No, Benchmarking Traffic is Not a Waste of Time
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Benchmarking is all about comparing yourself to others in your industry. There’s some truth to the idea that you should be comparing your results to your past successes, not to everybody else. After all, no matter how good you get, there will always be somebody better to compare yourself to.
Understandably, this can lead to the attitude that benchmarking is a waste of time. Why should you care how much traffic everybody else is getting? The only thing that matters is how much traffic you are getting, and whether you are making a profit, right?
Well, yes, but it turns out that if you want to keep doing better you’re going to need to compare yourself to others, not just yourself. Here’s why.
Traffic is Relative
When it comes to making predictions about the future, your traffic can only be evaluated relative to changes in the industry. I can already sense some of you calling nonsense on this. After all, the number of people who visit your site is an absolute number, and the same goes for your profits.
And yes, that’s strictly true for describing the history of your business. But it’s not true for knowing where your business is headed.
Suppose you see a sudden spike in traffic for a particular keyword. Sounds like a great thing, right? But what if that spike is the result of the sudden and temporary popularity of a certain keyword? In that case, it’s certainly good for business, but it doesn’t tell you anything about whether you are “moving the needle.”
You have no way of knowing if you will end up with more traffic or less traffic after the trend passes.
This is why benchmarking is important even if you don’t really care about how well your competitors are doing. Without benchmarking, you don’t know if your successes are the result of efforts that will keep on giving, or if they are just the result of passing trends. By the same token, you won’t have any idea if a loss in traffic is the result of bad marketing, or a just a general loss of interest in your keywords.
When it comes to SEO, your benchmarking data will almost certainly come from Google Trends. While it won’t tell you exactly how many people are searching, it will you relative changes in search volume. It’s important to use Google Trends, not Google Insights, because Insights expresses traffic as a percentage of total traffic. Since the total amount of Google search traffic changes over time, this data is skewed and doesn’t tell you anything about actual volume.
How can you use this data to determine how well you are performing for a keyword? One of the easiest ways to pull this off is what I would call the “subtraction method.” Here’s the basic process:
1. Export the Google Trends data to Excel.
2. Export your Analytics data to Excel.
3. Find the average values for the Trends and Analytics data.
4. Multiply your Trends data by a number that will cause its average to match your Analytics data. Call this your benchmark data.
5. For each period of time, subtract your benchmark data from your Analytics data.
6. Graph the result.
What are you graphing here? A negative number means that you were bringing in worse than average traffic for the keyword based on changes in the keyword’s popularity. A positive number means that you were bringing in better than average traffic for the keyword based on changes in the keyword’s overall popularity.
Keep in mind, when we say better or worse than average, we are only talking about your traffic over the period of time that you are analyzing.
Put another way, if you get a value of -22 for one of your dates, it means that 22 fewer people showed up than you would expect if you were keeping up with the changes in popularity. Also keep in mind that half of your data is always going to be negative, because you are evaluating everything relative to your average performance over the time period. If you prefer, you could just as easily add a constant to your data so that the first day starts at zero, instead of setting the average to zero. It’s the relative change that matters.
As you can see, benchmarking really isn’t about comparing yourself to others. Quite the opposite, actually. It’s about knowing whether traffic is changing because of changes in the market, or your personal successes. In other words, it’s really about eliminating the influence of the market, and evaluating everything strictly based on how much your effort is influencing results.
What’s your take on benchmarking? What other methods might you use?