How to Measure Engagement Without Optimized Analytics

Posted by Taylor Haney on Fri, Aug 29, 2014

Another data and analytics post for the month! In this post Brendon Attebury, User Experience Designer at Boston Interactive dives into some creative ways to measure website engagement. Interested in guest blogging? Email taylor[at]mitx[dot]org.

Brendon AtteburyAs a User Experience Designer at Boston Interactive, Brendon Attebury understands how optimizing user experience can turn good website design into great website design that can help companies achieve digital marketing objectives. Brendon also operates the state of the art eye-tracking lab at Boston Interactive which plays a key role in quality assurance of their website design. The eye tracking system is a technology that provides visual analysis into how someone engages with your website by tracking gaze and pupil data. Follow Boston Interactive on Twitter @bstninteractive

Let’s face it. As user experience designers, we often deal with sites that are not optimized for analytics tracking. Understanding, let alone measuring, engagement of your website can be tricky especially if helpful tracking tools, like content grouping, have not been setup from launch. If this is the case for you, there is still the non-automated option of doing things manually.

In my experience with analytics, there seems to be no silver bullet for measuring engagement. Only looking at the audience engagement rate is simply not enough. You still want to understand metrics in relation to the visual design. Which means looking beyond a simple bar graph. Viewing engagement analytics is not an exact science and there are weaknesses, but let’s not worry about outbound linking, tabbed navigation or any other inherent flaws with time on page (e.g., a user walking away from a page and coming back later).

For our purposes we are focusing on timely deliverables and need a simple snapshot of what users are doing. If we can use time on page as a semi-reliable indicator of engagement, then breaking down time on page per URL is one way to get a quick understanding about what users are doing on your site. However, I should preface this by saying you need to look at several key metrics to get a more holistic picture and remember to always keep in mind the site’s goals.
boston interactive blogSuccessful design often surfaces important information in the navigational hierarchy to the front. For example, navigation should go left to right, with most importation sections to the left and least important to the right. When you look at time on page per section, you should then see it drop as you move from left to right on the navigation. A navigation that works well will have the highest time on page attributed to the left-most section, as it should be the most important section in achieving website goals. Total sessions per section is another metric that can be considered alongside time per page to determine engagement.

Another quick metric to consider in unison with time on page is pages per session. If users are coming to the site and only staying on one page then that would not meet our goals. We want users to peruse pages and engage on as many levels as possible. We also should be aware of looking at pages per session and bounce rate to see which pages have a low bounce rate with a higher number of pages per session. This is not a guarantee, but it is a good indicator of engagement.

These are just a few of the ways we can measure site engagement without optimized analytics. Always keep in mind that in measuring engagement you are looking for connections between the visual design and site metrics in relation to the goals of your site.