Engagement, is it a metric or an excuse?

Avinsah Kaushik, posted a blog post stating that “Engagement is not a metrics, it is an excuse”.

I beg to differ with Avinash on this one. I agree with Avinash that there is no standard way of measuring engagement. And my argument is that we don’t need a standard way to define engagement. Engagement metric is site specific and companies should have their own engagement baselines and trends. It is not a metrics that should be used to compare sites, because, as Avinash said in his post, each site is unique and hence the how each sites define engagement is going to be unique.

Avinash states “One of my personal golden rules is that a metric should be instantly useful. This one is not. Say you measure engagement. It could be a % or a absolute number or a ratio or whatever (in fact it can be any or all of those at the same time). You fire off a graph or a excel spreadsheet with trends. You repeatedly get asked: What are we measuring?”.

Question is when don’t we get questioned? A lot of marketers still have confusion about visits and visitors (believe me for 4 months I had to explain this multiple times to a marketing director of a major company). But that does not mean we should not use them. As an analyst our job is also to explain what measure makes sense, why they make sense and how are they calculated. You have to make sure your KPIs are not for the sake having KPIs, they are Key Performance Indicators for your Business. Same goes with Engagement as a KPI or even just another metric, you have to define it properly keeping your business goals in mind, make sure stakeholders understand what it is showing, why should they care and how it affects the business.

Engagement, to me, is not just about looking at the history, like most of the KPIs do. If defined properly (that’s the key) engagement metrics can be good measure of past and predictor of future. Ultimately there is are business goals for having a website, weather those are conversions, creating a brand value, driving more offline sales or something along those lines. Engagement metrics can also show you where you should spend your money, which segments to cater to. If you correlate your engagement metrics with your goals you will be able to come up with a model for predicting the future. Engagement metrics can serve as the leading indicator telling you if you will meet, beat or miss your goals. Engagement metrics allows you to be proactive. That is the beauty of engagement metrics.
So, given that, I don’t think engagement metrics is an excuse. It is actually very powerful, better than past indicators.

What do you think? Am I missing something?

You should also check out the following
Jim Novo’s blog post http://blog.jimnovo.com/2007/08/02/webtrends-score/
Captian Blackbeaks Blog http://blackbeak.conversionchronicles.com/2007/10/02/finally-i-disagree-with-avinash/

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5 Replies to “Engagement, is it a metric or an excuse?”

  1. Hi Anil,

    I very much agree with you. Obviously, the notion of engagement (if we can’t call it a metric) is something quite unique to each business. I very much liked what Eric Peterson was doing about that concept back in his Visual Sciences days, and I think this would be a good opportunity for him to grab the baton again, and pursue his reflection on the matter.

    What I like with engagement is the multi-metric nature of it, even though that makes it a bit hard on 1) definition (and agreement, which is always hard in a company), 2) operationalisation (what d’ya do with its variations), and 3) its segmentation (which of the various metric combinations determine so and so segment).

    Engagement forces us to put more stuff into the bucket, which in principle should account better for the richness of the user experience,attitude, needs, and behavior. Not an easy thing to do, mind you.

    This is why I am very much interested in the visitor index WebTrends is pushing, and I know both you and I will be asking them tons of questions next week!

  2. Anil,

    Great points, all, and I don’t think you were missing anything. Nobody said that calculating engagement was easy, but nobody should have said that web analytics was easy in the first place.

    I personally think that one of the most exciting things about Web Analytics 2.0 is that the predictive nature of engagement calculations becomes even easier to vet and validate against more qualitative data (for example, “Would you describe yourself as well-engaged with this web site and/or brand?”)

    Some have called my own engagement calculation “the mother of all key performance indicators” (you can read about my calculation at http://blog.webanalyticsdemystified.com/weblog/category/engagement/) But I’m inclined to agree with you — a good engagement score is less of a backward-looking KPI and more of a forward-looking indicator of business health.

    Anyway, great post!

    Eric T. Peterson

  3. Hey Jacques, come to my “Web Analytics 2.0” presentation at Emetrics in two weeks and hear my update on calculating engagement.


  4. Hi Anil,

    Talking about engagement and the challenges of calculating it. I agree the metric should be site specific. However I have a question more related to the process of finding the right engagement metric.

    It would be great to come up right away with the perfect engagement metric for a given site. However sometimes it is not possible, maybe because there is something that we are not tracking or because key stakeholders are reluctant to accept a new metric.

    In such an environment, what do you think of having some sort of an “evolving” engagement metric. Let’s say that you start with a simple definition of engagement. Then step by step you modified to be more comprehensive.

    From your experience, does it sound like a good idea? Or is a better approach to come up with the best metric that we can and just stick to it?

    Will the fact that the metric definition is “changing” reduce its value?

    (Eric: if you are still around, please feel free to jump in).



  5. I don’t think a “changing” engagement metrics is a bad idea. You begin with few inputs that your think, based on your goals and customer goals, are critical and then modify the metrics from there. I have done that for few customers. If you would like to discuss more email me and we can discuss it offline.

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