In today’s low-attention economy, site engagement can be considered an indicator of your website’s success.
Content engagement metrics are important because they show how your content strategy aligns with user interest.
Furthermore, customer engagement is related with overall profitability, as engaged users are more likely to buy, become repeat customers, and share the product/service with other people.
Before you decide on the specific user engagement metrics you want to track, you have to determine which ones make the most sense for your business.
Here are some of the most common (and most important) user engagement metrics.
What are Pageviews?
Pageviews, sessions, and users are the most common metrics used to indicate traffic on your website. Pageviews are the most basic of all user engagement metrics, measuring an instance of a user visiting a particular page on your website.
Measuring pageviews can help you to understand how often people visit your website. A higher number can be assumed to be an indicator of interest and/or good SEO practices, since search engines are often the biggest drivers of traffic to websites.
Conversely, pageviews can also indicate that people are poking around your website because they can’t find anything.
Pageviews show traffic but without tying in the context of other related metrics, they can’t help you to fully understand the meaning behind these numbers.
How to Track Pageviews
You can use Google Analytics to track most user engagement metrics. It is perhaps the most comprehensive free analytics software tool available.
You can find pageview metrics under Audience > Overview, and selecting a relevant time period.
Aside from pageviews showing how many people visited your website over a given period of time, pageview analysis can also be used to show whether website changes (i.e., a new layout, an online ad campaign, etc) are performing as expected.
As a simple rule of thumb, when your pageviews increase, it means that the changes you implemented must be working — at least in terms of driving traffic.
How to Optimize/Improve Pageviews
An increase in pageviews can be an indicator of good SEO practices.
Some things you can do to increase pageviews:
- Provide a good user experience: Ensure your website loads fast. Users tend to abandon websites that do not load in 2-3 seconds. To improve site load speed, consider the implications of your design on usability, categorize content so it is easily found, and make sure that your website/content is mobile-optimized — since more than half of the world accesses the internet from their mobile phones.
- Give your visitors interesting content to click on: Create viral content, but back it up by making it worth people’s time (not clickbait). Use SEO best practices, like keyword research and internal linking of related content, to make sure that content is found and read. Break long posts into series and feature popular posts prominently.
- Promote your website: Get the word out on social media, guest blogging, and related forums.
2. Time on Page
With so many websites churning out content on a regular basis, gaining an understanding of how much time people actually spend on your content has become an important user engagement metric.
There are two ways to look at time spent:
- Micro view: time spent on page
- Macro view: the average session duration or average time spent on site
What is Time Spent on Page?
It’s fairly straightforward: the time spent on page user engagement metric measures the time a user spends on a page on your website.
This metric provides an indication of interest.
For example, the average person reads at a rate of about 200-250 words per minute. If you have articles that are 2,100 words long (the optimal blog post length, as found by Medium) and a visitor only spent 10 seconds on that page, you can be sure that they weren’t very interested in the content.
What is Average Session Duration?
Average Session Duration (formerly known as Average Time Spent on Site) measures the length of an average session (Session Duration), over a specific time period, divided by the total number of sessions over a specific time period.
Session refers to a group of user interactions with your website. The average session duration refers to the total time spent on your website. This is different from time spent on page because it tracks all the activity a visitor has completed on your website versus tracking just the time spent on a certain page.
How to Track Time Spent
You can use Google Analytics to track how much time people spend on your website. You can find both average session duration metrics under the ‘Acquisition’ tab.
Google Analytics tracks page activities using timestamps every time a page loads or when an activity triggers more events. This is measured by looking at the difference between when the first event occurred compared to the next.
For example: if a page was viewed at 9:23 am and the next one was viewed at 9:26 am, the time spent on page for the first page is 3 minutes.
The problem with using timestamps to track activity is that it cannot track the time spent on the exit page. The exit page is the last page the visitor sees before they exit the website completely.
This means that if a visitor spends 5 minutes on your website but does not visit another page, Google Analytics has no way of knowing or recording this.
So if someone only visited one page and exited it, Google Analytics records the session duration as 0 — regardless of how much time they actually spent on your website.
Thus, the values of average session duration and time spent on page reported are usually lower than what they actually are and should not be taken at face value.
Instead, look at the distribution of session duration data to have a better idea of the typical session — and remove outliers.
What Counts Toward Time Spent?
Many people wonder about what exactly counts toward the time spent on site user engagement metric. Website parking occurs when you open a tab and leave it open to read later on.
The answer is that it depends on how the Google Analytics code is triggered and how fast it is sent to Google Analytics.
Additionally, Google answers, “By default, a session lasts until there’s 30 minutes of inactivity, but you can adjust this limit so a session lasts from a few seconds to several hours”.
A similar question you may have: does watching video count toward time on site? The answer? Yes! Google Analytics tracks interaction events, or events where a user interacted with the website.
How to Optimize/Improve Time Spent on Page
Because every website is different (in terms of industry, size, optimization), you should focus on comparing your current website statistics to your own past data.
Choose a specific time frame (a year is recommended) and use Google Analytics advanced filtering options to determine which pages receive the most traffic, consistently.
Make your way to Behavior > Content Drilldown.
On the Primary Dimension field, choose Page. Then, make your way to the Advanced filtering option. Choose to filter by Unique Pageviews, then choose a number to match up against.
You’ll see the average time spent on page change.
If you know that your average blog post is about 500 words, and your readers spend between 1-2 minutes reading them, then you’re in a good range.
But if they spend less time on the page, then analyze what could be making them exit prematurely: Is it your writing style? Does your page take a long time to load?
How to Optimize/Improve Average Session Duration
Session durations are a little harder to optimize. Because it measures more of a macro view, there are different considerations than that of time spent on page.
For one, you need to consider the overall user experience on your site. This includes:
- The variety and value of content on your site.
- Ease of navigation on your site and user site experience.
- Clear calls-to-action (CTAs).
If you’re able to optimize these three things, you may see average session duration rise.
3. Bounce Rate
Closely related to time spent is the bounce rate. A common trend observed is that the bounce rate is inversely proportional to the average session duration: as the bounce rate increases, the average session duration decreases.
What Is Bounce Rate?
The bounce rate is the percentage of visitors to a website that exit after only viewing one page. The bounce rate gives an indication of how good your content is, because if people are leaving without taking action, then your content isn’t doing its job.
People may bounce for several reasons:
- Your CTA/offer isn’t clear.
- Your content/offer isn’t what they expected.
- They got bored.
- You’re not offering something different.
While it is important to measure how engaged your visitors are, it’s also important to measure how unengaged your visitors are.
You might have high traffic numbers but if you also have high bounce rates, this means your content isn’t engaging enough to make website visitors stick around.
How to Track Bounce Rate
In Google Analytics, go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. You will see a column for Bounce Rate.
Recall that using Google Analytics can be slightly problematic because you need a trigger event so that Google Analytics won’t count an early exit towards your bounce rate.
Aside from Google Analytics, you can use the SimilarWeb tool to track bounce rates and even size yours up against your competitors.
How to Improve Bounce Rate
Look at your pages with high engagement and low bounce rates. Try to determine what you did right on the page that could be applied to other pages.
Similar to Average Session Duration, some specific ways you can lower bounce rates:
- Produce great content and use internal linking to get people interested in clicking through to other related pages on your website.
- Deliver on your content. Be reliable, helpful, and memorable.
- Use clear CTAs.
- Provide a great user experience: no pop-up ads, audio, or automatic video playback.
4. Top Exit Pages
What is the Top Exit Page?
Exit pages are the last pages accessed before leaving a website. The exit rate measures the percentage of people that leave your website from the exit page.
The exit pages (and subsequently, the exit rates) are related to bounce rates in that they both consider the last pages a visitor goes to on a website.
The main difference between these user engagement metrics?
The bounce rate takes into consideration the number of visitors that exit your website after visiting a single page.
Calculating the exit rate can be helpful, especially when your website encourages customers to follow a certain path (the buyer’s journey). Knowing your top exit pages can help you make sense of why your exit rate is the way it is.
Some pages are designed to have high exit rates, like your contact page, or a “Thank You” page. When a page is designated as an exit page, a high exit rate indicates that customers completed the desired action.
A high exit rate on a non-exit page can be caused by:
- Poorly organized information on your website (hierarchical issues).
- Missing CTA (so the person just exits the website).
- Overwhelming amount of information.
- Lacking/Missing information.
How to Track Top Exit Pages
Exit pages can be determined by going to Behavior > Site Content > Exit Pages on Google Analytics.
There, you’ll see the number of exits, the number of pageviews, and the exit rate (% Exit). To calculate the exit rate, divide the number of times a visitor exits a particular page by the total number of page views.
It’s worth noting that a high exit rate is correlated to time on page values that vary a lot, and can, in fact, contribute to bloated data.
How to Optimize/Improve Top Exit Pages
Carefully plan your user flow/journey so that you can plan for which pages should have high exit rates.
Since top exit pages and exit rates are related to bounce rates, to optimize them, you have to:
- Improve your content.
- Improve site usability/information organization.
- Have clear CTAs.
5. Pages per Session
What is Pages per Session?
Another way of measuring interest in your content is pages per session, or the number of unique page visits per session.
From a business perspective, the higher the pages per session metric, the better. This is because a high pages per session count shows that your website visitors looked around and visited more than one page – truly engaging with your website.
Bounce rates are similar to pages per session, but while bounce rates look at the next step (or page), pages per session looks at the whole path the visitor follows.
How to Track Pages per Session
Go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels on Google Analytics. You’ll see a column for Pages/Session.
To calculate the number of pages per session, take the sum of the number of pages each user visited and divide it by the total number of sessions.
A high value of pages per session does not necessarily mean that people are interested in your content – that’s why it is important to look at pages per session in conjunction with average session duration and bounce rate.
A page with high pages per session – but low session duration and bounce rate – can indicate page flipping behavior due to disinterest, irrelevant content, or difficulty in navigating your website.
How to Optimize/Improve Pages per Session
Provide ‘next steps’, or content that aligns with visitor interest. Align your content hierarchy/flow with the buyer’s journey.
6. Page/Scroll Depth
What is Page/Scroll Depth?
Page (or scroll) depth measures how thoroughly your audience consumes your content by tracking where on the page they stop reading.
This can indicate two things:
- Readability: If your content is easy to read, people will go further down the page.
- Interest: It is assumed that the further people scroll down your page, the more they want to consume your content.
How to Track Page/Scroll Depth
Google Analytics does not have a built-in option to measure scroll depth, which is why you have to install the Scroll Depth Google Analytics plugin to enable tracking.
The plugin tracks the percentage of your page where visitors stop: 25%, 50%, 75%, or 100% depth, as well as which elements they scroll to, and pixel depth.
Pixel depth provides an absolute measure of where the audience stops, comparing this across devices where screen heights vary. The plugin sends the data to Google Analytics via Events.
Another option is to use Google Tag Manager. Just like the Scroll Depth plugin, it allows you to track pixel and percentage depth.
How to Improve Page/Scroll Depth
Consider the elements that correlate to the various scroll depths where people drop off:
- What’s happening?
- Is there something about the page that’s negatively impacting user experience?
- Is content starting to fall flat as visitors make their way deeper into an article?
Armed with the data and understanding you now have behind the most popular user engagement metrics, you’ll have multiple options to approach fixing this problem.
7. Unique Visitors
What Is a Unique Visitor?
Unique visitor is a term used to refer to a person that visits a website at least once during the reporting period. Google puts more emphasis on tracking page views (or visits) but the unique visitors metric shows how many individuals your website actually reaches.
How to Track Unique Visitors
Whenever you visit a website, Google Analytics assigns you a client ID that is stored in a cookie in your browser. This client ID is unique to every browser and not IP address, so if you visit a website using another browser, Google Analytics will recognize you as another unique user.
This can pose a problem or report inaccurate results because of situations such as:
- Multiple people in a household sharing one computer. There may be multiple visitors but only one is registered.
- A single user can visit your website from different computers or different browsers. This will be counted as multiple visits, when they actually came from one person.
- Someone manually clears their cookies and will be counted as two users in reporting.
In Google Analytics, go to Audience > Overview and look at the Users metric. This will tell you the number of unique visitors to your site.
Tracking and comparing your stats for unique visitors over a specific time period can tell you whether any new visitors are discovering your website (useful when you launch new campaigns or ads), or if your traffic comes from returning users.
How to Optimize/Improve Unique Visitors
- Know your audience. If you have a good grasp of who your existing audience is, you can use these metrics to take steps to find a new/related audience segment.
- Promote your website, taking care to look toward the impact on different audience segments.
8. New vs. Returning Visitors
What Are New vs. Returning Visitors?
New users are users who are accessing your website for the first time on a specific device.
As mentioned, Google uses client IDs to track users. If you’re using a mobile phone to access a website — then using your desktop to visit the same website again (but the first time on the desktop) — Google counts this activity as two new visitors.
To their credit, Google is becoming smarter about this. When you’re signed in on Google Chrome using two different devices, it will only record the first device as a new visitor and the second device as a returning visitor.
Returning visitors are those that have previously visited your website. Google defines new users within a two-year time frame. If you revisit a website within the two-year time frame, you are considered a returning visitor, and if you visit a website again after more than two years, you will be counted as a new visitor again.
This metric is presented as a pie graph, comparing the ratio between the two.
How to Track New Visitors vs Returning Visitors
Find this data under Audience > Behavior > New vs Returning.
You’ll see a table comparing the behavior of new and returning visitors with some of the metrics previously discussed, such as bounce rate, pages/session, and average session duration.
You can check new users under Acquisition > Overview. Under the Acquisition tab, you’ll also be able to see the Source/Medium of the traffic, as well as Referral Source.
If your returning visitors metric is higher than new users, this might be a sign that you have a loyal band of followers. The opposite situation demonstrates that you have some work to do to get people to come back again.
How to Optimize/Improve New vs. Returning Visitors
Your New vs Returning Visitors graph can reflect the results of campaigns you used to promote your website.
A few examples:
- Display advertising aims to target new (relevant) users, so if the campaign was successful, expect an increase in new users (slightly larger than from social, depending on the advertising budget).
- Organic search tends to result in even distribution.
- Email marketing from your CRM should lead to more returning visitors. If it’s a new list of prospects, expect more new visitors.
- Direct traffic is counted when people type your website’s URL in their browser or retrieve it from their bookmarked sites — this will show mostly returning users.
You can segment your channels according to these traffic sources.
It’s important to stack these dimensions against other metrics, like goal completion.
If your returning visitors convert more than new visitors, think of strategies to appeal to this group.
Or, if there’s a higher bounce rate with returning visitors, there may be something wrong with your content or user experience.
9. Conversion Rate
Customer engagement is linked to overall profitability and can lead to conversions.
What is Conversion Rate?
The conversion rate is the percentage of website visitors that complete desired actions, such as:
- Purchasing any of your products or services.
- Downloading your app, ebook, etc.
- Contacting your business/submitting a form.
- Engaging with your website in some way.
A high conversion rate tells you that your marketing tactics are effective because they resulted in your website visitors completing your end goal.
How to Track Conversion Rate
The great thing about conversion rates is that you can tailor them to be broad or specific in terms of things like:
- Overall conversion rate
- Marketing channel conversion rate
- Keyword conversion rate
Most social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest have their own built-in analytics tools that can be used to track conversion rates. For websites, you can use tools such as Google Analytics or Google AdWords to track certain conversion rates.
There is a dedicated tab on Google Analytics for conversions, which allows you to analyze data based on goals, attribution, or multi-channel funnels. There’s also an option specific to ecommerce.
How to Optimize Conversion Rate
Because conversions are the end goal, marketing is often tasked with conversion rate optimization (CRO), which aims to maximize the number of conversions.
The basic principle of CRO?
To make everything seamless and easy for the website visitors to convert.
What makes CRO unique is that aims to increase revenue with the traffic you’re currently getting—so you can do CRO even if you don’t have that much traffic to begin with.
CRO starts with measuring analytics to know your baseline, analyzing this data and implementing changes (usually called split or A/B testing). OptinMonster has several A/B testing tools and Google Optimize offers a free alternative.
10. Abandonment Rate
What is Abandonment Rate?
Cart Abandonment Rate (also referred to as abandonment rate) is the percentage of carts abandoned to the number of initiated (or completed) transactions. This is especially pertinent for ecommerce businesses.
Based on the Baymard Institute’s research compilation, about 69.23 percent of online shopping carts are abandoned, meaning that for every 10 transactions, only 3 were successful.
If you’re an ecommerce business owner, the goal is to keep abandonment rates low, and for customers to convert or purchase from their abandoned carts.
How to Track Abandonment Rate
Google Analytics now has a Conversions tab specifically for ecommerce.
Once you’ve set it up, go to Conversions > Ecommerce > Shopping Behavior. There, you’ll see information about the different stages of the customer journey for the time period you selected.
This includes customers that:
- Didn’t add anything to the cart.
- Added something to the cart.
- Abandoned it.
- Those who abandoned at checkout.
Tracking cart abandonment at different stages allows to you monitor any unusual changes. For example, if one stage’s abandonment rate is higher than usual, then this may be a sign of usability issues.
When you click on the red arrow under each of these dimensions, Google will prompt you to create a segment. This can be applied to other reports and factors, such as device used, browser used, demographics, and traffic sources.
This is useful so that you can infer what influenced the cart to be abandoned. For example, if visitors are abandoning their carts at checkout, it could be that your checkout process is too long, payment options are too limited, or your shipping fee is too expensive.
How to Optimize/Improve Abandonment Rate
To improve abandonment rates, AcquireConvert suggests a BEFORE and AFTER strategy, specifically:
- Improve the buying process BEFORE people check out AND
- Implement a follow-up strategy AFTER they abandon their carts
Always ensure that your website is secure and functioning well, with clear CTAs.
Additionally, have a quick checkout process. Ecommerce giant Amazon earns so much because of their quick checkout process that includes one-click ordering, dash buttons, and more. Also, consider offering guest checkout so that people don’t have to create an account to make a purchase.
Finally, avoid surprises—like shipping costs. Shipping cost is the number 1 reason for abandoned carts. Also, to help avoid surprises, show the customers progress indicators until checkout is complete.
Most importantly, send abandoned cart emails. Depending on your email marketing software, this is fairly easy to set up.
Send at least three emails: the first one within an hour. If they are a first-time customer, you might want to send them a discount code to encourage them to shop. Create urgency with a time-sensitive offer.
Final Thoughts: User Engagement Metrics
User engagement metrics are important to track because increased engagement is linked to increased profitability.
The good news is that a free Google Analytics account can track most of these metrics, and all of these metrics are interrelated. This means that optimizing for one metric can help improve another.
For best results, focus on creating content that your target audience wants to read, with clear CTAs. From there, focus on optimizing your website and user site experience.
Featured Image: Paulo Bobita
Screenshots: Taken by author
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