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How To Use Google Analytics New Benchmarking Reports

About a month ago, Google revived a much-missed tool within Google Analytics – the ability to view your data benchmarked against others in your vertical.

For marketers who don’t have access to tools such as Hitwise, which is often beyond the scope of smaller budgets, these new reports are going to offer a wealth of information and insight about what you can do to take your marketing to the next level.


How Do I Get Them?

Luckily, the Benchmarking reports are very easy to set up and chances are you might have already done what you needed to do to gain access.

Log into GA and navigate to Admin and then Account Settings:


Once there, scroll down and ensure that the “Anonymously with Google and Others” box is ticked:


That’s it! If you’ve already completed this step, go back to Reporting and you should be able to find the Benchmarketing Reports underneath the Audience drop-down on the left-hand side:



What Can I Compare?

You’ll see from the above that there are three separate reports to look at:

* Channel
* Location
* Devices

We will take a quick look at each of these, but before we do, let’s talk about the metrics and features that are common to all reports.

High Level Filters

These are present at the top of each of your reports. There are three filters here:

* Industry Vertical (there are over 1,600 to choose from)
* Country/Region
* Size by daily sessions

You’re also told the size of the sample used for the benchmarking data on the far right.

top filters

Google auto populates these with selections for you, based on what it thinks is right, but you are free to change these if you wish. For example, if I think my client’s industry better fits in one of the other verticals, perhaps Travel, I can select this. This benchmarks me against 1,940 other properties. I can then choose to only compare to UK data, if I wish. In this instance the number of properties drops to 241.


Here’s when the fun starts!

The use of colour helps you easily identify metrics where you over or underperform versus the benchmark. Green (generally positive values) means you’re doing better and red indicates potential areas of improvement (generally negative numbers). The stronger the colour, the bigger the difference compared to the benchmark.


If you prefer to do without the heatmap, or the actual values and would prefer to deal with just the percentage differences, then these can be toggled on or off.

The toggle on the left adds/removes the actual values. The toggle on the right turns the heatmap on or off:



There are six metrics that the reports allow you to compare yourself against:

1. Sessions
2. % New Sessions
3. New Users
4. Pages/Session
5. Avg Session Duration
6. Bounce Rate

Now let’s delve into the specific reports.


This report will probably be the most useful one for most of you. It gives you the ability to see, based on GA’s Default Channel Groupings, how you compare vs the benchmark. A caveat for this – you’ll need to make sure that all of your data is tagged correctly. For the client shown below, email isn’t accurately tagged – making it hard to fully understand the opportunity in this area.


What can I tell from the above? Well, while Social sessions are lower than the benchmark, the percentage of new sessions is better than the benchmark, as is the bounce rate. However they’re failing at keeping users on the site for long enough. Organic Search is performing very well across almost all metrics, with the exception of % New Sessions – not surprising when you know that this client has a high percentage of brand to non-brand searches.

Top Tip: Change the date range to compare channel performance over your key periods. Chances are your performance vs the benchmarks will alter, so check and act accordingly. It may be that you’re missing an opportunity on email or PPC during busy times.


This report gives you your metrics by country – very handy for ecommerce sites that sell internationally. Unfortunately you can’t drill down beyond country level so the data you can get is limited. If you trade in only one country this data table may be of limited use to you – but it would still be very interesting to analyse the performance of the individual countries from which you receive traffic.


Top Tip: If you’re an international site, look at your behaviour metrics carefully. Stats that are lower than the benchmark for certain territories may indicate a problem with content not being relevant to that country, or could hint at a problem with your pricing and delivery proposition. Alternatively, if you’re getting lots of engaged traffic from an area you don’t currently service, this could highlight an opportunity for potential growth.


While it’s been “the year of mobile” for about five years now, not every site yet fully embraces mobile browsing. The results vary massively by industry – in Retail, many businesses have already reached the tipping point of receiving more traffic through tablets and mobiles than they do through desktops. For industries like Finance, some sites are only seeing around 35% of traffic through mobiles and tablets.

As with the Location report, the data is only available at this one level, so you’re unable to compare results by specific device or operating system, for example. But it’s still good for giving you an idea of where you stand.


For this client’s site, they’re massively outperforming the benchmarks for tablets and mobiles – in fact they receive fewer sessions on desktops, hinting at a shift in how their customer base shops compared to the average. For mobile, the Behaviour metrics are strong when stacked up against the benchmarks – this could mean that their mobile experience is fantastic – or, it could just mean that nobody in their vertical is doing a brilliant job of optimising for mobile and their performance is on a par with everyone else’s.

Top Tip: Have plenty of your own device data to hand when analysing this report. You’ll already know whether you’re offering a good or bad experience to users on mobile – this report will help give you an insight as to whether your competitors are streets ahead of you, or struggling with the same issues you are. It’ll also help you know whether the splits of traffic you’re seeing by device are on a par with your vertical – if you’re getting far less mobile traffic than everyone else, then this could indicate something you need to investigate.


There are limitations to the filtering. Under Industry Vertical, for example, there’s no dedicated “retail” filter – so you can’t compare your retail site with other retailers who get similar session volumes. Of course this is an issue with any sort of benchmarking and particularly when you don’t know exactly who you are being compared against.

Because Google is grouping the sites together into verticals, you don’t know if your ecommerce site is being compared against others, or if the benchmarks relate to sites that may be non-transactional. If your site doesn’t fit neatly into one of the pre-selected verticals, that increases the risk that you may not be comparing like-for-like.

One of the other big limitations, based on questions I frequently get asked is that it doesn’t give you any information about spend. While I can get an indication of how the volume of Paid Search traffic for example varies from my site to the benchmark, I can’t estimate how much others might be spending. As the data is anonymised you have no way of knowing the strength of the brands involved, therefore the brand/non-brand split and spends are impossible to work out. The same goes for Organic Search – you won’t find any help in analysing rankings here.

I’d suggest keeping this as just one of the tools in your arsenal when looking for competitor insights. Sites like SEMRush can provide some very useful data around search activity, with specifics on competitors which can be very useful when looking to fill in the gaps left by the GA Benchmarking reports. But for the scale and the cost (free!) there’s some great insight to be had. Google have said that conversion metrics and mobile app data will be coming over the course of the next few months and I can’t wait to see what insights can be found then!

Ways To Use It

Let’s wrap up with some ideas of how you could use the data.

    • Analyse your key periods to see if your performance vs the benchmark changes when compared to your quieter times – you don’t want to be missing out during your high-volume periods. This would be particularly useful by channel
    • Change the time period and look for opportunities to spend more on PPC
    • Look at your locations for new opportunities for expansion
    • Is your email underperforming vs the benchmark? Try optimising them for greater click-through and improved on-site performance
    • Look for areas where users spend longer on site than the average but where user sessions are below the average – this is a great opportunity if you can drive more users

Do you have any other ways you could use the Benchmarking data? Let us know in the comments!



Arianne Donoghue is a Digital Marketing Manager at Icelolly.com. Having started off her digital career client side in 2006, she's worked for both agencies and brands in-house, specialising in search. She is now back client side delivering paid media digital strategy for leading holiday comparison site Icelolly.com.
  • gallo thiello

    Great article, I wonder if my stats make sense as far as you don’t filter out bots effectively which is very difficult and time consuming. Do you have advise on how to get clean stats first?