What Online Engagement Means to Your Web Site

Last week, I attended eMetrics in Toronto; I presented as well as attended many of the sessions. Once again, it was a great conference and the discussions among attendees were valuable.

During lunch, I joined a table with long-time friend, Jim Novo. I happened to sit next to Jerry Tarasofsky, CEO of iPerceptions, a company that measures the online customer’s voice. We got talking and the idea of measuring online engagement came up, including what it means, how to measure it, and why it matters to your business.

At my company, we use different levels and measurements of engagement to understand the offline and future impact a site experience may have on a business. Measured a number of different ways, it’s considered more or less valuable depending on the industry, business, and goals of the site. When looked at in the appropriate way, engagement can be a valuable approach to assess your site’s success, but it must be done in both an attitudinal and behavioral fashion.

Too often, engagement is used as an out to not really measure anything. Someone who viewed 15 pages on a site isn’t automatically more engaged than someone who viewed 4. Seven minutes versus four minutes doesn’t tell you anything, either. The person who spent more time or looked at more pages could have been having trouble finding what he was seeking and left the site unimpressed and frustrated, with no intentions to return. The person who spent less time could have sought one piece of information that was the last thing she needed before becoming a customer (or repeat customer). And she was pleased at how quick and efficient your site was at getting her what she needed at that moment — obviously a positive experience.

Tarasofsky views engagement as more of a state of mind with long-term intentions. He likens it to what most people think of when they think of engagement (nothing to do with Web analytics!) — marriage. Engagement is premarriage. It’s a step right before that long-term commitment. Your intentions at the point of engagement are really driving toward a long-term relationship with your partner.

With that in mind, consider what engagement means between a customer and a company. It can mean something similar as well. The Web doesn’t stand alone for most businesses, because there are many factors that influence a person to become a customer (or become engaged with/to the company). For many businesses, the Web is just one piece of the pie, although an important piece. Again, engagement with a company should show some level of commitment. As I’m sure Tarasofsky would agree, engagement can’t only be measured through behavioral Web metrics. You must understand how those online behaviors changes perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes about your company. When focusing on engagement, you must tie in both attitudinal and behavioral measures and be sure you truly focus what drives that level of improved engagement with your business.

During this conversation, Novo chimed in. With so much talk about online engagement, he said, what’s really important is the level of disengagement, that is, what percentage of people come to your site (remember just one piece of the marketing/communications pie) and end up leaving the site with plans of divorce before they’re even fully engaged. Novo pointed out that if you can understand what causes that, then change your site to help address the issue, you can make a significant impact. It makes sense that you can work really hard offline and ruin it with a poor experience online. Novo agreed that you can’t know this simply by looking at behavioral Web analytics data.

Tarasofsky and Novo both made great points, which got me thinking a bit:

  • Engagement shouldn’t be taken lightly. Take the time to define what engagement means to your business, customers, and prospects. It is, of course, OK (and encouraged) to have different levels of engagement.
  • To measure engagement online, look at attitudinal data as well as behavioral data. It’s not possible to get the full picture with behavioral data alone.
  • Understand what you’re doing to disengage your visitors, and at what rate.
  • There’s no magic formula for engagement. It depends on your business, Web objectives, visitors, and offline messaging and experiences.
  • Don’t let engagement become a cop-out to avoid measuring what really matters. Companies must define what success means to them and their customers, whether the conversion happens online or offline. Don’t define engagement as the number-one thing you want people to do on your site. Yes, there are times when this might be the case, but they aren’t as common as some would like to think.

I’ll be at eMetrics in San Francisco the first week of May. Let me know if you are attending and want to chat!

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