How do you calculate engagement? Part I

Published by Eric T. Peterson on December 8, 2006 All posts from Eric T. Peterson

My good friend Clint Ivy and I were talking awhile back and he asked me, “So what do you think about Scoble’s call for an engagement metric?” I said, “Huh?” since I had long since stopped reading Robert Scoble, but apparently he had rubbed Clint the wrong way.

Anyway, I had been working on a project for a customer and we had been talking about how to measure engagement on their web site. We’d gone round-and-round on ideas about what constitutes an “engaged” visitor and narrowed it down to a few key areas:

  1. The visitor views “critical” content on the web site
  2. The visitor has returned to the web site recently
  3. The visitor returns directly to the web site some of the time
  4. Some high percentage of the visitor’s sessions are “long” sessions
  5. If available, the visitor is subscribed to at least one available site feed

So, with this in mind, visitors that are consuming content slowly and methodically and returning directly to the site are well-engaged. Visitors who have also subscribed to some type of “push” feed are more engaged, and even more so if they’ve returned to the site recently.

Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

Using this model, sites like Yahoo! and Digg will have very engaged visitors, whereas sites like mine will have slightly less engaged visitors. That also sounds reasonable, given that Yahoo! and Digg are social networks and Web Analytics Demystified is more or less a weblog, a geek hub, and a job board (in that order).

It turns out that my audience is, on the whole, 32.3 percent engaged.

Perhaps more importantly, visitors that I get from the following sources are engaged at the following rates:

You can see there that my friend Avinash is sending me pretty good folks but Avinash’s people are slightly less engaged with my site than the “average” visitor. That and they hopefully already have my books because pretty much none of them are buying Web Analytics Demystified or The Big Book of Key Performance Indicators from my site! They’re not even taking advantage of the great combo-offer I have on both books!

Perhaps most interesting and wonderful is that my engagement metric allows me to build wonderful visualizations like this scatter-plot to compare the volume of referred visitors to engagement in a way that more easy on the eyes than your basic table or line graph.

Most importantly, because I am running the industry’s most easy-to-use yet powerful web analytics application supporting multi-source and multi-channel data analysis, I can vet my engagement index against real people who have come or are coming to my web site!

Cool, huh?

So Bill Gassman from the Gartner Group is among the most engaged visitors I have (I am quite honored, Bill!) Bill is consuming the content I deem most important to creating a relationship with my visitors, he is subscribed to my weblog, he keeps coming back, his sessions are of reasonable length, and he comes directly to my site or feed over 2/3rds of the time.

Bill is nearly 54 percent engaged with my site, approaching twice the average!

Compare Bill to Frank Faubert from Sane Solutions. Frank is seeing all of the content I believe to be most important and he also is well retained. However, Frank is not subscribed to my RSS feed so most of the time he is getting to my content indirectly then only spending a short period of time reading that content. Moreover, Frank hasn’t been to my site in the last 90 days.

Frank is only 21 percent engaged with my site so I guess maybe he doesn’t like me now that I’m not an objective, third-party anymore.

I’m interested in your thoughts about my engagement metric. Do you think I’m using the right inputs? Or am I missing something critical to how this metric should be calculated? I’d love you input since I know that the folks reading my weblog are among the brightest in the web analytics industry …

Next Time: Being a big fan of “showing my work”, I’ll provide the calculations behind my engagement metric so that you can calculate your site’s engagement in the safety of your own home. My hope is that through your comments and criticism I’ll be able to refine this metric down to something that any vendor can implement and any practitioner can use.

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  • Frank Faubert


    I think you have a flaws in both your data collection, and in the way you are thinking about engagement. I have been subscribed to your RSS feed for quite a long time, and I read it (along with many others) on a daily basis. I also have been to your web site in the past 90 days, though admittedly I don’t visit very often — mostly just to look at the status of the current Web Analytics Wednesday events.

    If asked, I would consider myself an engaged visitor of your site, as I consume all of the content that you are generating, on a daily basis. Given that you push the entirety of your post in your RSS feed, I have no need to visit your site directly. (And in fact, if you were to change this to only publish snippets of your posts via RSS to force me onto the site, I would unsubscribe.) Does the fact that I am very busy, yet I can leverage the technology of a good RSS aggregator to consume your content anyway, really make me any less engaged?

    PS: Let me know if you’d like to upgrade your tool to something a little more accurate. If you act by the end of the month, I might be able to get you a discount. ;)

  • Sébastien Brodeur

    I don’t think those people will be happy to see their e-mail on your blog thou.

  • Bill Gassman

    Hi Eric. Seeing my name in your reports reminds me how hard it is to be an anonymous dog on the internet.

    Seriously though, I am surprised that your analysis pegs me as one of the most engaged users to your site. I subscribe to your RSS feed via Yahoo, and eventually get around to reading each new posting, but my access is very occasional. Your email to me was the first that I was aware of the posting.

    Because I use Yahoo RSS, I always come to your site to read the postings. Sometimes I poke around a bit after reading the blogs, and maybe that qualifies me as engaged, but its mostly to remind myself what is there. Without RSS, I would be a much less engaged user.

    I find it interesting that Frank considers himself an engaged user, while I consider myself an occasional user. I haven’t even bought all of your books! That is backwards from your analysis. The metric sounds great, and would be very useful for the new premium content portion of Gartner’s site, but the metric needs some calibration.

  • Eric

    Sebastien: You raise a good point. I purposefully picked some folks I know to be intelligent and reasonable individuals. Hopefully they aren’t too angry (Bill doesn’t sound angry, see his comment.)

    Bill: Just like Frank, you raise a good point. In my next post I’ll share some of the basis for my calculations and I’d love your critique of the formula I’m using. It’s not super complex and easy to change so hopefully my good readers will facilitate the refinement of this potentially powerful metric!

    Now go deleted your cookies ;-)

    Thanks to everyone who has written in via email and comments. I’ll work on catching up on the feedback over the weekend.

  • Bill Gassman

    Well, I wasn’t that engaged on this site before, but I am now. Eric’s posting got me thinking about engagement and I wrote up my thoughts about it, to be published in a subscriber only portion of the Gartner site. Since Eric started this, I’d like to share some of my thoughts here too….

    Measuring Web Site Visitor Engagement

    I think Eric is on the right track with a metric describing engagement, but it will be complex to work with and difficult to measure. Complex, because “engagement” has different meanings across applications and, without training, people will interpret it in their own way. Check out engagement at It lists 75 meanings for the term. The metric won’t be successful, unless users respect it for its potential. Claims of engagement mean nothing without information about how the metric was calculated and which business goal it correlates to. Complex derived metrics like this are easy to misuse for political gain or pats on the back.

    Each organization’s version of engagement will be unique. It will be derived from a number of root metrics, probably under a dozen. Common root metrics will be frequency, recency, length of visit, purchases and lifetime value. Some organizations may include visitor actions, such as subscribing, providing personal information, writing a comment, or participating in a blog. Soft metrics, such as attitude, influence and obsession may be used. Not all root metrics will come from the Web analytic tool. Many will use metrics from other channels such as call center actions and physical store visits. After relevance, the ability to capture quality measurements are key factors in choosing root metrics,

    With a laundry list of root metrics to choose from, what is the starting point? Engagement has to correlate with a core business goal, so that improving engagement helps achieve the goal. To calibrate the correlation, the engagement calculation should be normalized by scoring and weighting each root metric. That way, adjustments can be made until the model runs true. Initial calibration might take six months, and recalibration is an ongoing process.

    After some experience, advanced organizations might graph the metrics which make up engagement on a spider diagram. The spider will change as unique visitor segments are examined, and should reveal some non-obvious correlations. For example, RSS driven visitors may be engaged differently than those driven by search engines – yet still have similar total engagement scores. The result is a fine grained understanding of how different types of customers are engaged with a Web site, and increased ability to make business decisions that match customer intent with business goals

  • Clint

    Bill, you are the man! Your last comment about how engagement will be derived, how unique it is to the organization (or even potentially the individual business goal) is a much needed reality check for those out there just crying for an engagement metric like it’s something we can just pick up, dust off and put into use.

  • Pingback: Web Analytics Demystified » Blog Archive » How to measure visitor engagement, redux

  • Pingback: Calculer l’engagement de vos internautes « Yesak Web Analytics

  • Pingback: Web Analytics Demystified » Blog Archive » Measuring Engagement Online: The Next Stage

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  • http://ww Valentina

    Hi, everybody. The discussed topic about customer engagement is the subject of my research for my bachelor thesis. I am trying to develop a scale which measure the success of online marketing strategies, using the level of Customer Engagement as a criterion. I am still in the beginning of my research, so every piece of information, every opinion or suggestion is welcome. Till now, I have some ideas about the possible measurement. In my opinion, everything said or written about it is completely true, but also it is useless without direct specifications and adjustments to a particular industry, business, company’s size, objectives and many other factors which influence business conditions. The most important is the profit contribution brought by customer engagement. At the end everything comes to profit. Therefore it should not be underestimated.May be engagement is not just online activity. May be the more weight should be given to the physical activity, such as ordering and purchase. As Bill wrote above, although he hasn’t buy all the books, he is considered as an engaged customer. On the other side, some more profitable customers might not be considered just because they do not have enough time to browse the Web. And finally, why do we measure Customer Engagement? It is not just rating, is it? We have to apply the results in order to extract valuable information about the customers and their online and offline behavior. We have to use this information for better segmentation of the target market and improvement of our services and offerings. So if this is the actual goal of the campaign, shouldn’t we reconsider once more the definition of this term and simplify it to the extend at which it would be easily handled and efficiently used whenever needed?
    p.s. these are just my first impressions on the above topic. I am not a professional, neither a scholar. I would like to share my thoughts in order to provoke a reaction from your side such as critics, corrections, opinions. For me is important to develop a realistic and objective model. So I need your replay!!!
    Kind Regards!

  • Daniel Shields


    I’m very interested to hear about your thesis project and wondered if you would like to have a discussion about engagement and additional metrics which, like engagement, are indicators of mindsets or intent of site users. I think I speak for all of us when I say we’d love to hear more:

    Please see my most recent post:

    and email me directly if you are interested.


    Daniel Shields

  • Pingback: Gradual Engagement: Einde van de Online Formulier | Actual Insights

  • Pingback: Early Thoughts from Unsummit | UnSummit Blog

  • Pingback: Measuring User Engagement, with Examples from Yahoo

  • Pingback: Gradual Engagement: Einde van het Online Formulier | Share Joy | Vent Frustrations

  • Pingback: Engagement Metrics: What Are They? |

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