Industry Insights

Benchmarking Your Digital Marketing Strategy

How are we doing? How do we compare against our competitors? What’s the return on investment for our digital marketing efforts? Any marketer will experience one, if not all of these questions daily. The answer? Benchmarking.  

Benchmarking is both a process and a research tactic. You can measure and evaluate your business's current capabilities against competitors—as well as industry—which can help identify new opportunities or areas for improvement. Simply put, find the gaps between where your business is now and where you want it to be. Applying benchmarking to your digital marketing efforts can provide more accurate tracking and measurement of the success of your strategies from SEO to CRO, even email and social media. 

Not sure of the value of benchmarking? One example is the famous story of how the Oakland A’s went on to have tremendous success in the 2002–2003 MLB season. Perhaps you have heard of the book and a feature film called Moneyball? The achievements of the Oakland A’s were due to Billy Beane’s use of the sabermetric approach includes which used intensive objective benchmarking to understand performance. Since its release, Moneyball has been regarded as a ‘business bible. No, this is not a book review, but when it comes to knowing how to benchmark digital marketing, the book’s themes offer a great deal of inspiration to us fellow marketers. 

Benchmarking Your Marketing Activities 

Getting started with benchmarking isn’t a daunting task. As part of the overall evaluation of your marketing efforts, most of the work has been documented. It's just putting it all together in such a way that can be used for benchmarking. The first step is to complete an assessment of your existing digital marketing activities including the frequency, engagement, and effect they've had on your business. This snapshot will be the guiding force of your benchmarking activities and will be used as a reference to help you continue improving. 

Let’s look at some of the best methods of getting started and gathering the objective data needed to start benchmarking your digital marketing. 

Narrow Your Focus on Specific Marketing Activities 

When it comes to benchmarking your marketing, there are countless variables you can use. Same can be said for all your business's marketing activities. Best practice is to choose between one and three marketing activities you currently carry out. For example, this could be your website analytics, your social media, and your email marketing. However, choose the activities that reflect your overall marketing goals.  

Define Your Goals 

Before any benchmarking can start, you also need to define your own company’s goals. Best practice is to ensure the targets you select are specific and quantifiable to allow you to attain data-driven conclusions from the benchmarking process itself. Examples of goals include: 

  • Your baseline digital marketing capabilities 
  • ​Organic search rankings 
  • ​Paid search rankings 
  • Email marketing engagement 
  • ​Social media engagement 

Choose the Right Metrics 

Much like your goals, your benchmarking needs to be detailed, yet also clear and straightforward to support action. Best practice to choose between three and five metrics, such as: 

  • Frequency 
  • Open and engagement rates 
  • Conversions 
  • Demographic 
  • Traffic and Referral Traffic sources 
  • ​Read time 

Compile a List of Your Competitor Brands 

Once your goals and focus are set, gather up a list of the competitors against who you want to compare yourself. Typically, these will be the direct competitors in your industry, but also explore the option to choose brands in adjacent industries that only indirectly compete with you. Best practice for selecting your competitors is to ask yourself: 

  • Are we leveraging the same marketing channels? 
  • Are we targeting the same audiences and keywords? 
  • ​Are we working within similar budget scopes? 

In particular, the question regarding budget scope will help you remove companies that are working with significantly more resources and won’t provide the value for your benchmarking. Of course, while the marketing efforts of brands like Apple or Nike are indeed aspirational, they should not be included in your list of 'competitors' in your benchmarking analysis—unless you have the same marketing budget. 

Analyze Your Competitors 

Make a snapshot of your competitors based on your goals, metrics, and focus. Best practice is to identify the various strengths and weaknesses of your business and your competitors based on your goals. For example, if your goals are to improve your organic search rankings, compare how your brand and your competitor's brand perform with high-priority keywords. Additionally, you can examine your paid search traffic to determine how effective your advertising budget. 

Create a Marketing Benchmark Report 

Once you have your first round of analysis complete, take an honest and objective look at where you are at and develop a report that provides a reliable view of where you are at currently, and include comparable data from your list of competitors.  

Develop Your Action Plan for Improvement 

Goals? Check. Metrics? Check. Competitors? Check. Now it’s time to develop your action plan to meet your goals using the data you’ve uncovered from your competitor analysis. For example, if a goal you have identified is to rank higher for a specific set of keywords, your competitor analysis can reveal which of those keywords are easier and more realistic to attain versus those which may require more work and are out of reach. 

Set up Your Tracking to Monitor your ROI 

Just like most strategies, benchmarking is not merely 'one and done'. It’s a continually evolving process that you revisit and revise. Best practice is to set up tracking for the goals you have set.  

Whether you’re a marketer in e-commerce, technology, finance, or a for non-profit, many resources can further help you with your benchmarking needs. 

WordStream’s Google Ads Industry Benchmarks—An excellent resource for those who want to understand your industry’s average CTR, Cost per Click (CPC), Conversion Rate (CVR), or Cost per Action (CPA).  

MailChimp’s Email Marketing Benchmarks—A great resource for collecting data for average open, click, bounce (soft and hard), abuse, and unsubscribe email rates for 46 different industries. 

HubSpot’s Demand Generation Benchmarks—Check out this report that was created specifically to give marketers access to demand generation benchmarks, including industry data around webs traffic, marketing qualified leads (MQLs), annual revenue, email open rates and CTR’s, and marketing investments.

Fractyl’s Industry Benchmarks for Content Marketing Success—Is content marketing one of your activities? Check out this recent study that looked across 300 campaigns to gather data on what content resonated most across 15 different verticals over the period covering 2013 to 2016. 

Rival IQ’s 2017 Social Media Industry Benchmark Report—Perhaps social media is the activity you want to benchmark? Check out the report created by Rival IQ on channel-specific rankings, engagement, post type, and hashtags across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. 

Ending Notes 

Don’t wait to get started integrating benchmarking into your digital marketing, or even other areas of your business. This process will provide you a very transparent and objective way to track the effects and the impact of the work you do. Plus, once you have an idea of your current state, it’s much easier to plan where you’re going and provide ready-made answers to one or all of those daily questions!

Lynette Sawyer

Lynette Sawyer

Lynette Sawyer is a Web Project Manager for Falcon-Software, a digital web agency founded in 1994. For the last 13-years Lynette has been in various digital capacities and her expertise goes beyond Project Management. Lynette brings experience and knowledge in graphic design, marketing communications, project management, product management and engagement.

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