The oh-so-elusive engagement metric

I was fortunate enough today to catch Eric T. Peterson‘s webinar about engagement, held by the International Institute for Analytics. The presentation was informative and, in some ways, reassuring. Why? Because even one of the leading experts in Web Analytics essentially agrees that engagement is not an objective, clearly defined metric, nor an easily measurable one. (What a sad day it would be to find out that measuring engagement is clear and simple, and I was just missing the point!)

While Peterson spoke of various definitions, as well as a “formula” by which he has measured engagement, he was very clear that this wasn’t the only possible formulation, nor that there was even one agreed upon industry definition.

What it came down to essentially was that:

  • Engagement truly doesn’t have a clear definition, at least not in the sense of “it is comprised of X + Y + Z metrics”. We all agree on the concept generally, but not necessarily what elements go into measuring it.
  • Sites really need to evaluate what engagement means in relation to their experience.

Perhaps this should be disheartening. Perhaps I should want a clear, defined notion of “engagement”.

But here’s why I don’t …

  • Web analytics is not simple (and anyone who thinks it probably isn’t doing much with it – if you are, and you still think it’s simple, please send me your resume!) Therefore I can’t believe a concept as powerful as engagement can actually be simple. Few (if any) web metrics are useful in and of themselves. We need context for our data to be meaningful. Engagement should be the same – it needs to be defined in the context of the site in question. (And its definition should be continually repeated and reinforced within an organisation, so everyone understands. A metric becomes more meaningless as we start forgetting what it actually represents and how it is defined.)
  • This fuzzy lack-of-definition of engagement allows flexibility. It allows the concept of an engagement metric to be truly tailored to the site it is measuring. No cookie-cutter solutions, or square pegs shoved into round holes, but something that is thought out, keeping in mind the goals of the business and the site’s visitor behaviour.
  • But most importantly – sites that work to define engagement as it pertains to their experience, to capture the data and to process, analyse and segment by engagement level will not let it turn into another useless metric touted at executive meetings. It will have meaning because of its specificity to the site in question, because it is truly helpful in understanding the site and its visitors’ behaviour.

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