You might have been seeing the word “Engagement” bouncing around a lot recently in marketer & blogger circles. This is for a good reason: creating good content is really hard, so when you labor to put something out there, you naturally want to know how it did, right? Many smart people are scrambling to figure out that next all-important digital yardstick, and although there are various definitions currently in circulation, most of those smarties are calling it Engagement, because they’re unified by a desire to go beyond the pageview, and measure how visitors actually engage with content.

In this post, I humbly submit our own definition of Website Engagement, and explain why you should be paying attention to it on your blog. Sound good? Then let’s begin.

This is the only Star Trek "engage" pun in this post, I promise.

This is the only Star Trek “Engage” pun in this post, I promise.

Website Engagement: a definition

The simplest definition of Website Engagement on the Web*:
* That you can find in a 5-minute google search

Website Engagement is a measure of how well your website persuades people to do stuff.

What that “stuff” is, depends on your website’s objective. All websites have an objective – something they’re trying to get you to do. Some websites want you to buy something, others to sign up for an account; many of them just want you to stick around for a while and read – and all of them do this with varying degrees of success. When visitors arrive at your website, they take measurable steps toward that objective – these actions are described using the umbrella term Engagement.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Engagement isn’t a binary “engaged/not engaged” switch you can flip. It’s more like a sliding scale, since some visitors will immediately leave upon arriving at the page, while others may rabidly consume your words of wisdom, share, comment and subscribe all in one sitting – and most of your visitors lie somewhere in-between. If that sounds fuzzy, it’s because it is – but fear not! The touchpoints that make up engagement are actually quite familiar and can be precisely defined and measured. More on that in the future (i.e. you should take a minute to subscribe, so you don’t miss this post).

Why it’s important to track engagement

Off the top of my head, here are five good reasons, but there are definitely lots more out there:

#1 Pageviews suck

Today, many are still using pageviews as THE measurement of website success, which is like asking a friend “Hey, how was last night’s episode of The Walking Dead?*”, and having them respond “Over 8 million people watched it!”. You’d be like “Um…what?”.

*By the way, I love The Walking Dead, and will find any excuse to insert it on this blog. You have been warned.

*By the way, I love The Walking Dead, and will find any excuse to insert it on this blog. You have been warned.

Naturally, you were looking for some kind of assessment of the overall quality of the episode, details as to events that happened, and insights into what the implications of those events are for the future. Simply knowing the number of people who watched it is lacking in any of the good stuff you want to know (like omg, are they gonna kill Glenn? Noooo!), right?

The reign of the pageview as arbiter of online success will end very soon, because they’re incapable of describing how people interact with content – indeed, prominent folks in the industry are already calling for their death. Their very name hearkens back to the days of a much-less interactive web, when viewing the page was pretty much all you could do.

#2 Keywords just don’t cut it any more

The days of stuffing your posts with carefully-chosen keywords are…well, they’re not over, because lots of folks are still doing it, but Google and other search engines are no longer falling for such cheap parlor tricks.

The Panda 4.1 update hit less-engaging sites pretty damn hard

The Panda 4.1 update hit less-engaging sites pretty damn hard

Panda 4.1 was a major update to Google’s search engine algorithm that factored visitor engagement touchpoints like time on site and bounce rate when ranking sites in search results. This has proven a boon to a lot of serious content marketers who invest heavily in producing good content – but it was also a death-knell to content farms and keyword-stuffers, some of whom saw their organic traffic slashed by up to 50% in the wake of the update!

#3 Creating good content is tough

It takes a significant investment of time and effort to create great content, and if you’re not tracking how engaging it is to your visitors, you’re not only blind as to how it’s performing, you’re losing out on opportunities to improve it – either through optimizing your posts or figuring out what to write about in your next post. This can have a real cost, especially if you’re creating content in order to drive revenue.

Content marketing is on the rise, because it pays off over the long term – you create it once, and then it continues to attract visitors, some of whom become users/customers/subscribers. Even better, content that doesn’t resonate now, can become incredibly relevant in the blink of an eye – hence the appearance of content-aggregators like Upworthy.

#4 It lets you do more with what you have

Getting good quality traffic these days is a hard, painstaking process – but it’s not the only way to increase your numbers. Monitoring and improving your website’s engagement can yield awesome gains with sometimes only minimal effort, meaning you’re able to do more with the traffic you already have.

#5 It will save the web

Imagine a web where the only thing you need to focus on is creating the best content – a true online meritocracy – in order to get traffic, instead of having to worry about SEO and keywords and URL structures and meta tags and A/B testing your headlines and making sure Facebook is pulling the correct image into your fan page, and all the other utterly bullshit hoops that you have to jump through these days. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

By shifting our emphasis onto engagement instead of pageviews as a measurement of success, the incentives are completely realigned with quality, instead of discoverability – which renders truly annoying things like comment spam and keyword stuffing obsolete. Sigh, sounds like paradise…

enraptured joy gif

Convinced?

So there it is – hopefully you now have a better idea of what this new-fangled engagement thing is all about, and understand some of the reasons why it has us web folks’ hearts all a-flutter. Which leaves a big question: how do you go about measuring it, exactly?

Doesn’t that just sound like a great topic for my next post?