Your Engagement Metrics Aren’t Saying What You Think They Are

Measuring Engagement

Some of the most commonly used metrics, including Time on Site and Pages per Visit, may not be measuring engagement as accurately as you might think.  Trying to calculate something as nebulous as engagement is not an easy task. It’s not like tracking ecommerce actions, which have hard conversion metrics to track. Because site engagement takes so many different forms, using classic metrics like Time on Site and Pages per Visit may not be giving you an accurate depiction of the engagement that’s actually occurring.

The Fallacy of “High Numbers = Stronger Engagement”

The data that Time on Site and Pages per Visit provides isn’t necessarily inaccurate — it just isn’t telling you what you think it is. The common belief is if people spend more time on a site or read more pages, then engagement is higher. But this isn’t always the case, nor is lower necessarily better.  This is especially true when looking at a site-wide average.

This is because different types of content on your site have different engagement profiles. For example, would you expect a person to spend more than 30 seconds on a page that contains a 30 second video? Each of the following content types has a very different engagement profile:

  • A three page article
  • A two page article
  • A page with a handful of bullet points or quotes
  • A photo slideshow

Let’s focus in on Time on Site. While a high Time on Site metric could mean the content is engaging, it could also mean the content isn’t clear or maybe they just can’t figure out how to navigate to where they want.

Additionally, a low Time on Site metric could also reflect positive engagement — for example, a person who gets to a page, finds what they are looking for and moves on is a clear cut example of a successful user experience.

So What Should You Track?

Create opportunities to track hard conversions. A hard conversion is defined as a situation where a given action results in the firing of a conversion tracking pixel. Using hard conversions to track engagement is difficult, but not impossible. It just requires a little creative thinking. For written content, including multi-page articles, you can track clicks when someone goes to view the next page of an article.  If your content is on a single page and you don’t want to break it up across multiple pages, consider adding an accordion expansion or a link requesting some action at the end of the article that you can track.

Tracking video engagement is a solved issue. Many video player solutions like Brightcove and YouTube make it very easy to trigger events when a specific percentage of the video is played or a certain amount of time has elapsed (for example, a caption that pops up at a specific point in the video).  Determine how much of your video someone needs to watch before they would have received your message, and then have your video player trigger a conversion at that point.

Ask them. A simple survey that pops up when someone leaves your site or a certain page/section can tell you quite a bit about how successful you were in engaging them.  Not everyone will answer it, but it is certainly less arbitrary than judging based on how much time they spent on a page.

At the end of the day, there are some situations where engagement measurement is inherently fuzzy.  Not everything is as simple as tracking a conversion on a download link or a sale.  But with a little out-of-the-box thinking, you can gain a much clearer picture of site engagement. However it all starts by asking yourself what your current conversion metrics are really telling you.  Play devil’s advocate with yourself and try to come up with scenarios that prove your KPIs wrong to truly determine the accuracy of the numbers you’re looking at. Now look for a better approach.