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How to really measure engagement

How to really measure engagement Nicole Rawski

Consumer brand interactions have come a long way in the past couple years. The social web has turned into a consumer's playground to talk about or interact with brands. People search for the best deals, assess product reviews, share the positive or negative insights with their social spheres of influence, and find locations -- whether online or brick and mortar -- to purchase a product. And, for better or worse, technology has provided ways to measure consumer engagement at each of these touch points. Sure, there are mountains of data to sift through, but you can't ignore it. Interpreting it correctly to understand how consumers are interacting with your brand is the Holy Grail for marketers.

How to really measure engagement

Certain brands or sites probably think they have it easy. They can optimize their sites for certain, tangible goals (i.e., leads, sales, and money). Brand sites that have a direct tie to purchase or lead generation through their online channel do have an easier time linking online activity to goals and objectives. But every brand can benefit from understanding online engagement, in addition to -- or in lieu of-- traditional conversions like sales and leads.

What is engagement?

In short, engagement is how a consumer is interacting with your brand. This can be on social assets, partner websites, or on your own site. While most brands are already using and optimizing social interactions on Twitter and Facebook, there's a lot to be learned and measured regarding user engagement on your brand's website. According to industry analyst Jeremiah Owyang, "Engagement indicates the level of authentic involvement, intensity, contribution and ownership." This can be summarized as "apparent interest," or how people are discovering your brand online.

How do I measure engagement?

While easy to define, engagement is much more difficult to measure, since it's related to many metrics, without being directly tied to one. Engagement isn't just average time spent on site, non-bounced traffic, or pages viewed per visit. These metrics each give us a better understanding of how a user is engaging with our website -- yet none of them hold the key. In order to use data to measure engagement, you have to get creative with what you're measuring.

In the past, engagement has been a tough metric to crack. Recent enhancements in measurement tools in addition to the content itself have provided marketers with the ability to get a deeper understanding of how users are engaging online. From integrated social sharing buttons, in-page print and email links, product downloads and rich media content, websites now offer such rich experiences that understanding engagement is becoming an easier task for marketers.

Innovating KPIs

Recently, I worked on a brand website that had no commerce and no lead generation. It was a large, content-rich brand site that did not sell directly to consumers -- not uncommon for larger brands that sell through distributors but still have to promote their product online (and maximize how consumers are engaging with their brand).
Without traditional conversion points, in order to measure overall engagement on the site, we had to get creative. Measuring pages viewed per visit wasn't sufficiently tied to business goals and objectives; it was more important to measure all activities visitors were doing to gain a better understanding of total engagement. So, we developed three areas of engagement and created new KPIs around each.

Site engagement rate
The site engagement rate is an aggregate of user activity on your site that you find of value for "engagement." We start by determining which actions are of value to the site's goals, earning users a point for each one engaged. Then each visitor's experience can be evaluated by total points based on how the user is occupied with what the brand thinks is the most valuable content.
Here's an example: Say a visitor lands on the home page, clicks the product detail page link, views information and emails the content to an email account to reference later. He or she took four actions that we found valuable within one visit. Does it mean he or she's going to purchase the product? Not necessarily, but it does show how engaged the user was. Then, when you include the entire population from the website, it provides a clear picture of how your audience is engaging. Now, instead of looking at page views per visit as an engagement rate, we can look at interactions, tied directly to goals and objectives, per visit.

Note that while this metric includes visitors with no intention of taking action, it still provides a good baseline for engagement. Additionally, this metric provides the most valuable data when segmented -- brands can make more valuable decisions about engagement based on site engagement rate among different audience types -- e.g., non-bounced visitors, specific traffic sources, media campaigns, targeted geographies, and more.

Community engagement metric
Like many brands, this client wanted to gain a deeper understanding of its most engaged users. Many sites have "gated content" available only to frequent visitors, converted shoppers, or registered users who have paid a premium. In this case, we focused on registered users only. Applying a similar methodology as with the site engagement rate, we created a weighted system for visitor actions, based on those relevant to business goals and objectives. Actions included new registrations, logged in users, posted comments and shared content. This metric not only segmented a specific group of users but used different behaviors and actions to understand how they engaged in the community setting.

Intent to purchase
This engagement metric aggregated data on behaviors related to locating and purchasing a product, without being directly tied to conversions -- e.g., clicks to vendor websites, store locator views, coupon downloads, and other actions tied to purchasing. The purpose of this metric is to identify the engagement rate for visitors who are further along in the purchase funnel.

Nicole Rawski can teach us all a thing or two about performance. As an Analytics Manager at Digitaria in San Diego, Nicole uses data to drive clients’ online presence and customer engagement. When she’s not helping clients reach new...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Marielle Hanke

2012, June 18

The article outlines some great practices on website engagement, but from its title I was hoping it would concentrate more on how we can successfully measure ad engagement online. The ad industry is working very hard to ensure 'viewability' of display ads but is this enough? The mere fact that display ads are in a viewable position on a page does not guarantee that it was actually seen or more importantly interacted with. -MH @cloudninemedia

Commenter: Brant Emery

2012, June 16

I wish we could reply to individual comments and create more of an open discussion!

But replying to Dan and in a way to Blaine, I count sharing as a part of brand referrals. Referrals these days, thanks to online and SM, has evolved to much more than direct word of mouth, or speaker-listener relationships. Sharing is referral. If you can inspire or trigger people to share your brand / content - they are adding value to that brand through direct validation within their networks. WOM is still the most prized of referral, but there are many other layers to delivering this influence today.

Commenter: Brenton Murray

2012, June 15

Good read. Really, the key to justifying any effort is measurable return. Well, unless you prefer the old "throw money at it and cross your fingers" technique.

The web has spoon-fed marketers our KPI's for so long, that it seems like many have forgotten how to measure the fuzzy data. There are so many dimensions of measurement that go beyond click-through and goal conversions. However, finding them often requires us to step back and really examine the situation from a holistic standpoint.

It blows my mind that there hasn't been more innovation in quantifying engagement in general. With the plethora of mediums, creating new forms of measurement seems ripe for the picking. I guess the million dollar question, though, is "how".


Commenter: Blaine Millet

2012, June 15

Nice article - more depth than most. I completely agree that there needs to be some level of "measurement" and "goals and objectives" set up front - we call this "STRATEGY" in my world - determining what we want to accomplish. Without this, it's a constantly moving target and one you won't hit most the time.

One area I don't think you really addressed that in my world as a Social Engagement Strategist is critical is the concept of "sharing". You briefly mentioned it but it deserves far more that a mention in my mind for the reader. Without "Engagement" and then "Sharing" you are simply "promoting and broadcasting" to your audience. Getting them to move to the much bigger step of "Sharing" this with their audience is worth 10X of someone just "checking you out" and leaving. It is also very measurable and something you can follow. In addition, if someone shares, it really means they have engaged far deeper than the number of visits, page views or clicks.

The ultimate goal in all this from a social media perspective is if you are creating or feeding "Word-of-Mouth" with your audience. If someone finds your content so valuable they want to "tell others" - even beyond sharing, then you really hit the home run. Word-of-Mouth is the holy grail of any company because it carries with it such high value and credibility and helps lower their own cost of sale. Achieving this goal should be the real focus for "engagement" - at least from my experience. Hope this helps add to your article - thanks for "sharing" it with us...


Commenter: Dan Green

2012, June 15

Yes indeed a great article-thank you. I guess I am reading this differently and just want to make sure I am understanding what Brant mentioned about defining engagement, which has been done in so many slippery ways. So thanks for this Brandt.

What I am understanding in this article, and what we do, is define what engagement is for particular content. I would consider sharing participation, thus engagement, by any definition, as I would one opening an email, clicking through and then depending on what is being asked (purchase, download, comment).

This seems to be what Nicole is saying-define this and measure it. Am I missing something? That has happened.

Thanks again to both of you,

Commenter: Brant Emery

2012, June 15

A great article, but flawed in one fundamental way, without a clear description and definition of what ''engagement" actually is, the article basically just describes advanced interaction metrics.

Engagement is about going beyond interaction to shared creation, shared development of the brand through inspired brand participation, usually identified through four key areas: Participation (e.g. local check-ins), Content Creation (user gen), Customer Ratings, or Referrals / Recommendations. All definable areas of consumer engagement that generate real value for the brand. With advent of social media, all these behaviours can be stimulated, measured and amplified. A boon for brands that do it the right way.

-Brant, bran(d)t, rentabrant.com