In web analytics, everything is relative

Ian Lurie
web analytics - it's all relative

What’s a good bounce rate for my web site?

I get that kind of question a lot. What’s a ‘good’ bounce rate? A ‘good’ time on site?

The answer, I’m afraid, is: Better than your current bounce rate. Better than your current time on site.

In web analytics, it’s best to focus on your own data and on improving. Use yourself as the benchmark. This is your best strategy for two reasons:

Lack of accurate benchmarks

Accurate, internet- or industry-wide data on keyword searches, or competitors, or just about anything else, is scarce. Non-existent, really.

  1. ‘Panel’-based statistics like (which I love) and Alexa (which I’m starting to like again) sweep in an incredibly wide range of web sites. The bounce rate on your online bike shop won’t compare to, say, the bounce rate on the New York Times web site.
  2. Statistics within your own industry will include outliers at both end of the spectrum: At one end are the companies that have invested 100x your budget to become the shining pinnacle of conversion rate optimization. At the other, you’ll be comparing yourself to the sites designed according to 1992 best practices. Even if you can narrow down the data in #1, it’ll be inaccurate..
  3. Keyword data from Google is about as trustworthy as a credit default swap.
  4. Keyword data from other sources may be more trustworthy, but shows you a tiny sliver of total search traffic.

Numbers lie

Even if you could get accurate benchmarks, they still lie. Your business isn’t like your competitors’, no matter how similar they seem. Competitor A just fired his head of sales, so conversion rates tanked for a month. Competitor B happened to get on Channel 5 News. Her traffic tripled, lowering her conversion rate, too – but her sales skyrocketed.

Unless you’ve got the whole story, the numbers will lie. And you can’t get the whole story.

Focus on improvement

So, if you’re trying to figure out how many visitors you should be getting for ‘slobber knocker’, the answer is? More than you get right now.

If you’re trying to figure out where your conversion rate should be? Yep. Better than what you’re getting right now.

That’s what web analytics are for: Helping you improve. Which, as it happens, is also how you beat your competitors.

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. Hi Ian,
    I think where most fall down is that the fail to see that Web analytics are *indicators* of where you’re going.
    They’re not gospel but data pointing in a certain direction.
    The key for me is to tie web analytics to specific goals and then drill down and drill down and drill down….

  2. It is much more useful for a business owner to look at their analytics as a guide for personal use rather than a comparison with competitors. Instead of trying to aim for the same statistics as others, use them as a tool for finding points to improve on. You are quite right, the numbers don’t mean anything unless you have the whole picture. Even then, as you pointed out, no two businesses are the same.

  3. Hey Ian,
    I know I don’t comment much, but I wanted to thank you for helping keep people honest. Social media remains the one communication tactic that people attempt to isolate and then add erred messages too in order to justify its purpose.
    The reality is that the numbers lie. And the best approach is to use the tools effectively while maintaining an organic approach. It’s much more important to build the right community — made up of people who have an expressed interest — than it is to pile on the statistical measures, all of which can be gamed.

  4. I think that analytics and ‘numbers’ should only be one part of what measures success in a company. Its an important indicator but not the overall goal.

  5. I think a very pertinent point. As Avinash always say “Context is more important”; therefore whatever numbers we are looking at, should be with the backdrop of the context.

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