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.

Brian Clifton

Published 15 September, 2009 by Brian Clifton

Brian Clifton is CEO of Advanced Web Metrics Ltd and former Head of Web Analytics at Google EMEA. He is the author of the book Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics.

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Comments (7)

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Adam Tudor

Adam Tudor, Senior Digital Marketing Manager at The Black Hole

A very informative article that highlights some issues that can be created through Web Analytics.  Some systems allow you to manually change what defines a conversion etc, but unfortunately this functionality isn't in Google Analytics (yet?).

When running any Web Analytics measurements and comparing performance of metrics across a site, always state exactly what defines each measurement and how it was sourced - this generally makes things much clearer and removes any doubt that might be created from using various measurement sources.

almost 9 years ago



sometimes it happens when thhings are too high in the mind sector.

almost 9 years ago


Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

To clarify, we're all agreeing that web site performance needs measurement - "if you can't measure it, you can't manage it".

(I do alot of web performance measurement in terms of journey response times and don't want to be out of a job!).

Also, if a site benchmarks against itself over time, than that is no problem - as they have the same 'measuring stick' each time.

The only problem then are the published 'industry benchmarks', where it's quite difficult to know if the same measuring stick has been used.

One way to address that, would be to form an industry working group in your sector, with your main 4 or 5 competitors, and see if there is interest in having an agreed set of metrics taken across you all, so that each site can see how they compare with the 'average of your peers'.

That's a tricky thing to do, to get competitors round the table!... I've had clients interested in doing exactly this kind of user journey based web performance testing , in for example the supermarket sector, but ended up being unable to get enough players to take part.


almost 9 years ago

Brian Clifton

Brian Clifton, Author, CEO & Web Metrics Strategist at Advanced Web Metrics

Adam - thanks for your input Deri - I like your idea of a working party though that assumes the implementation has been done well. Unless the same tool - or at least the same consultants/experts performed the install and setup, then chances are very high that the implementation quality is different. That said, one vendor (and one that I respect) is trying to achieve this with interesting results - see Coremetrics:

almost 9 years ago


Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

looks interesting Adam - do you know anyone using it?

almost 9 years ago


Servizi Web Marketing

Wow, I never knew that Benchmarking site performance can be misleading That's pretty interesting…

almost 9 years ago


Agenzia Web Marketing

almost 9 years ago

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