Using Benchmarking To Evaluate Website Performance (Guide)

Almost every industry has created its own space in the online world. And every brand has its fair share of competitors vying for a bigger user base. The Internet has made it easier for consumers to access multiple brands and to compare anything they want about each brand. If a company piques a customer’s interest, through an advert or a social media campaign, then the first thing the customer does, almost as a reflex, is pull up the company website. 

Online marketing can greatly influence your brand’s perception by the intended audience.When a consumer can compare everything about a brand with a single click then the chances of gaining or losing a customer depends completely on end-user experience. Benchmarking helps evaluate a brand from multiple perspectives. 

It allows you to determine whether the brand conforms to the best practices in the industry and if there are processes that need to be implemented or optimized.The failure of a mission-critical web application can be costly. You have to consider benchmarking not as nice-to-do, but as a crucial activity. 

When the stock-trading app Robinhood went down for 24 hours during what was probably one of the stock market's most significant swings it caused a shake in the industry. There are many performance rules out there, but ultimately, load time is an important performance metric that matters. How fast is fast enough for a web application? Here's a quick overview of key performance metrics:
  • Under 100 milliseconds is perceived as instantaneous.
  • A 100ms to 300ms delay is perceptible.
  • One second is about the limit for the user's flow of thought to stay uninterrupted.
  • Users expect a site to load in 2 seconds.
  • After 3 seconds, 40% of visitors will abandon your site.
  • 10 seconds is around the limit for keeping the user's attention.
So, as you can see, most software users want instant response.
Because of this, the importance of performance is increasing, and engineering teams need to treat performance as a feature. The goal of a performance load test is to understand how your applications behave under heavy load conditions.

To get started, you need to understand the baseline performance of your application and know that the performance of each transaction is unique. Moreover, to ensure that users have a great experience, you must test the most common flows for your users and understand performance both in the browser and on the server. 

To get the job done, you’ll need server-side, client-side, and performance tools, and you can find free and open-source options that fall into each of these categories. But before jumping into load-testing tools, don't make the mistake of overlooking your application performs with just one user as well as client side performance.

Most modern applications spend more time in the browser than on the server side. The reason is that newer applications now are using JavaScript frameworks such as ReactJS and AngularJS. These feature-rich front ends add a new layer that needs to be measured. So measuring the rendering time of an application that is under test on a client's local machine becomes critical.

Both ReactJS and AngularJS are currently used by many business, news, and travel companies in the USA, the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Australia, and other countries. AngularJS has been included in virtually every list of top 10 JavaScript frameworks since its release in 2009. This Model–View–Controller framework has become extremely popular among web developers.

React is even more widely used by JavaScript programmers, although it’s actually a library, not a framework: the React library only has a View, but lacks Model and Controller components.

How Did ReactJS Became So Popular?

Now, let's look at two of the best tools used to understand client-side performance:

Google PageSpeed Insights - a service that analyzes the content of a web page and generates suggestions to make your pages load faster. Reducing page load times reduces bounce rates and increases conversion rates.

Google Lighthouse - it is also an open-source, automated tool for improving the quality of web pages. Your front-end developer should at a minimum be using Lighthouse metrics, which are available in Google Chrome tools.

On the other hand, Apache Bench and Siege are great for quick load tests from a single endpoint. If you just need to get a sense of the requests per second for an endpoint, these are great solutions.

A more advanced approach—is, an open-source load-testing framework that allows complex transactions and can generate high levels of concurrency with ease. is great for understanding the performance on the server side. Other server side performance tools includes:

Bees with Machine Guns': Authors describe it as "a utility for arming (creating) many bees (micro EC2 instances) to attack (load test) targets (web applications)."

Multi-Mechanize: It is an open-source framework for performance and load testing that runs concurrent Python scripts to generate load (synthetic transactions) against a remote site or service. It's commonly used for web performance and scalability testing, but you can also use it to generate a workload against any remote API accessible from Python.

Siege: It is an HTTP load-testing and benchmarking utility designed to let web developers measure code under duress, to see how it will stand up to load on the Internet. Siege supports basic authentication, cookies, and HTTP and HTTPS protocols, and lets the user hit a web server with a configurable number of simulated web browsers. Those browsers place the server "under siege."

Apache Bench: It is useful for benchmarking your Apache HTTP server, to get an idea of how Apache performs.

Httperf: It provides a flexible facility for generating varied HTTP workloads and measuring web server performance. The focus is not on implementing a particular benchmark but on providing a robust, high-performance tool that facilitates the construction of both micro- and macro-level benchmarks. 

The three distinguishing characteristics of httperf are its robustness, which includes the ability to generate and sustain server overload; its support for the HTTP/1.1 and SSL protocols; and its extensibility to new workload generators and performance measurements.

Apache JMeter: It is for testing performance both on static and dynamic resources (files, servlets, Perl scripts, Java objects, databases and queries, FTP servers, and more). You can also use it to simulate a heavy load on a server, network, or object to test its strength or analyze overall performance under different load types. Finally, consider using it to make a graphical analysis of performance or to test your server/script/object behavior under a heavy concurrent load.

Taken together, these free and open-source tools offer a path to get started on capacity planning and load testing the server side, optimizing and performance testing the client side, and monitoring performance from end to end to derive meaningful insights from performance tests.

Comparing your site to a benchmark website can give you a better idea where your site's performance stands in relation to other similar sized sites in the same industry. In the online world, staying competitive means having a website that loads quickly and provides a pleasant user experience. Staying up to date with the latest performance trends and industry benchmarks will help ensure your website stays both competitive.

If you're the owner of a shopping site for example, a good website to benchmark against may be Amazon or eBay. These two companies are leaders in the online shopping industry and therefore, benchmarking your shopping website against one of them would provide performance information regarding how your site compares with the standard. 

Competitive analysis should be an integral part of brand marketing and help you build a more effective go-to-market strategy. A company can benchmark multiple processes and aspects. One that is often overlooked is web performance benchmarking – measuring your online presence in comparison to competitors to understand website performance and end-user experience.

What Does Web Performance Benchmarking Involve?

Aside load time, which is one of the major factors that determine user experience. The following key performance metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs) need to be evaluated when setting up web performance benchmarking for online applications:

Page load time - Application availability: Maintaining 100% availability is important. If the webpage doesn’t load or loads an error page, then the consumer will quickly look for other options. It will help establish the average availability rate across different websites across the industry.

Comparing availability of your site versus competitors can indicate whether the end-user experience is negative or if your online application requires a major overhaul.

Webpage size and content - Benchmarking will give you a detailed report of the industry standards when it comes to webpage size and the type of content used. You can then use this analysis to tune your application, add the right type of content to reduce page size and improve end-user experience.

Third-party analysis - Online applications use multiple third-party services, each of these services could be a potential bottleneck in the application delivery chain. Benchmarking third-party services across multiple websites will help identify those that are impacting performance. It will also help you understand how websites with excellent performance have optimized third-party tags and content.

User engagement/transactions - It is not enough to drive traffic to your application; user engagement is the next critical metric to analyze. The website may be pulling in a lot of users, but not every user will end up converting and adding to the business revenue. In such cases, it is important to understand if there are any bottlenecks in the user journey. Benchmarking will help you identify the critical points in the user journey that need optimization.

The Do's And Don'ts Of Website Benchmarking

There are a few aspects that should be taken into consideration when comparing to a benchmark website.

Website benchmarking do's:

Choose a web page with the same goals that your page is trying to achieve. Be aware of the location you are testing from. This may garner different results if your benchmark website has a server that is close to the test location but you don't. Consider using a CDN (Content Delivery Network) to allow for a broader global reach.

Website Benchmarking Don'ts:

Don't solely compare to the page speed averages (although it is good to get a broad idea, try to focus on industry specific examples). Don't simply take the full load time into consideration when benchmarking. Other metrics such as number of requests, images sizes, and TTFB can help determine where load times are originating from.

Time To First Byte(TTFB) is a measurement used as an indication of the responsiveness of a webserver or other network resource. Thus, TTFB measures the time elapsed between the moment a web user makes an HTTP request, like loading a webpage, to the time the first byte is received by the client’s browser.

Understanding Site Speed: The Time To First Byte (TTFB)

When troubleshooting a slow website, there are a few helpful metrics to determine the causes and solutions. One of those metrics is the Time To First Byte (TTFB), a measurement used by all site performance benchmarking tools. It’s an important metric to measure how fast your website starts loading in a specific location or with a particular combination of settings. 

Understanding TTFB can help you get a better grasp of how website speed works, what’s slowing down your site, and how to fix it. Many use TTFB reading as a rudimentary way to test server speed and while this works, it’s only half the story. 

If the website you’re trying to load uses a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress, the server must do all the CMS computations required to produce content. The PHP service must load your MySQL database, get the content, calculate the appropriate HTML output, and return it to the website visitor.

If you have a slow CMS, all those steps can take time and you may receive bad TTFB results like 1-3 seconds or more. That doesn’t necessarily mean your hosting server is slow or experiencing issues. More often than not, it means you have too many plugins or extensions, you’re not using a caching system, or you’re using an old PHP version. 

Of course, it is a totally different story if you are measuring a static HTML page with a slow TTFB. Then, you may want to start your investigation from the server itself, as there are no other factors impacting the performance of your site.

How Content Delivery Network (CDN) Affect  TTFB

As mentioned above, TTFB is seriously affected by the networking speed between the server and your browser (or the tool you’re using to test your speed). Using a CDN can improve your site speed if it has endpoints near your geographic location. Note, however, that if you have a CDN like CloudFlare enabled, you’re measuring the TTFB between your browser and the particular CDN endpoint serving your request and not between you and the server.

If the CDN hasn’t cached your content yet, it has to call the server first, get the data, distribute it and then serve it to you. That may cause further delay before the first byte is received. To get around this, make sure you have caching enabled for your CDN and check whether it has an endpoint close to your geographic target. 

It’s worth experimenting with different CDN providers in case your visitors are in a part of the world that’s not covered by your current one. Once you have successfully compiled your benchmark website's data, you can now move on to optimizing your site.

How do you know which data points are the most important and whether or not yours are “good” numbers?

Without any set goals or reference points, website analytics are meaningless. But as you track your metrics over time and build points of comparison—to your own historical data and to that of others in your industry—metrics become one of the most valuable ways to measure your website’s performance.

When reviewing your analytics, it can be tempting to rely only on traffic metrics such as visitors and sessions (visits). Traffic metrics can be a good place to start to give a holistic picture of how your site is performing when compared to a previous period. However, these metrics are hard to draw actionable conclusions from, and they tell little detail about a site’s interactivity or which specific pages need improvement.

Instead, paying attention to metrics that measure engagement can give more insight into whether or not users are interacting with a site. Engagement metrics include average session duration, pages viewed per session, bounce rate and conversion rate. 

Engagement metrics are valuable as an overall measure of interactivity across your site, but it can be even more helpful to look at these metrics page by page to determine what is and isn’t working to engage and convert your visitors as you create and adjust your content and design to lead more prospects down the sales funnel.

Before you begin to evaluate your website’s performance, make sure to also set goals. Defining the purpose of each page of your website will help you identify which metrics make the most sense to measure success and where you should focus your energy in making improvements.

For example, if you are starting a blog to share thought leadership content, your goals may be to drive more traffic to your site from organic search with a good SEO strategy and to have a high average time on page that shows people are reading your articles.

Once you know which metrics are the most valuable to track and have set goals for your site, it’s important to have benchmarks that serve as a comparison point for your website’s analytics. Benchmarks that you should reference include the goals you set for your website’s performance, your own website data over time to measure growth, and industry standards.

When it comes to benchmarking, traffic metrics, such as sessions (site visits) and visitors are meaningless on their own, but they start to tell a story when compared with the same data points over time. In other words, your own site’s historical data is the best benchmark for site-wide traffic metrics. 

Traffic metrics will ebb and flow over time depending on the quarter, so they’re best compared quarterly (Q1 in a given year say, 2021 with Q1 2022). This helps to mitigate external factors, such as holidays and slower parts of the year. Your own site’s historical data is also a great benchmark when you’ve changed a certain page layout or boosted your SEO. 

Comparing before and after the change can give you a good feel for whether or not the change boosted traffic or engagement. In this case, you’ll want to drill into page-specific metrics, such as pageviews, average time on page and bounce rate to get a more accurate feel for the impact of your change. Again, comparing recent data post-change to the same period last year is a good idea in order to control for external factors, even if the change was more recent.

Although, the most popular web analytics tool is Google Analytics, there are many others on the market offering specialized information such as real-time activity or heat mapping.

The Most Commonly Used Web Analytics Tools:

Piwik - An open-source solution similar in functionality to Google and a popular alternative, allowing companies full ownership and control of their data.

Adobe Analytics - Highly customizable analytics platform (Adobe bought analytics leader Omniture in 2009).

Kissmetrics -It can zero in on individual behavior, i.e. cohort analysis, conversion and retention at the segment or individual level.

Mixpanel -It is an advanced mobile and web analytics that measure actions rather than pageviews. - It offers detailed real-time analytics, specifically for publishers.

CrazyEgg - It measures which parts of the page are getting the most attention using ‘heat mapping’.

Clicktale - It uses ‘heat mapping,’ keystrokes and mouse movement.

With a wide variety of analytics tools on the market, the right vendors for your company’s needs will depend on your specific requirements including helping you to benchmark the following :

Bounce Rate Benchmarks - It may be more useful to compare your bounce rate to industry benchmarks.
  • Landing pages with one call to action: 70-90%
  • Content Websites: 40-60%
  • Lead Generation: 30-50%
  • Blogs: 70-98%
Examining individual webpages can give you better insights. It may be best to optimize bounce rate on individual pages rather than focus on the entire website average. The users visiting your website/blog have a completely different goal than users who came to your site in need of a service from your industry. 

So it may be more useful to compare your bounce rate to industry benchmarks on a landing page meant to draw visitors into your site and take action than on your Contact page.

Time on Site Benchmarks: Anything under 20 seconds is a major red flag. As that’s barely enough time for a visitor to look at the webpage, much less read its content. 40-50 seconds is a great start, as it means you have their attention. In general, anything over 2 minutes is the accepted standard for websites.

Pageview Benchmarks: Pageviews are much like bounce rates. There is no universal benchmark. Again, if your website is information based, a single pageview could mean your website is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do: provide everything in one place. For e-commerce, having a high number of pages/session is good, as they want people to browse their products. Having a session/user number that is higher than 1 is good, as it means they are returning to the site at least once. 

A 3 min avg. session duration is also good, as that’s a very good time for a user to spend on a website (remember, 40-50 seconds good and 2+ minutes is the benchmark). Lastly, a 41.26% bounce rate means over half of their visitors are going beyond their landing page and interacting with the site, which is exactly what you want to see.
  • 1.58 sessions/user
  • 5 avg. pages/session
  • 3 mins avg. session duration
  • 41.26% bounce rate

Conversion Rate Benchmarks:

For instance, the average conversion rate in AdWords across all industries is 3.17% on the search network and 0.46% on the display network.
  • 3.27% CTR for search ads
  • 0.59% CTR for the Google Display Network
  • 3.36% avg. conversion rate for search ads
  • 0.82% avg. conversion rate for the Google Display Network

For example, if you noticed significant traffic from the U.K., ask if your competitors also seeing this too or is it a result of your latest campaign. Or if you see an increase in traffic from mobile users, try to determine if this as a result of a global trend or your latest mobile-friendly design.

It is important to note that, success is not only measured by how you stack up in comparison to others, but by how you are growing and how you are meeting the needs of your target audience. This allows you to choose the vertical and sub-vertical to compare your website to. 

Note that the deeper you go in the vertical hierarchy, the smaller the sample size you are comparing your website against.

Country / Region - This allows you choose the country and region you want to benchmark against. For instance, if you benchmark against the U.S., the sample will be much larger than benchmarking against, say, California. Thus, there’s a tradeoff between accuracy and precision.

Channel Benchmarks - This report helps you better understand your performance against similar businesses from an acquisition channel standpoint. It helps answer questions such as:

Are my social campaigns performing well?
Should I invest more in display advertising?
Is my website search-engine optimized as compared to my competitors?

From determining which marketing channels are garnering you the most new leads to analyzing the path a user takes from initial interaction to final purchase, there’s a lot to be gained by sifting through the data that Analytics continuously collects.

Google Analytics for example, is an incredibly powerful tool that offers easily accessible insights from the moment you open the interface, but a lot of information can be missed if you don’t pay attention. The more you narrow your comparison by industry, location and business size, the smaller the sample size will be. Thus, if you operate in just a single country, benchmarking becomes even more simpler.

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