Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Improving Engagement

Engagement's back on the menu. Eric Peterson gave a webinar recently with a excellent overview of engagement and discussed some new white papers written to measure it. However, due to the ambiguous nature of engagement, these measurement techniques (despite being the best attempt so far) are quite complicated and need to be tailored to the individual website.

Historically we measured engagement using page views per visit, time on site etc, but there was no way to define positive or negative sentiment, or distinguish an engaged visitor from a lost one. Currently companies are trying to bring in other datasets at their disposal to help, such as social and Voice of the Customer, but it's still fuzzy and subjective. We need to spend more time thinking about what engagement is, rather than just thinking of it as "someone who digs my site". To what extent are current methodologies for engagement measurement capturing actual engagement? Are we using the metrics at our disposal to define the concept of engagement as well as measure it?

Ideally we'd define engagement by what the visitors to our sites are thinking whilst carrying out their activities on the site as much as by what they did. But this isn't an ideal world. What we need to avoid doing is defining it by just selecting the metrics we can hold up against them. Broadly, an engaged visitor is likely to view more pages and exhibit an increased propensity to interact with your site whether internally (e.g leaving comments on posts) or externally (e.g. linking to your site). Obviously this again is dependent on the site and site type so can't be defined too tightly, creating the engagement paradox - we have a limited number of valid metrics at our disposal to capture behaviour that is too varied to define accurately. But it gets worse - we also need to bear in mind that visitors are unique and as such will interact differently on a site. Another thing we might need to take into consideration is at what stage they're at on the customer lifecycle:

Whilst we can argue the toss at which stage a visitor would become engaged, we can certainly agree that the latter stages would define engaged visitors. However, visitors in these different latter categories would likely display different types of behaviour, even though they were "engaged". A visitor who's yet to make a purchase but is close to making a decision would behave differently to a loyal multi-buyer. To me this highlights the fact that with the current tools at our disposal it's going to be hard work to build an engagement model anytime soon.

Might this change? Looking to the future, the increased importance of mobile to analytics and its implications for future web behaviour (geolocation) will bring more parameters and data to be used in the calculation of engagement. Whether this will make the calculation of engagement easier or not is debatable. Perhaps this is somewhere that the paid tools can bring some innovation to the market by looking to build an engagement feature into the interface? We're forever hearing the concerns around the amount of data available, but the lack of information coming out of it - this would be a great opportunity to right that wrong.
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