Benchmarking, for those that were in the know, was once a fantastic feature of Google Analytics.

Discontinued in 2011, and then followed by the removal of Adplanner the following year, meant it became a lot harder to contextualise the great work marketers were doing and get valuable market information.

Alternatives for benchmarking have always been available, based on toolbar tracking or proprietary stats vendors for example, but those that used Google Analytics benchmarking reports loved the feature for its simplicity, the fact that it was perceived to be well informed, and of course it was free.

Well, as announced on the Google Analytics blog today, this ever popular feature has been revived.

For those that opt in to anonymously share their data, version one of the new implementation is being rolled out to all Google Analytics Universal users, with promises of much more to come in the future.

How this helps

Benchmarking should be one of the great advantages of internet marketing.

This wealth of information gathered by individual sites, anonymously combined and shared, requires a large volume of reliable user data in order to make it valuable (of which Google Analytics has) which in turn provides the volume to power the level of segmentation required to make these reports meaningful for specific businesses.

Contextualising your site performance is a great way to add meaning to the work you have done, plan what needs to be done and gain insights into trends within the industry.

This first roll out covers three main reports dimensions – traffic sources (though default channel grouping), location and device, and across six metrics that include sessions, percentage of new sessions, new sessions, pages/session, average session duration and bounce rate.

Google identifies you across three benchmarking indicators – your industry vertical (over 16,000 different options), geographic region and seven traffic size classifications – however by allowing you to alter these within the report you can not only change the vertical if you think it’s incorrect, but you can compare your site performance across alternative business types, locations and sizes.

What it looks like

Once you have enabled data sharing (GA admin > account settings > select the tick box shown here) this activates the reports for your account (and obviously allows your data to be shared anonymously).

The reports appear under a new ‘Benchmarking’ option within the ‘Audience’ section.

Data Sharing Setting

Heading all reports are the benchmarking selections of industry, location and size – for Econsultancy this is defaulting to:

Benchmarking header

It also shows how many web properties are contributing (1,223) – with the session benchmark shown as a lighter overlay. This demonstrates that although Econsultancy.com is very close to the average through the week, the site underperforms at weekends.

The reports themselves offer a wealth of insights. The channels report allows comparison of your traffic sources against the benchmark – how well your marketing mix compares to that of your peers.

Again using the Econsultancy example, the delta report style allows quick comparison against the benchmark – this shows that we outperform our peers through email and social – perform around average with SEO, yet struggle with direct and referral traffic.

Display and paid search are channels we only use tactically – however now we can identify the possible size of the prize, should be decide to push more resources that way.

The largest opportunity could be seen to be referral, where we languish 100,000 sessions below the benchmark. This is all very useful information to pass through to the marketing and editorial teams.

Of course you can also switch the selections to view how traffic groups differ for larger sites, do they get their traffic from the same sources etc.

Location reports show how UK centric our data is, but also allows us to view where we are losing data internationally against the benchmark.

Interestingly, the biggest single discrepancy seems to show that we are losing out on traffic from Japan.

Device reports indicate that we meet benchmark on desktop sessions, tablets on comparison do not show massive differences – but mobile traffic is down 80,000 sessions.

This could be due to our mobile experience? One for the product development team…

Of course the weight the company puts on this benchmark should be judged within the choices made through industry vertical etc.

Business and Industrial is a very generic vertical and a number of sub sections are available to help pin down more exact matches.

However, some very useful additions to the analytics report set – and from the pre-launch discussion with the product development team at Google, more dimensions are due to be added soon.

It would be good to hear your experiences or any specific insights that you get from this – and also what dimensions or metrics create the most useful benchmarks?

If you want to improve your Google Analytics skills book yourself onto our Advanced Training Course, or for more on this topic read our post looking at 18 useful Google Analytics custom reports, segments and dashboards for SEO.