engagementEngagement is a buzz word. It is a quest. It is altar at which many worship.

Often though, atleast online, our hopes are dashed, efforts expended rarely have adequate ROI, the hype is followed with a bucket of cold water.

It is not that measuring if "Visitors" / "Customers" itself is a ignoble goal. It is more that our execution efforts in measuring engagement are fatally flawed. So much so that recently I was compelled to pen a warning post: “Engagement” Is Not A Metric, It’s An Excuse.

That post outlined the core issues faced in the quest of measuring Online Engagement. It also outlined a four step process you should follow when it comes to trying to measure engagement.

One of my central thoughts was that it is nearly difficult, if not near impossible, to measure Engagement, as many others have passionately recommended, based only on your quantitative data (in our case Web Analytics clickstream data).

So it was with great delight that I read Theo's email that helped me understand exactly why I felt that way! :)

When Theo proposed posting it here on Occam's Razor I quickly agreed.

Theo Papadakis is a Marketing Executive at cScape in London. Our paths first crossed when he invited me to contribute a thought piece to accompany the 2nd Annual Customer Engagement Survey Report (and to his credit he did so after having read my post above!). You can download the report, there are nice graphs and some interesting data and page twenty is quite interesting. :)

Here's Theo. . . . . .


Measuring Online Engagement: What Role Does Web Analytics Play?

Before we look at what aspects of a customer's online engagement Web Analytics can capture we need to clarify the meaning of the concept of customer engagement.

Definition of Customer Engagement (Engagement Index)

'Engagement' is a word with many meanings (vow, betrothal, involvement etc). For marketing purposes they can be boiled down to a single concept: one-way relation. If x is engaged with y, x is related to y.

The concept of customer engagement only deals with a particular kind of one-way relationship:

  • Subject of engagement: The subject of engagement should not be limited to customers.

    Although 'visitor engagement' is better in that it takes into account non-customer visitors to your website/store, its focus on measuring people's engagement with your brand on your own premises is too restrictive.

    It is important to measure the engagement of customers, prospective customers and detractors with our brand, in every space they engage with it in.

  • Object of engagement:

    The subject's relationship with a brand / company / product / consumption topic.

Now that we have defined what kind of relationships customer engagement deals with let's look at the criteria with which we can refine and classify the ways in which customers engage:

  • Kind: Customers can be positively or negatively engaged with a company/product.

    A more in-depth examination of kind would reveal its content, usually a mixture of emotional states and rational beliefs, such as, in the case of positive engagement, sympathy, trust, pride, etc

  • Degree: The degree of positive or negative engagement lies on a continuum that ranges from low involvement, namely, the psychological state of apathy, to high.

    An engaged person is someone with an above average involvement with his or her object of relatedness.

With the context setting out of the way. . . . .

What aspect of customer engagement can web analytics capture?

Having defined customer engagement we are better able to delimit what web analytics can and cannot tell us about the engagement of our website's visitors.

Let's look at some of the widely used web analytics metrics and understand what aspect of engagement they capture.

Unique Visits: Shows how many people decided to engage with you for the first time by visiting your website.

Frequency of Visit: Frequency must be contextualised within a specific time frame.

A customer who has engaged 10 times with the company in the past 10 years has a lower degree of engagement for example in relation to a customer who has also engaged 10 times in the company in the last 2 months.

Contextualised 'frequency' can therefore help us to identify the relative degree of our customers' engagement.

Recency of Visit: This metric speaks of the recency of our customers' last engagement.

recency of visit google analytics 1

Jim Novo has proven that it correlates well with degree of engagement. A customer whose last engagement with a brand is more recent than that of another is also likely to be more engaged.

Like frequency it therefore frames our customers' degree of engagement only relatively.

Depth of Visit: This tells us how many pages long our visitors' journeys through the site were.

depth of visit google analytics

Although a deep journey signifies a high degree of engagement this metric again does not distinguish between the kind of engagement.

Do your visitors passionately disagree with what you are writing about? Are they simply unable to find what they are looking for?

In both of these cases a high degree of engagement may be of a negative kind.

Time Spent on Site: Same story as with depth. Time spent correlates with degree of engagement but as it does not discriminate between kind it may simply be negatively spent desperately trying to find the content your visitor is after.

Similarly, most online metrics are only able to capture degree not kind of engagement:

  • Subscribing (feed, email, newsletter)
  • Registering
  • Feedback (comments, complaints, inquiries etc)
  • Rating\tagging\filtering\bookmarking its content
  • User submissions (UGC)
  • Printing or downloading a piece of content
  • Brand index

Degree of Engagement

What comes out of the above discussion is that

…it is impossible to derive the kind (positive/negative) of your visitor's engagement using web analytics alone, and, therefore, that…

…when we are talking about customer engagement in the context of web analytics, we are in fact talking about degree of engagement.

This is not to say that we cannot make inferences and state hypotheses about the kind/content of engagement, based on what we can measure (degree of engagement), nor that these hypotheses are unlikely to be correct.

It is only to say that using web analytics it is impossible to make or support such inferences.

Such inferences, about the kind of engagement, must necessarily be informed by considerations that lie entirely outside the field of web analytics.

Before we begin making inferences on the basis of degree of engagement however let's discuss this metric a bit more.

45degrees 1Following a number of leading Web Analysts I also believe that a customer's degree of engagement is better calculated as a synthetic metric composed of several basic metrics, rather than as a one-metric solution e.g. measuring customer engagement by means of 'duration of visit' only. This requires an argument unto itself that will not be pursued here.

The score each of these component metrics takes however only makes sense if contextualised. Example: a frequent and recent visitor is 'more engaged than' someone who is not, but is he engaged? If yes how engaged is he? There is little we can do with relative statements such as this.

In order to make such statements meaningful and operational we need to contextualize the component metrics that constitute a customer's degree of engagement on a high/low continuum, beginning with apathy and proceeding with progressively higher degrees of engagement.

This means that both the lowest (apathy) and the highest degree of engagement need to be defined. The easiest way to do this is to define the average degree of engagement (the average score for several metrics of your choice across your site or based on a competitor-specific or industry-wide benchmark), considering everything that falls short of it as (increasing degrees of) apathy and everything beyond it as (increasing degrees of) engagement. In this way a customer's degree of engagement assumes a non-relative meaning (it remains of course relative to your website's, competitor's or industry's historical performance).

x greater than y

By inserting relative statements such as 'x is more engaged than y if and only if x does z and y does >z' into a continuum that is based on website \ competitor \ industry benchmarks, it is possible to provide a reference point which although relative in itself (historical performance) is sufficiently stable and pertinent to business performance, to provide with useful insights into visitor behaviour and business\campaign success. (Substitute z with any or an aggregate of the visit metrics score(s)).


  • No web metric, or combination of metrics, can discriminate between kind of engagement i.e. positive engagement. This requires primary research.

  • All web metrics can do is discriminate between relative degrees of engagement.

  • Basic metrics can only discriminate between low degrees of engagement.

  • A customer with a high score in his visit metrics may nevertheless feel apathetic towards the brand.


That was interesting, was it not? You can now see why I found Theo's article to be so enlightening.

I found the nuance of the kind of engagement and the degree of engagement to be particularly insightful.

The next time I take quantitative data (even if I mash it into a formula of five different metrics and call it website engagement index!) to my C-level executives I will first state what my engagement index measures is Degree of Engagement.

My hope is this will result in a clear understanding of the limits of what the data is saying.

That then I hope will lead to questions about measuring the Kind on Engagement (and to exploring qualitative measures).

No false promises made from the data. Progress made by understanding its limits and exposing them. That's awesomeness. IMHO.

My heartfelt thanks to Theo for sharing this article with me, and now with all of us.

It's your turn now.

Agree? Disagree? What's your experience? Please share your perspectives, critique, bouquets and brickbats via comments.

Couple other related posts:

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