Google Analytics: Benchmarking Analysis and Visitor Profiling Methods

Google Analytics is not only useful for tracking the unique visitors to a website; you can also use it for setting goals and even tracking your most popular content. In fact, one of the least common but more important uses of Google Analytics is visitor profiling and benchmarking analysis. This article will explain how and why to do this.

Using the techniques in this article, you will be able to answer some of the visitor profiling questions faced by any search engine marketer/webmaster or web developer. These include:

1. Is your website optimized for the most popular browsers used by your visitors?

2. What is the most popular operating system/browser combination used by your visitors? Is your website optimized for this kind of setup?

3. Does your website really “look” good on the most popular screen resolution used by your visitors?

4. If you’re also thinking about targeting your website for mobile-based visitors, does your website really look good on the specific mobile device you have in mind?

Benchmarking-related questions are even more important. Answers to these questions could be used as a good measurement of your website’s success. They include:

1. How does your website perform in terms of overall website traffic versus other websites of similar size?

2. How low is your website bounce rate versus other bounce rates in websites of similar size?

Other comparison that can be deduced from Google Analytics benchmarking cover the following areas:

3. PageViews comparison

4. Average time on site

5. Pages per visit

6. New visits

Let’s get started. Before you can benchmark your website against other websites, you will want to focus your attention on obvious problems affecting user experience. This is covered under visitor profiling.

So let’s tackle the first question: is your website optimized for the most popular browsers used by your visitors?

You always need to log in to Google Analytics to see data. Once you are in the website dashboard, you need to indicate for which websites you would like to see data by clicking “View report.”

Then click “Visitors” => “Browser capabilities” => “Browsers.”

You need to set your date range period to around six months for the most accurate results (for example, January 1, 2010 to July 27, 2010).

While most developers might focus on one or two browsers, it is important to focus on the top three browsers that are responsible for more than 80 percent of your website traffic if optimizing for all browsers is impossible (of course it is; there are just too many browsers!).

For example, in the screen shot below:

Just over 92 percent of the overall traffic shown in the screen shot above use either Firefox, Internet Explorer or Chrome to view the website in this report.

2. What is the most popular operating system/browser combination used by your visitors? Is your website optimized for that setup?

Again, this is tricky. Optimizing for browsers alone is not enough; you also need to pay attention to the operating system commonly used by your visitors.

You may have noticed that Firefox on the Linux operating system behaves “slightly” differently from Firefox in Windows: http://www.tuxradar.com/content/benchmarked-firefox-javascript-linux-and-windows-and-its-not-pretty

These differences can be big, depending on the impact it leaves on your existing website.

To get this data in Google Analytics, go to Visitors => Browser Capabilities => Browsers and OS.

Here is a sample screen shot:

Again, Firefox/Windows, IE/Windows and Chrome/Windows are used by almost 80 percent of the website’s visitors. So it makes sense that developing and testing the website in the Windows environment is optimal for detecting usability problems for 80 percent of the website’s visitors.

3. Does your website really “look” good in the most popular screen resolution used by your visitors?

Some website developers/SEOs use big and wide screen LCD monitors, with screen resolutions of around 1680 x 1050 or even greater. But do the majority of your visitors also use this kind of screen resolution?

A common problem occurs when a website is developed under very high resolution. When viewed in low resolution, you will see only the header section of the website and the top portion of the content.

The best trade-off is to examine the top screen resolution used by your visitors and then develop the website under those conditions.

Using Google Analytics, you can get this data from Visitors => Browser capabilities => Screen Resolutions

4. If you’re also thinking about targeting your website for mobile-based visitors, does your website really look good on the specific mobile device you have in mind?

If you go to Visitors => Mobile => Mobile Devices, you will see the most popular mobile devices used by your visitors in viewing your website’s content.

For example, in the screen shot below:

You can see that the most popular mobile device operating systems are iPhone, iPad and Android. You need to test your website’s appearance, functionality and features in those three devices to make sure that you are serving your mobile- based visitors well. This is your priority; once you’ve taken care of that, you can go on to optimize for the rest.

One of the more interesting items of Google Analytics data is the benchmarking section (Visitors => Benchmarking)

1. How does your website perform in terms of overall website traffic versus other websites of similar size?

Without Google Analytics, this is a difficult question to answer because you simply do not have a list of websites that are similar in size to your own. It’s much more difficult to get accurate traffic figures.

The good thing is that Google Analytics compares websites that are of similar size to your website. Of course, it would be unfair to compare small websites to large websites; large websites simply have tons of long tail traffic from their massive number of pages.

Setting the date range to one year, you can find out if your website’s traffic has been improving over the period (example):

The screen shot above shows that overall website traffic starts low in the January to March 2010 period. Beginning in April to May 2010, traffic starts to climb. In June and July 2010, traffic levels are somewhat comparable to similar sites, but still below average.

But wait, bear in mind that the selection has been set to “All sites of similar size.” What if the benchmarked websites belong to the same sector as the optimized website? This is a much more accurate comparison of traffic levels, since you are comparing traffic levels of website that are not only of similar sizes, but also  belong to the same niche.

For example if the optimized website’s niche is website design and development, then you will need to:

Step 1: Click open the category list.

Step 2: Go to “Internet and Telecom” and click “Web Design and Development.”

Step 3: Then click "select category."

The following are the total visitors benchmarking results:

Let’s interpret this data. From January to March 2010, it is obvious that the levels are lower than the below average level of normal website traffic for sites of similar sizes (belonging to the “Web Design and Development” category).

But starting in March to May 2010, the optimized website starts to climb up to just below the average level of normal website traffic (a sign of progress, possibly from positive search engine optimization effort).

Finally, in June to July 2010, it somewhat peaks at a traffic level that is similar to most web development websites.

You can likewise do this test for your website to measure the progress of your efforts. Not only can you measure traffic, but again, the benchmarked graphs show a lot of factors, such as bounce rate, page views, average time on site, and so forth.

Please remember that you need to enable “Benchmarking” before you can get comparison data from other websites. This is done by following the steps below:

Step 1: Log in to Google Analytics

Step 2: Click the “Analytics Settings” link.

Step 3: Click “Edit Account Settings.”

Step 4: Make sure that “Anonymously with Google and others” as well as “With other Google products only” are checked under “Google Analytics Data Sharing settings.”

Example screen shot:

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