Ever wondered how well your website does compared to your competitors?
Companies frequently spend large sums of money to find out exactly this. They buy usage data from ISPs and other aggregators to discover who the competition is and just how well they are doing (or not).
Well Google Analytics now offers a similar service for free. Its called Benchmarking and to take advantage of this, you will first of all (obviously!) need an Analytics account. Then you will need to enable anonymous sharing of data within the user interface.
Although they won't divulge individual site stats, they do provide you with general and specific industry/category comparisons.
Why are these useful?
Well, on a simple level they let you know if you are under or outperforming sites of a similar size and type. So it will either giveyou a big head or a kick up the arse.
More useful are stats such as Bounce Rate. I, for example, have a slightly higher bounce rate (on one of my sites) than the average in my sector. Bounce rate means the proportion of visitors who arrive at your site and then immediately click away again.
I didn't know this until I enabled the benchmarking feature. I had no idea whether my bounce rate was good, bad or average. Now I have identified this as a potential issue I can perhaps look at why more visitors than usual are clicking away from my site. Am I doing something to put them off? Can I change my design, or layout?
I also noticed that my average number of pageviews per visitor is around 3, whereas the average is nearer 5. Again (and this might be linked to my bounce rate), I can look at why my visitors are looking at fewer pages than normal. The same is true for the average amount of time spent on my site per visitor.
So whilst I can gloat over the fact that my general levels of traffic are higher than average for sites in my niche, I would do well to look at my site's "stickiness" or apparent lack of it.
I can compare any and all types of statistic with the norm for that vertical. This can help identify sucesses as well as problems.
It is good to remember, however that you can get too involved in the minutiae of statistics. I was reminded of this the other day when I asked an agent how he measures the success of his site.
"Whether or not I get any bloody leads!" was the reply.