There’s a variety of definitions of website engagement out there – hey, I’ve even shared my own in a previous post – but on one thing, they all agree: engagement is tricky to measure. So I decided to tackle this thorny topic, and see if I can’t shed some light on how to understand and track your website’s engagement yourself.
In Part 1 of this mini-series, I’ll deal with the theory – we’ll get familiar with the basic elements that make up engagement. In Part 2, we’re going to get into the practical side of measuring engagement, starting with a free Engagement Tracking report template, and then sharing a selection of tools for measuring these elements that I’ve found particularly useful in the past.
Sound straightforward? Then, let’s forge ahead with some theory! (Oh, and if you don’t want to miss Part 2, make sure you subscribe, so I can give you a heads-up when it’s published).
The Theory: Engagement Touchpoints
“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” ~ Verbal Kent, The Usual Suspects
Here’s a shocking truth about website engagement: it doesn’t exist! Until we’re able to see exactly what each and every one of your website visitors is thinking while they peruse your website, we cannot directly measure website engagement with today’s technology.
Case closed, the end.
And yet… engagement can be inferred.
Much like when they’re in love, people exhibit distinct behavioral signs when they’re engaged with your site. They might linger awhile, they’re more easily persuaded to do what you want, they’ll be more chatty around you and they might even show up outside your bedroom window, roses in hand, ready to sing a song about you that they just wrote themselves.
Okay, maybe not that last thing (unless your site is super-engaging), but the point is, taken individually, no single indicator is the smoking gun of engagement. When considered holistically, and viewed in context with one another however, your visitors’ true feelings come shining through!
We call these signs Touchpoints, since they’re the points at which your visitors are interacting with, or otherwise showing active interest in, your website’s content. Put simply, they’re any action the user takes on the page.
There are numerous smart folks out there thinking hard about content engagement, each with their own perspectives, but here are some of the more commonly-recognized engagement touchpoints (in hilarious, metaphorical animated GIF form):
Long held up to be the ultimate arbiter of website performance, Visitor Pageviews are falling out of favor with people who are serious about how their website actually performs overall. While Pageviews convey reach and volume, they merely scratch the surface of a visitor’s relationship with your website, and fail to give any insight as to in-page activity.
With that said, when factored in with other touchpoints like the ones below, pageviews can give you an idea of what content is attracting the most visitors to your website, as well as a contextual picture of the relative significance of other activity that’s happening at the same time.
For instance, if you have 5,000 visitors, and only 10 shares per day, you’d be pretty bummed at the weak sharing rate of your site. But if you had only 25 visitors and were still pulling down 10 shares/day, you would (should) be stoked! In this way, Pageviews can provide us the context we need to look at our measurements, and definitively answer the question: “So, are we doing well?”
A Bounce is what happens when visitor arrives on a page of your site from an external source, decides they don’t want to be there, and immediately leaves. Bounces are different from most of the other touchpoints, because they’re one of the few things your visitors can do to actively signal disengagement with your website.
I like to envision the Bounce Rate of each page on your site as a leak in the bathtub – to retain the most water, you should search for the biggest leaks in the tub, and patch them up.
Internal Link Clicks
The click has been another staple of the web analytics toolbelt for quite a while, but this is a slightly different flavor. Internal Clicks (sometimes referred to as “Page Depth”) happen when your visitors go to another page on your site, rather than simply leaving, and indicating they’re interested in seeing more of what you have to offer.
A lot of people focus on this one – the number of times your content is shared on one of the many social networks out there. There’s much to be said about monitoring and measuring the amount of chatter generated on social networks by shares of your content, (and the sharers who share them), but for the purposes of website engagement, we’re primarily concerned with on-page shares, instead of in-network shares, since the former is more directly influenced by the actual level of engagement of your website visitors.
Form submissions actually take 3 separate forms: Comments, Subscriptions, and Messages (via your contact form). All of these are good indicators of engagement, but occur at varying rates across your site – for example, if you only have your contact form on one page, but leave all your posts open for comments, you’re more likely to get comments, than contacts.
In practicality, it can be difficult to distinguish between the types of form submissions automatically, given the wide variety of different plugins and tools available for capturing these submissions, so for the purposes of this post, we’ll just lump them together, mmkay?
Even if a visitor isn’t madly clicking around on your site, they can still exhibit engagement in the form of reading – and until Apple bakes secret eye-tracking technology into every laptop, phone, tablet, watch and even iCar around us, Scroll Depth can help us determine whether they’re paying attention.
Scroll Depth is a measure of how far down the page a visitor gets before they leave. By monitoring the average depth reached by all visitors to a page, you can infer how compelling the content was – are most readers finishing the post, or are they bailing before you can deliver the coup de grâs in your final paragraph?
When your visitor has had enough, and decides to go trawl the web for more animated cat GIFs, they’ll leave your site, registering an Exit on a specific page. Similar to Bounces, Exits are another way that your visitors can signal disengagement with your site
Wait a sec: What about Time on Site?
The keen-eyed among you may be wondering why Time on Site isn’t included with these touchpoints. This is a personal stand of mine, because time spent on my site by my visitors doesn’t automatically mean they spent that time engaging with my content.
We live in a multi-screen world – one where a person’s visit to my site might coincide with their favorite show on Netflix, or a good text conversation, or a record-breaking Angry Birds session on the iPad. In other words, there are so many other things competing with my content for my visitors’ undivided attention. In this scenario, it’s quite plausible for my visitors to rack up high Time on Site by simply arriving on one of my pages, then getting up and leaving the room – hardly a sign of good engagement with my content!
In summary: Engagement is more than the sum of its parts
So you can see that Engagement – while somewhat of a nebulous concept, is an umbrella over several concrete and measurable actions that your visitors are able to take on your website. Tracking these actions over time, and establishing a baseline for what’s normal, and what’s abnormal for your site is the basis upon which you can build a process of finding the main drivers of engagement, and understanding exactly how to go about growing it.
We’ll delve more into that in Part 2 of this series, where we cover the practical how-to’s of measuring website engagement but in the meantime, tell me something: which engagement Touchpoints are most important to you – and why? Let me know in the comments!