Google Analytics Benchmarking: Tutorial, and Things that Make You Go Hmmmmm…

Ian Lurie

Google Analytics now has their nifty benchmarking feature all set up. If you’re running Google Analytics you can see how your site traffic compares to others.
First, here’s how you set it up, and why you should:

Open Your Kimono, Just a Little

First, you have to give Google access to your analytics data.
“OH MY GOD,” you say, “THAT’S CRAZY. Let a giant software and internet company have access to my data?!! Forget it.”
Do it. Strictly speaking, Google already has all of this data. They’re not going to share your specific numbers with your competitors. That’d be stupidity worthy of a few US Presidents put together.

Also, you already have far more sensitive data with Microsoft, the phone companies, your government (unless you own your own island) and your house cleaning service. Do you really trust Google less?
In exchange, Google lets you see how your site’s performing, in a broad sense, against related sites.

Getting Set Up: The Opening of Aforesaid Kimono

OK, dry your sweaty palms, unclench those teeth. Take a few deep breaths. You’re now ready to share your data.
First, log into Google Analytics and click the link that reads “Edit Account and Data Sharing Settings”:

google analytics benchmarking step 1

Next, click the two boxes shown below, taking more cleansing breaths if necessary:

google analytics benchmarking step 2

Save your settings and you’re done.

Reap Your Rewards

You’ll likely have to wait a few weeks to see benchmarking data. Once you do, though, you’ll get something like this (You’ll find the report under the ‘Visitors’ menu. I have no idea why):

google analytics benchmarking dashboard

The report compares your site’s visits, page views, bounce rate, average time on site page views per visit and new visitors to the category you choose. Click ‘open category list’ at the top of the page to pick a different industry category.
All in all, nice stuff. There are a few cautions though.

Warning One: “Similar Size” Means “Stretchy Waistband”

Google states that they divide sites into three sizes: Small, medium, and large. They don’t provide any numbers, of course.
Yah, I know. Realllllly helpful. I have no good answer for this, except to take benchmarking data with a sizable grain of salt.

Warning Two: Industry Categories May Cause Whiplash

When I checked data for a client of ours in the wedding industry, I went to find a ‘wedding’ subcategory under ‘lifestyles’. It wasn’t there:

google analytics lifestyles no expansion

Bummer. I chalked it up to limited data and moved on. Then I looked at another client’s data (a client who’s not in the wedding industry) and found an expandable menu, including a ‘weddings’ subcategory:

google analytics lifestyles with expansion

Nice! I immediately went back to reports for my wedding client. Still no sub-menu.
I shook my head, dazed, and moved on.

Warning Three: It’s Only Numbers

Remember, benchmarks are fun, but are only numbers. If your site’s selling well and your benchmarks are lousy, don’t go nuts trying to improve your benchmarks.
If, on the other hand, your site is sucking wind and your benchmarks are great, don’t assume the benchmarks will save you in that next site review with your boss.
You can use benchmarking to check for one specific area where you’re out of synch with your industry. For example: If your visits are far higher than comparable sites, but your bounce rate is, too, then you likely need to work a bit on usability and content.

A Solid C+, But Look Out!

Overall I give Google Analytics Benchmarking a solid C+. It’s fun, and somewhat helpful, but I wouldn’t trust their data as much as, say Hitwise or Nielsen.
But Google has a way of rolling out new stuff and then relentlessly improving it. Set it up, and get used to the reports. I’ll bet benchmarking is going to eventually give the bigger services a run for their money.


By the way, my COO chastised me today, because I don’t make enough mention of the fact that I’m CEO of an internet marketing agency called Portent Interactive. Given that I do all this work on my blog in part to grow my business, he’s got a point. So, I’m CEO of an internet marketing agency called Portent Interactive. We do lots of cool stuff, including search marketing, consulting and analytics. Have a look.

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Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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  1. Portent Interactive, hmmm, I will have to check those guys out!
    In regards to benchmarking, great, now I have yet another thing to make me feel insecure about my site! 😉
    Seems a bit useless and I would agree with the grade you gave. Definitely more of a fun thing to “play” with than a feature with substance.

  2. The one thing I’d say is that benchmarking has already helped us figure out specific areas of weakness on a site. Assuming consistent inaccuracy, we can use benchmarking to see whether our weakest point compared to an industry is engagement, or traffic, etc..

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