Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are important
to drive improvement for your website. Although it is obviously interesting and
insightful to compare how your website is performing against your peers and competitors,
it can be a mistake to place too much emphasis on external industry benchmarks.

These external benchmarks can be misleading and often end up with you finding the benchmark that
fits your story, giving a false impression of success.

KPIs vary greatly by business sector, and even within
subsectors there is wide variance: think flights versus holidays or food retail
versus clothing retail.

Even comparing against your competitors with identically
defined goals
is fraught with gross approximations.
The exact path that visitors will take to complete a goal and the quality of
their user experience along the way will vary for every website.

Slight changes
in these can have a major impact on conversion rates. I deliberately emphasize
the phrase identically defined goals here, as
definitions from different organizations can become blurred.

For example,
retail managers will often wish to differentiate existing customer visits from
non-customer visits. Quoting a standard conversion rate across an industry can
therefore be misleading.

Also, consider that e-commerce conversion rates
can be measured in a variety of ways:

  • The number of conversions / total
    number of visits to the website
  • The number of conversions / total
    number of visitors to the website
  • The number of conversions / total
    number of visits that add to cart
  • The number of conversions / total
    number of visitors that add to cart

In the preceding list you can also substitute
the word ‘transactions’ for ‘conversions.’ That is, a visitor may complete a
purchase and enjoy the experience so much that they return to make an
additional purchase within the same visit session. Depending on the web
analytics tool used and the preference of the organization, that can be defined
as one conversion with two transactions, or two conversions with two
transactions.

Note, if you are a Google Analytics user, your reports would show one conversion and two transactions, as the visitor has converted to a customer and this can happen only once during their session.

Other onsite factors that can greatly affect
conversion rates, and therefore muddy the waters for benchmarking, include the
following:

  • Your website’s search engine
    visibility (organic and paid search listings)
  • You website’s usability and
    accessibility (is your site easy to navigate?)
  • Whether a purchase requires
    registration up front—its exasperating to see how many sites require this. Put
    it at the end of the transaction process.
  • Your page response and download
    times—page bloat is a conversion killer.
  • Page content quality and imagery—it
    goes without saying that these should be a professional standard.
  • The use of trust factors such as safe
    shopping logos, a privacy policy, a warranty, use of encryption for payment
    pages, client testimonials, etc.
  • The existence of broken links or
    broken images—these destroy the user experience.
  • Quick and accurate onsite product
    searching
  • Whether your website works in all
    major browsers

As you can see, comparing apples with apples is
complicated. By all means benchmark yourself against your peers. It can be an
interesting and energizing comparison. However, I emphasize the need for
internal benchmarking as the main drivers for your website’s success.