The State of Ad Benchmarking in 2018


Social media, email marketing, and AdWords benchmarks for both B2B and B2C industries.

They say the devil is in the details. One of the most famous marketing success stories of the new millennium centers on this notion. In 2012, Target made waves when they accurately predicted a shoppers pregnancy through her shopping habits, before her and her family even knew about it through algorithmic accuracy.  

As the story goes, the shopper had purchased milk, lotion along with a few other items, and within weeks, the shopper’s dad was getting coupons for baby supplies in the mail. The dad, furious, phoned customer service, to which the customer service manager profusely apologized. A few days later, the dad calls back, and apologizes to the customer service manager, having realized that his daughter was actually pregnant.

Target understands a lot about our shopping habits, whether it’s pregnancy, a nephew’s birthday, etc., and does this through a few methods, according to the original New York Times report.

“Also linked to your Guest ID is demographic information like your age, whether you are married and have kids, which part of town you live in, how long it takes you to drive to the store, your estimated salary, whether you’ve moved recently, what credit cards you carry in your wallet and what Web sites you visit,” says Charles Duhigg of the New York Times. “Target can buy data about your ethnicity, job history, the magazines you read, if you’ve ever declared bankruptcy or got divorced, the year you bought (or lost) your house, where you went to college, what kinds of topics you talk about online, whether you prefer certain brands of coffee, paper towels, cereal or applesauce, your political leanings, reading habits, charitable giving and the number of cars you own.”

That’s what I mean when I say the devil is in the details. The way to accurately track and measure your audience is to get as creepy, and as detailed as possible.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for Every Sales Cycle

This one might be pretty obvious for the more seasoned marketer, but for many who are just starting out and don’t yet have a firm grasp on their KPIs, we’ve got you covered. First things first, your KPIs will be markedly different depending on whether your B2C or B2B-focused (we’ve spent some time talking about the differences between B2B and B2C writing in the past).

  1. For B2B: Whether your concern is bringing the sales cycle down from one year to 6 months, or from 8 months to one quarter, the main KPI you’re going to want to track is your conversion rate. Your secondary concern will be cost-per-lead. In order to measure both KPIs against a content-based strategy, you’ll need to be diligent in tracking all leads: measuring how long it took those leads to become sales, how much the sales were, etc. Having that conversion metric and breaking it down by marketing campaign is going to help underscore which tactics are working and which ones are duds.
  2. For B2C: For many in the B2C business, your leads are your conversions. So your primary metric will be cost-per-lead. Where short-term advertising and campaigning are your bread and butter, so too, is keeping profits above budget. Higher risk = higher reward; just don’t lose sight of those cost-per-lead numbers so you can make sure the reward stays high.

Regardless of industry, KPIs help ensure your marketing campaigns are worth it. According to Marketo, here are some other KPIs to track by campaign type:

  1. Leads per year
  2. Sales per year
  3. Value generated per year
  4. Value of customer
  5. Value of campaign
  6. Conversion rates
  7. Customer lifetime value


AdWords Benchmarking

The point of benchmarking is “context”. Without context, you’re just looking at numbers with no way of interpreting whether or not your campaign is performing effectively.

The most useful benchmarks that we use for our clients are in regards to AdWords, where the dollar-for-dollar cost matters the most. The folks at WordStream, who have done an amazing job of surveying a sample of 2,367 US-based companies, have put together the following benchmarks for B2B.

  • B2B has an average click-through-rate (CTR) of:
    • 2.55% in Search
    • 0.22% in Google Display Network (GDN)
  • B2B has an average cost-per-click (CPC) of:
    • $1.64 in Search
    • $0.37 in GDN
  • B2B has an average conversion rate of:
    • 2.58% in Search
    • 0.96% in GDN
  • B2B has an average cost-per-action of:
    • $63.57 in Search
    • $38.54 in GDN

On the flipside, the benchmarks for B2C and E-Commerce look quite different.

  • E-Commerce has an average CTR of:
    • 1.66% in Search
    • 0.45% in GDN
  • E-Commerce has an average CPC of:
    • $0.88 in Search
    • $0.29 in GDN
  • E-Commerce has an average conversion rate of:
    • 1.91% in Search
    • 0.96% in GDN
  • E-Commerce has an average cost-per-action of:
    • $46.07 in Search
    • $30.21 in GDN

Notice the CPC for E-Commerce versus the CPC in the B2B industry; they’re wildly differing, because of wildly different goals. Where $1.64 is good for B2B, it’s terrible for B2C.

Email Marketing Benchmarks

For email marketing, benchmarking is broken down by more detailed industry types, so you can see how the data points relate to your specific audience. Take the professional services industry, for example, which mostly falls in line with B2B sales pipelines. Here is how MailChimp identifies their primary benchmarks.

Professional Services benchmarks for email marketing:

  • Email open rate: 20.89%
  • Email click-through-rate: 2.47%
  • Email soft bounce rate: 0.92%
  • Email hard bounce rate: 0.72%
  • Email abuse report rate: 0.02%
  • Email unsubscribe rate: 0.31%

Compare that with something a little more B2C, like E-Commerce, for email marketing:

  • Email open rate: 16.75%
  • Email click-through-rate: 2.32%
  • Email soft bounce rate: 0.30%
  • Email hard bounce rate: 0.24%
  • Email abuse report rate: 0.02%
  • Email unsubscribe rate: 0.23%

While those two don’t seem totally different upon first glance, professional services and B2B marketing relies heavily on word-of-mouth, customer advocates, and content marketing. So many in those lists are people who have interacted with the sender in some capacity or another, and thusly, those email open rates will be a little higher than with an E-Commerce brand whose interaction with the customer relies heavily on ads, brand awareness, and digital-only engagement.

Social Media Benchmarks

The social media platforms that your company puts a primary focus on probably differs from industry to industry. For example, for our B2B clients, we put the focus on LinkedIn, Facebook and maybe Twitter -- maybe. For our real estate clients, we put the primary focus on Instagram and Facebook. For our E-Commerce clients, we focus on Facebook and Pinterest. At the core of all three is some strategy around Facebook.

According to RivalIQ, the average Facebook engagement rate across all industries is 0.17%. That’s extremely low, but that’s because you need to pay to play to get any traffic from Facebook.

So for fashion, the average engagement rate is 0.13%; for media, the average engagement rate is 0.12%, for food & beverage the average engagement rate is 0.23%; for nonprofits, the average engagement rate is 0.27%; and for higher education, the average engagement rate is 0.33%.

When putting that in context with those industry’s average Facebook posts-per-day, the engagement rate starts to sound ludicrous.

The average Facebook posts per day is as follows:

  • Health and Beauty: 0.9
  • Fashion: 0.9
  • Media: 8.3
  • Food and Beverage: 0.6
  • Nonprofits: 1.4
  • Higher education: 1.2

So for media, for example, their engagement rate might be hovering around the top of the bell curve at 0.12%, however, they’re posting 26x more often than the other industries, so the volume of the click-throughs are going to be much, much higher.

This might be a little overwhelming at first glance, but take your data covering the entire year, from all of your strategies, and compare. It’s only by looking back and understanding how our strategies succeeded in context with the industry averages can we effectively move forward in 2018.

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