How can anyone measure audience engagement?

That’s an important question that anyone who runs a website should consider. Everyone designs their websites with some sort of user engagement in mind. Whether it’s simply reading the content, or providing their information, or purchasing a product, there is always a goal in mind. It’s easy to measure the number of widgets sold and the number of rows in your CMS, but there are a few other metrics you can use to see how engaged your website visitors are.

In all of our web analytics reports, we’re always sure to spend some time talking about one way of measuring engagement: stickiness. A website’s stickiness is essentially a measure of how well a site is able to grab its visitors’ attention, and encourage them to “stick” around for a bit to explore the site’s content. We typically look at three main website stickiness metrics:

Stickiness metrics in Google Analytics

  • Pages per visit. Clicking through several pages during a visit can speak to how interested users are in the site’s content.
  • Time spent on the site. Spending more time on a site can also serve as a proxy for user interest in the site.
  • Bounce rate. A site’s bounce rate measures the proportion of visitors who leave the site after viewing just a single page. Typically, the lower the bounce rate, the more engaged.

Stickiness is not a one-size-fits-all set of metrics. Different sites have different goals that must be measured differently. A few examples:

  • Amazon wants to maximize the number of pages people visit and the amount of time people spend clicking around, and they want to minimize the bounce rate. Each page provides new links to click on, and sections like “Frequently Bought Together” and “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” are intended to tantalize visitors into sticking around on the site.
  • Daring Fireball. Daring Fireball is a single page technology blog. Its goal is not to keep users clicking around to different pages. Rather, it generally wants users to stay on its main page, and maybe even click on links that will take them to other sites. While time spent on the site is probably a useful measure of engagement, the number of pages per visit and bounce rate would not be useful here.
  • Peachtree Road United Methodist Church (PRUMC). PRUMC has two goals for its site: to provide visitors critical information as easily as possible, and to engage visitors. They have smartly placed the address, worship service times, and their upcoming schedule right on the homepage for everyone to see. But how does that affect stickiness? If a church member wanted to see what the church is offering during Easter week, she could simply visit the homepage and find everything she needs. She might then exit the site, causing the overall bounce rate to increase—but does that mean she is not an engaged visitor? She found the site she wanted, and she was able to easily find the information she wanted on the first page she saw. This is simply a case of an engaged user visiting a useful website.

So, as useful as stickiness can be in providing insight into user engagement, it’s not a perfect measure. There are no magic numbers that indicate when a website has reached maximum engagement. Instead, you must monitor how the website stickiness metrics change over time, and how they respond to changes you make to the site. Each change can bring you closer to or further away from your site’s goals, so keep experimenting to learn what will keep your users engaged.

Rusty Parker

Rusty Parker

Rusty Parker is the director of data and analytics for SHERPA Global. He has a doctoral degree in Applied Sociology from Baylor University, with an emphasis on survey methodology and data analysis. He has led data collection projects for corporate, government, and nonprofit clients for more than 10 years.

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