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Benchmarking: How to Compare the Numbers

The technical definition of a benchmark is “a standardized problem or test that serves as a basis for evaluation or comparison.” To put it simply: benchmarks help us answer the question “How are we doing?”

For the first time, benchmark figures are available to the public sector in our new GovDelivery benchmark report titled Improving Metrics that Matter. By releasing data from 1,800 government organizations measured over the last year, GovDelivery is essentially putting the public sector on par with marketers in the private and nonprofit sectors that have had their own benchmarking metrics for years.

Having valid benchmarks means that measuring performance in the public sector is no longer in isolation and that we can compare our work to an objective standard.

But in addition to measuring success against the standard, how do the metrics compare to one another?

Measuring by Subsector

In each section of the report, you’ll find each of the 5 important metrics (open rate, engagement rate, click rate, subscriptions per subscriber and overlay impact) broken out by federal government, state/local/transit (SLT) government and U.K. government organizations.

An interesting anecdote from this section of the report is that SLT organizations have – overall – higher engagement rates (55 percent), click rates (3 percent) and open rates (24 percent) than federal governments (46 percent, 2 percent and 14 percent, respectively). You might infer that citizens care less about information from federal government than they do more localized information, but this isn’t always the case.

By and large, federal organizations send information that is less immediately actionable to a larger group of people on a more regular basis. Additionally, subscribers are opting to receive more subscriptions from federal governments (2.95) than from state, local or transit organizations (2.3).

In other words, success isn’t always about having the highest engagement on all digital metrics – engagement in metrics like bulletin subscriptions and overlay opt-ins can also strongly contribute to a successful communications strategy if messages are more informative than actionable.

Variance by Vertical

The report also includes metrics by unique vertical. Just as types of information can vary greatly by subsector, communication content, goals and strategy can also vary greatly by industry.

For example, let’s consider the type of information that education-based organizations send to their audiences. For a statewide department of education, these updates might be information on school start dates or lunch program details. For a local education-based organization, this type of information might be on school safety or summer school updates.

With less actionable, but highly-valuable information that education-based organizations send, it’s not surprising that the industry’s open rate is the highest of any vertical at 26.52 percent.

Education-based verticals may be more focused on open rate than click rate, which is the percentage of recipients who clicked on at least one hyperlink compared to the total number who received it. For the education vertical, the median click rate is 3.5 percent.

Compare this to the Admin and Internal Employee Services click rate, which is 4.12 percent.

The variance can be explained by the type of information that the industries are sending. While education has higher open rates, it’s likely that departments sending employee benefit information will have more actionable requests like open enrollment or registration for employee training.


Benchmarking is an important exercise for measuring how your organization is doing – all world-class marketers use this practice.

But while metrics are vitally important to helping organizations at all levels of government optimize digital outreach and engagement efforts, it is critical to first understand which metrics are most important to you and why.

Start by asking: what is your ultimate goal, and how can these metrics help you get there?