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.
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.
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.
Four tips for measuring engagement
In addition to creating custom KPIs that leverage user data into an understanding of user engagement, here are four additional things to consider:
Goals and objectives
Rather than focusing on overall sales or conversions, focus on the goals and objectives of the website. In order to translate analytics into engagement, it's important to interpret them in light of the purpose of the site: Who are you serving and what do they need or want? At the end of the day, your engagement analytics should help you make informed decisions on what and how to improve your site.
Always think about your users. Remember that people come to your website for different reasons. Consider what actions your users are likely to take while researching, purchasing, and even post-purchase. Understanding your users' goals will help you deliver a better user experience in addition to understanding which actions are most valuable to measuring engagement.
Creating KPIs and custom measurements is a good first step to understanding engagement, but in order to get to the core of what your users are doing, make sure you group those users accordingly. Which users are you targeting? Who do you want to know more about? Some metrics have built in segments, but sub-segments and geo-segments may provide more insight into your overall business goals.
Integrating social sharing, print, and email tracking into your site isn't just important for user experience, but it is important for understanding engagement. Social sharing by your users broadcast to their massive social networks is incredibly important for word-of-mouth marketing. But even more important than that, integrating social sharing provides key engagement insights. Which content motivated your users to share and how did they reach that content? Understanding this about your users could be potentially more significant than the social networks they reach.
Developing meaningful engagement metrics for your site, while easier than it used to be, is still quite a task. And although it's easy to overlook engagement metrics when your analytics team can rely on harder numbers like sales or lead conversions, engagement is still relevant to every brand. What your non-purchasers are doing may provide more valuable insights for your brand than what your most loyal customers are doing on your site. Challenge yourself to look beyond traditional metrics to understand how your visitors are -- or aren't -- engaging.
Nicole Rawski is analytics manager for Digitaria
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