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An Alternative To Website Benchmarking: The 5 Factors Of Digital Success

Unlock your digital potential with our guide on measuring against top optimization teams. Ditch generic benchmarks and leverage a 5-Factors Scorecard™ for a nuanced approach to success.

Here’s an uncomfortable truth about digital optimization: Anyone who guarantees they can increase your conversion rates with just on-site optimization alone is either lucky or lying.

There are over 50 factors that influence conversion rates across 8 categories. Some are within our control, and some are outside. On-site factors are only half of the equation.

factors that impact conversion rate for website benchmarking

This means you can’t look at another company’s conversion rate to measure your own success. The effort is futile.

Does that mean comparisons are bad? Of course not. Instead, you need to look at your own specific users and then compare yourself on multiple metrics (in a more nuanced fashion) against a recipe for high performance.

So, what’s that recipe? We figured it out by asking hundreds of the highest-performing digital optimizers.

In this article, we’re going to talk briefly about why benchmarking doesn’t work. Then we’ll introduce you to a better way to measure the efficacy of your optimization efforts: a 5-Factors Scorecard™.

Why Traditional Benchmarking Is Ineffective

Industry benchmarking is the obvious starting point for anyone who wants to take optimization seriously. You don’t know what your goals should be, so you look to your competitors. It’s like looking at the crowd when you aren’t sure how to behave. We want to anchor ourselves to something.

Unfortunately, comparing your conversion rate to other companies, or even to your industry as a whole, is practically meaningless.

We discuss the problems with benchmarking in our article “Why Industry Benchmarks are Bullshit,” but it comes down to this:

  • Competitor data can be unreliable, inaccurate, or simply made up.
  • Even niched-down industry data still contains too much noise.
  • Your products, market conditions, pricing strategy, channel mix, and/or customer groups are just too different to control against even a true competitor.
  • Goal-setting, testing, and learning are better alternatives to industry benchmarks.

Essentially, benchmarks are too simplistic to be useful, especially if you’re looking at only one metric like conversion rate. And even if you match your competitor’s metric, it’s not like you’re going to stop optimizing. You always want that number to improve.

So what’s the alternative? Instead of benchmarking against competitors, we recommend the recipe that works for top companies: setting strong data foundations, checking your assumptions about your audience and their behavior, and building a research practice.

A Better Way to Measure Success

Instead of sticking to traditional website benchmarking, let’s explore a better way to score your performance. We call it the 5-Factors Scorecard™.

We conducted a study of hundreds of optimization experts to uncover the key factors that influence the success of digital products.

Based on their responses, we identified five competencies that set high-performance teams apart. Teams that excel in these 5 Factors are 60% more likely to meet their annual performance targets and twice as likely to rank “excellent” in customer satisfaction.

  • Data Foundations: Goals, ownership, and good data form the backbone.
  • User-Centered Approach: A comprehensive roadmap and a high-context approach.
  • Resourcing: Resources support adequate capabilities and pace.
  • Toolkit: A variety of tools for planning, measurement, and protocols.
  • Impact & Buy-In: Tools and practices increase relevance and perceived efficacy.

So, armed with your 5-Factors Scorecard™, you’ll know where to invest to improve your digital experience and what steps you need to take to grow your impact in your organization. Take the quiz to get your 5-Factors Scorecard™ and keep reading to find out more about the 5 Factors.

The 5 Factors of Digital Success

The 5 Factors emerged from our study of hundreds of digital leaders on what drives the success of their optimization teams.

Here’s what our respondents look like:

  • Respondents hail from over a dozen countries in ecommerce, digital media, SaaS, and B2B services, though most came from the US.
  • 52% are consultants and 48% are client-side optimizers.
  • 52% of respondents are seated primarily in a marketing role, but we also spoke with strategists, data scientists, designers, engineers, editors, and more.

After analyzing their responses, we identified a clear narrative about what makes optimization teams successful. We’ve distilled these learnings into the 5 Factors.

The highest-performing digital leaders share these five common factors:

1. Data Foundations

No optimization team is complete without access to a solid layer of data. Anything from basic pageview and page path data to time-on-site, bounce rates, top-selling products, geographic or demographic information, and more advanced business analytics.

What makes for good data?

  • It comes from an accurate source of truth you can trust.
  • It’s hygienic, meaning it’s being tracked properly.
  • It’s accessible at will to whoever needs it.

Many organizations are operating in less-than-ideal conditions when it comes to data. Building a healthy data flow you can trust should be your first step to building a strong optimization program.

Key Takeaway: A solid data foundation allows you to align your strategies with actual user behaviors and needs. Ensure data accuracy and accessibility to make informed decisions based on reliable insights.

2. User-Centered Approach

The most successful digital leaders adopt a user-centered approach that places the needs, preferences, and abilities of users at the forefront of the optimization processes.

This approach involves understanding the users’ perspectives, behaviors, and goals to create products that are intuitive, usable, and enjoyable.

Our respondents typically have:

  • A data-backed understanding of their visitors’ demographics (age, gender, location)
  • A data-backed definition of users’ entry context (channels, device types, landing pages, etc.)
  • A comprehensive roadmap that is based on user challenges (rather than executives’ opinions)

Key Takeaway: Understanding user behaviors and goals helps organizations design experiences that increase engagement and conversions. Prioritize users to create products and services that are intuitive and enjoyable to use.

3. Resourcing

Optimization is often used as a shorthand for on-site experimentation. In reality, it’s a much bigger tent. Successful optimization programs require multiple people with diverse expertise. Moving through the phases of the optimization process requires research, data analysis, design, and engineering, among other disciplines.

Marketing is the most plentiful expertise on optimization teams. Over 50% of our respondents work in marketing-related positions.

Still, most teams get by with just five or fewer hours of support per week from other disciplines. Engineering plays the smallest role: some organizations have no engineering support at all. Generally, this is due to a lack of buy-in from higher-ups.

That lack of optimization resourcing comes with its setbacks. Teams with high marks for annual performance or high NPS had at least 5 hours or more, on average, of each necessary discipline.

Key Takeaway: Assemble or outsource a team with varied skill sets to address different aspects of the optimization process effectively. Adequate support lets you move through optimization phases smoothly, leading to faster iterations and better outcomes.

4. Building a Toolkit

The most successful digital leaders have a variety of tools for planning, measurement, and protocols. Having a proven toolkit is crucial as it keeps you moving relentlessly forward toward your goals.

Your toolkit requires three critical tools: Prioritization, research, and experimentation.


Most successful optimizers agree that their goals are clear and they understand their organization’s prioritization process. 73% have a clear goal and 57% say they use a standardized process when project planning. (To be fair, some optimizers admit to struggling with prioritization in cases where those decisions are made at a higher level.)

Optimizers use a patchwork of prioritization processes, but they usually start with a prioritization framework, such as RICE, ICE, or PIE. The right framework for your organization depends on your culture. Impact, investment cost, customer satisfaction, and speed are the top prioritization factors.

Other unique prioritization factors, such as political effort or legal compliance, can be useful as well, depending on your needs.

toolkit website benchmarking alternative

One thing is true for sure: “One-size-fits-one.” There is no best prioritization framework. The key is finding the one that works for you, aligning your entire team around it, and following it relentlessly.


The best optimizers conduct a lot of research. This falls into two categories: 1) Generative research helps you understand your audience. 2) Evaluative research helps you understand if your solutions work.

toolkit research

Over 70% of the respondents conduct generative research methods at least a few times per year. This includes techniques like data analysis, customer interviews, surveys, and heatmap analysis. 60% of respondents conduct evaluative methods like task completion analysis and sentiment testing.


On-site experimentation is the favored validation method for the best optimizers. The use of A/B testing in production has increased. This is a powerful method, but it comes with challenges: it’s complex to execute, requires a significant volume of traffic and conversions, and can easily be done incorrectly.

toolkit experimentation

Leaders can expand their toolkit with other off-site validation methods, such as card sorting, preference testing, tree testing, and first-click testing. These tools are often faster, less expensive, and more appropriate than on-site experimentation methods.

Key Takeaway: Prioritization frameworks keep you focused on high-impact initiatives. Make use of evaluative research and off-site experimentation techniques to validate your changes.

5. Impact and Buy-In

The optimization teams that create the biggest impact tend to have strong buy-in from their leadership. Leadership buy-in delivers sufficient budget and people resources and creates a culture that values experimentation and incremental change.

Organizations with leaders that don’t bring an optimization mindset see reduced impact. Even though most of the respondents to our survey conduct in-house experimentation, only about half say their leaders cite experiments, consumer research, and user experience research as influencing their decisions.

Key Takeaway: Strong leadership buy-in creates a culture that values optimization and ensures sufficient resources are allocated to optimization efforts. Buy-in is a key ingredient to driving meaningful impact.

How To Know Where You Stand: The 5-Factors Scorecard™

You don’t need to score perfectly in all 5 Factors to get an edge. Even the top performers still had room for improvement.

The first step is just understanding where you stand today.

This scorecard automatically measures you against the highest-performing teams to expose what stands between you and digital excellence. To evaluate your 5 Factors and how you stack up against top performers, take this short assessment.

Armed with your 5-Factors Scorecard™, you’ll know where to invest to improve your digital experience and what steps you need to take to grow your impact in your organization.

unlock your 5-factors scorecard™ for an alternative to website benchmarking

It’s far more informative than a traditional benchmark. Take the quiz to get your 5-Factors Scorecard™.

The 5 Factors vs. Benchmarking

What makes the 5-Factors model more informative than benchmarking? Let’s look at the advantages.

Focus of Assessment

The 5-Factors model focuses on identifying key factors that contribute to success in digital optimization programs. It emphasizes elements that the most successful optimization teams have in common.

Benchmarking, however, only compares your organization’s performance against industry standards or competitors. It looks at the output of success, not what can be done to create that success for yourself.

Level of Detail

The 5 Factors provide a detailed framework for assessing performance across multiple dimensions. It offers specific areas for improvement and guidance on enhancing digital optimization efforts.

While benchmarking provides valuable insights into overall performance compared to industry standards, it doesn’t offer granular guidance on specific aspects of your optimization program or how to improve them.


The 5 Factors allow you to tailor your optimization strategies based on your unique goals, challenges, and resources. It offers flexibility in prioritizing areas for improvement and adapting approaches to suit your needs.

Benchmarking, on the other hand, provides standardized comparisons against industry norms or competitors, which may not always capture the nuances of those organizations’ strategies or objectives. There just isn’t enough context.

Continuous Improvement

The 5-Factors model emphasizes continuous improvement by focusing on iterative processes, ongoing learning, and adaptation to changing circumstances. It encourages organizations to evolve their optimization strategies over time to stay competitive and meet evolving user needs.

While benchmarking provides a snapshot of performance at a specific point in time, it may not inherently promote continuous improvement unless organizations actively use benchmarking data to drive change and innovation.

Get Your Own 5-Factors Scorecard™

Curious about where you rank among the 5 Factors?

Get your own 5-Factors Scorecard™ by taking a quick assessment. Your scorecard gives you direction to make positive changes in your optimization program by highlighting the areas that need improvement.

The onus is then on you to implement those changes. If you need support, just get in touch.

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About the Author

Katie Encabo

Katie Encabo is the Customer Success Manager at The Good. She focuses on supporting and improving the experience of top-performing ecommerce and SaaS growth teams as they optimize the digital experience for their users.