How do you calculate engagement? Part II
Given that my last post on measuring engagement generated a fair amount of feedback, I wanted to follow-up with the post that in retrospect I should have published first, the nuts and bolts behind the engagement calculation.
Since there are numerous definitions of “engagement” that could be applied to the online channel, I choose to use the following definition:
Engagement is an estimate of the degree and depth of visitor interaction on the site against a clearly defined set of goals.
My definition sounds like conversion rate except engagement is a more flexible concept, one that can accommodate a variety of business needs such as those described by Bill Gassman in his comments to my last post and those of Craig Danuloff who is looking for a metric that accommodates a variety of visitor activities.
Based on my knowledge of my site visitors and their long-term usage patterns, my engagement goals are as follows:
- I would like that visitors would view and interact with certain content on my site;
- I would like visitors to subscribe to this weblog to stay connected;
- I would like visitors to maintain a low recency with my content, regardless of whether they’re reading blog posts or viewing pages on my site;
- When visitors are on my web site, I would like them to spend a reasonable amount of time interacting with my content;
- When visitors return to my site, I prefer they remember my domain name and return to my site directly, either via a bookmark or by directly entering my URL into their browser.
Now, many of you will likely argue with these criteria, and fairly so. It’s fine that you may have a different definition of engagement for your site; I think that Bill put it best when he commented:
“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.”
I’m using the criteria I listed above based on my knowledge of my site visitors, mined from a variety of channels including site activity, email, comments, personal conversations, etc., juxtaposed against my site’s business objectives (see below.) Given a sufficiently flexible analytics package you can build your engagement metric using any goals you like …
Regarding item #1 in the list above, wanting visitors to interact with certain content on my site, here are the activities I am tracking broken down by moderate- and high-value:
- Read my weblog
- Read about the Web Analytics Business Process
- Research web analytics jobs
- Add a link to my link database
- Read comments about my books
- Give me an email address
- Host a Web Analytics Wednesday
- Join the Web 2.0 Measurement Working Group
- Consider buying one or more of my books
- Buy one or more of my books
- Read about any of my books
- Read about my Key Performance Indicator Worksheets
- Download a sample copy of one of my books
- Email me directly
- Submit a comment to my weblog
- Go to Amazon.com to check out my books
Because it is very difficult to know a visitor’s intent when they visit a web site, these activities are designed to allow me to examine the visitor not in the context of their intent but rather in the context of my site’s specific objectives. I maintain Web Analytics Demystified for three primary reasons:
- To sell my books
- To maintain my visibility in the web analytics field
- To have a channel through which I can continue to contribute ideas to our community
You may argue that tracking a visitor’s interaction with specific contents is a poor measure of engagement given that visitors may be looking at an entirely different set of content and are intensely engaged … fair enough. But these lists represent the activities that visitors can perform on my web site that are in-line with my stated business objectives.
If highly-engaged visitors are interacting with some other content on my site, that would prompt me to reconsider that contents contribution to my engagement calculation and perhaps add it to one of the lists above. My belief is that any engagement estimate must take content consumption into account given that it is the content that drives visitor engagement in the first place.
This post is getting long so it’s clear I’ll need a “Part III” (and maybe a “Part IV”) but here is something tangible to chew on until I have time to post again. Based on my five business goals stated above, my engagement calculation is essentially this:
(Pct High-Value Content Consumption Sessions + Pct Moderate-Value Content Consumption Sessions + Blog Subscriber Reads per Session + Pct Recent Sessions + Pct “Long” Sessions + Pct Direct Sessions) / 6
I am calculating the percentage of sessions on a per-visitor basis and summing those percentages to generate an “engagement score” between 0.0 and 6.0. I convert this score to a percentage itself to make it easier to read and voila! I can apply my engagement metric to any dimension I am tracking in Visual Site.
By clearly defining my engagement goals and then systematically scoring visitors against that framework, I can build a metric that can be objectively applied regardless of whether visitors buy a book. I can apply my engagement estimate to any dimension I am tracking on my site, allowing me to discover patterns of visitor behavior that would not be obvious based on more traditional metrics such as conversion rate, session duration, or page view count.
Just so I don’t lose you, here is one of the visualizations I am using to better understand visitor engagement showing visitor engagement by percent of visitors by visitor city:
It’s hard to see with the scale I’m providing in this image but I can assure you that the long-tail is there. And sure, with my $50 book I’m unlikely to launch a geo-targeted marketing campaign in markets where visitors are, on average, twice as engaged as my site-wide population … but maybe you would!
Until next time, I welcome your comments and criticism.