comparison to your competitors. You’ll get info on keywords, domain ranks, backlinks, and other SEO-critical metrics.
- WordStream Tools – For benchmarking ad campaign performance, WordStream tools are a welcome addition to the reports available from AdWords or Facebook. You can get PPC software, social ads software, free graders, and landing page reviews. Much of the intro data is free.
- Alexa – Get insider information about traffic to other sites and how your site measures up against them. Alexa offers an SEO audit, keyword research features, an on-page SEO checker and competitive intelligence data galore.
- Quantcast Measure – This free tool provides audience insight for over 100 million websites. You can get demographic, geographic, and behavioral information. The more you know about audience specifics, the better capable you are of selling to them. By embedding the Quantcast tracking code on your own site, you’ll gather data specific to your visitors and your ecommerce or lead generation website.
- Website Grader – This tool by HubSpot provides quick, basic feedback on site performance, mobile performance, SEO, and site security. Once your site is graded, you’ll also get recommendations on how to improve trouble spots. Website Grader is part of the HubSpot marketing effort, but that doesn’t take away from its value.
Website Benchmarking Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated
There are two balls you constantly want to keep an eye on: How does my site perform? How does it perform in relation to other sites?
The tools you choose will vary according to the benchmark you are measuring.There is a right and a wrong way to approach the benchmarking process. Click To Tweet
There is a right and a wrong way to approach the benchmarking process. For example, because of our work for Nike, we often get inquiries from ecommerce site owners who say, “We want you to make ours like Nike’s.”
That sort of benchmarking is feature-driven instead of goal-driven and can actually hurt your UX and conversion rates. Benchmarking should be driven by what your customers want, not by what your competitors are doing.Benchmarking should be driven by what your customers want, not by what your competitors are doing. Click To Tweet
At The Good, we want to know why one site is getting better results than another. We look at benchmarking data, formulate a hypothesis, design an experiment, and test it.
If your competition is delivering what your customers want better than you are, then you’ve found an excellent area to probe and learn from. Avoid getting trapped into discussions about features. Look to the usability traits behind the results.
Example: Website benchmarking for social proof
Social proof is powerful. And that’s an understatement. Consumers trust referrals from their peers much more readily than they trust your marketing messages.
One way to build your social proof is by allowing customers to post reviews on your site. That can seem a bit scary, but it’s a major factor in the success of Amazon. Potential buyers want to see reviews. Not to provide them is doing digital damage to your ecommerce site.
Here’s an example of how you might benchmark for reviews:
- Count the number of reviews on your website at a specific time on a specific date
- Count the number of reviews on your competitors’ websites at the same time and date
- Compare those numbers to see how you stand in relation to competitors
- Compare again 30 days (or some set period) later
- Track the changes you record and use the data to inform strategy
You can dig deeper by also recording the dates those reviews were left and the tone of the review (positive/negative). Where star ratings are used, that’s an objective measure.
Want to go even deeper?
Consider the products or services that get the most reviews. Compare them against those with the least reviews. What information can you pull from the exercise?
Reviews can also be gold mines for finding out what consumers like and don’t like – not only about the particular goods but about customer service, shipping, and more.
Is there a correlation between how many reviews the websites you benchmark and the market share each of the sites are claiming? Wouldn’t that be an interesting metric to ponder?
Always ask why.
Example: Using website benchmarking for site improvement projects
Once you’ve established benchmarks, you can choose the ones you want to work on first. Begin by isolating factors that contribute to the movement of the benchmark, then form a hypothesis about how changing a factor might affect the benchmark. Then test your hypothesis.
For instance, let’s say you determine your site is getting just half as many reviews as the top-performing site in your niche or industry. You compare their site against yours and note their call to action (CTA) in asking customers to leave a review is considerably more prominent than yours.
You propose an experiment to draw more attention to your request for reviews – maybe by making your Leave a Review button easier to see. You’re not trying to copy their format; you’re trying to test the outcome of trying a different tactic. The style and format you use will want to be consistent with your own branding – not with theirs. (That said, your CTA button should always stand out from the surrounding content. It should never fit in and be easy to miss.)
To make sure you are testing only for one difference, you run a split test. Half of your website visitors are served the old page. Half are served the experiment version. You then observe the results. When the number of visits is sufficient to draw an informed conclusion (statistical significance), you can decide whether to implement the change for all visitors.
You can also formulate another hypothesis and test again. If your goal is to overtake your competitor in number of reviews, your benchmarks will help you establish the reviews growth rate for each site and predict how long it will take for you to catch them (assuming their own benchmarking protocols don’t catch you trying to gain ground and cause them to work on their review-getting tactics too).
At The Good, we believe testing aimed at the continuous optimization of your KPIs should be an ongoing process – part of your overall marketing strategy.
Website Benchmarking for Competitive Analysis – Conclusion
Benchmarks give you a better picture of what your competition is doing right and where you could improve. But be careful. Keep the focus on delivering a more usable website. Resist being pulled into a competition over who can come up with more and prettier features.
Every part of your ecommerce or lead-generation site should contribute to the bottom line success of your business. And every page should have a specific job to do along the prospect’s journey to becoming a customer.
Benchmark for the critical points along that path, and constantly work to better your benchmark metrics. The business that knows where it wants to go and keeps heading in that direction will get there. The best benchmarks are the ones that focus on your goals and help you attain them.
An excellent place to start is by getting your free Stuck Score™. That will identify the Stuck Point™ areas choking your sales. Once you know those points, you can benchmark them and begin the improvement process.
Benchmarking is labor intensive. It requires setup time, monitoring time, evaluation time, and planning time. Some companies choose to outsource their benchmarking. Depending on your situation, that could be a good idea.
About the Author
Jon MacDonald is founder and President of The Good, a conversion rate optimization firm that has achieved results for some of the largest online brands including Adobe, Nike, Xerox, Verizon, Intel and more. Jon regularly contributes content on conversion optimization to publications like Entrepreneur and Inc. He knows how to get visitors to take action.