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Consumer Insights
October 21, 2016

Better Traffic Benchmarking: Go Beyond the Basics

Traffic benchmarking seems to be one of the clearest and most definitive metrics for measuring your website’s growth. But a simplistic focus on driving more traffic may end up not serving business goals.

To really understand the value of your traffic – and of your marketing efforts – you need to ask the right questions. It’s not just how many people are visiting or how long they’re staying. Success comes with understanding your audience.

You need to know:

  • Does your marketing attract the right target audiences?
  • What are the characteristics of your best customers?
  • Are your site visitors aligned with your business goals?
  • How does your traffic stack up against your competitors and industry leaders?
  • What are the best tactics to steal competitors’ traffic?

With the kind of rich audience data that’s available today, you can obtain a much more nuanced look at your current visitors and, if necessary, focus on aligning your traffic acquisition strategy more closely with your business goals.

A Richer Traffic Metric

A more intelligent version of traffic benchmarking can help you understand overall traffic within your industry and against your most relevant competitors. You may already be tracking the metrics staples such as visits, return visits, uniques and time on site.

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But what do these stats really mean in context? Are you falling behind others in your sector or surging ahead? Does that back-to-school traffic spike mean your marketing was successful, or was consumer shopping up overall?

The share of visits metric shows you the percentage of total visits within an entire industry or sector are coming to your sites. For example, Forever 21 might benchmark the percentage of visits they are getting within the apparel industry, so they can better identify whether a traffic jump reflects gains in their relative standing, rather than overall apparel industry growth.

Beyond visit share within a vertical, it can be extremely valuable to benchmark your share of visits against key competitors or the top brands in your market. For example, the following chart compares the visit share of several key Forever 21 competitors, who sell similar apparel products to the same audience:

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Pulled from Hitwise’s online intelligence tool. Only 5 of 10 brands shown above—see full chart.

This chart provides several valuable insights. Although website traffic tends to spike dramatically for all retail brands around the holidays (November and December) — looking at visit share provides a much more nuanced view of each brand’s relative holiday success; It appears that H&M lost a little ground during the holidays, while brands like Urban Outfitters nabbed a slightly higher share of visits.

Moving into 2016, Forever 21 saw a spike in visit share beginning in January, while its competitors’ traffic remained stable. Perhaps Forever 21 did some heavy promotion during the new year or changed its digital strategy in some way, and those efforts paid off.

Perhaps most alarmingly for Forever 21, beginning in May 2016, its share of visits began to decline steadily, while H&M and Nordstrom Rack began to increase their share of total traffic—particularly Nordstrom Rack. What can Forever 21 learn from these rising competitors?

Digging Deeper – The Audience View

These are excellent findings, but where to go from here? Forever 21 could investigate further by breaking down its audience data — as in, the audience make-up of its visitors — as well the audiences driving traffic to their competitors. Taking a look at Nordstrom Rack’s audiences will help Forever 21 understand whether it’s truly competitive.

For example, although this competitor is growing in share of visits, it could be that the largest percent of Nordstrom Rack’s visits are from women aged 25 to 34 – not Forever 21’s primary target audience.

Let’s say, on the other hand, that 18 – 24 year olds are indeed flocking to Nordstrom Rack. In that case, Forever 21 had better get busy. This data could lead to several different tactics:

  • Audience: Use audience insights and market research to understand the demographics, locations, attitudes and behaviors of Nordstrom Rack’s audience.
  • Shared Audience: Focus on converting and engaging the consumers who fall in the two brands’ “shared audience”—perhaps 90% of customers who engage with both brands also read Vogue magazine, so Forever 21 decides to invest in a major Vogue ad campaign to attract more fashionistas away from Nordstrom Rack and into their arms.
  • Channels: Analyze the sources of its traffic and double down in those areas—for example, if Nordstrom Rack drives a lot of content from YouTube, Forever 21 may decide to invest more in video marketing.

The Big Takeaway

Traffic benchmarking has evolved. Gone are the days when visitor spikes are immediately celebrated, or traffic drops equal failure. Seasonality, market changes, trends and competitive standing all cause constant fluctuations, thus more important questions arise: how much relevant traffic am I getting? Am I getting traffic from the right audience? If not, is my competitor doing better than I am?

The data cited above came from Hitwise’s online intelligence tool. Combining search, clickstream and behavioral data with audience and attitudinal data, Hitwise can provide powerful insight into customer and industry trends, and allow you to drive more high-value traffic. To learn more about Hitwise or get a free demo, contact us here.

*A modified version of this article was posted on Internet Retailer