User engagement metrics for tracking deep engagement

Purpose-driven organisations’ digital objectives can be hard to measure, but ultimately, they are looking to impact users by having them engage deeply with their content. In this article we lay out how this can be tracked and improved.

Tracking the real impact of your website requires digging deeper into more than just your page views or the number of new users. We recommend setting up customised engagement metrics that combine multiple data points to understand if your content is resonating.

In this article, we’ll explain why you need to delve deeper into your users’ behaviour, what metrics you should use to gain that deeper understanding and look at how you can improve those metrics by fostering a deeper level of engagement from your users.

The challenge of measuring impact

Measuring the impact of your website can be challenging for non-profits or cultural organisations who are seeking to influence policy, disseminate thought leadership, or promote cultural engagement. Tracking donations or sales is relatively easy, but what if the purpose of your website isn’t to sell or raise money, but rather to advance your mission?

We work with a range of organisations, such as The Booker Prizes, Chatham House, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and Cancer Research Horizons, where the goal of the website is to further their mission by disseminating information and ultimately influencing behaviour or policy.

Why ‘shallow’ metrics aren’t enough

You’ll already be tracking a range of metrics to measure the performance of your website. Google Analytics allows you to track page views, number of users, sessions, bounce rate and many other important metrics.

Sometimes metrics like page views can be misleading ‘vanity metrics’ if those users aren’t deeply engaging with your content or aren’t taking the important actions you value.

Certain types of content might get loads of page views, but not actually encourage users to complete the actions that you care about. For example, a think tank may find that shorter, more sound-bite-friendly content attracts more page views, but if their objective is to influence the policy debate, this content might not be effective if the engagement is short and shallow.

If you assess the effectiveness of your content using only these simple metrics they may mislead you into prioritising producing superficially successful content that doesn't lead to the kind of impact you want to have.

To get a better understanding of the impact your content is having, you need to set up combinations of metrics that dig deeper into users’ behaviour to really understand how they are engaging with your content.

Deep engagement metrics

You need to know how many relevant users your site is getting, and whether your content is resonating with them sufficiently to make an impact.

You might also find that some parts of your site are ‘low traffic, high value’. For example, a university website’s Research section might see far less traffic than course pages aimed at prospective students, but this reduced traffic is highly valuable if it leads to research collaboration or influences policy.

To track what really matters and uncover what content is fostering that crucial deep engagement, we recommend setting up hybrid metrics that bundle several different data points to provide a measure of highly engaged uses that can be used across your site.

These metrics should be customised to your needs and objectives, so the exact combinations of metrics will depend on what you’re trying to achieve. For example, if we we're trying to define an ‘engaged user’ for a university that’s focusing on promoting their research, we would focus on counting users that meet the following criteria:

  • Time spent on research publication page is over 60 seconds. This shows they are deeply engaging with the content.
  • Scroll depth on research publication page reaches 75%. This shows they are reading through the content.
  • Takes either of the following actions: Clicks on contact information of the author, goes on to read a related post, shares the page link.

Using this definition, we can configure analytics dashboards to show the number of users that are engaged with the publication and analyse which articles drive the most engagements.

Case study: Chatham House

We worked with Chatham House to provide detailed analytics and targeted interventions to boost the performance of their website.

To track users who were deeply engaged with their content, we use a custom metric that counts users who:

  • Spend over 120 seconds on a page. - This shows they are spending time to engage deeply with the content.
  • Go past 75% scroll depth. - This shows they are reading through the content.
  • Takes either of the following actions: Downloads PDF or + triggers a ‘Chapter Change’ event, this shows they are clicking to keep reading a long report in more detail.
  • With this metric in place, we could conduct A/B testing to uncover what changes successfully increased the number of users engaging deeply with their content.

A recent successful A/B test broke up text into more digestible chunks. It’s a simple change, but the test showed a 13.4% increase in the number of engaged users, with a 90% confidence level. That increase may not seem huge, but these tests can uncover lots of marginal gains that start to stack up fast. If you find and implement several of these small wins, you could have doubled the number of engaged users.

Generating more engagement

The great management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “You can't improve what you don't measure”. Setting up these custom engagement metrics to track deeper engagement is the first step towards being able to improve them.

There are very few simple or easy wins when trying to foster deep engagement. Doing so requires the entire website to work effectively. The information architecture, the quality of the design, and the content itself all play a role. This can make trying to improve this metric seem like a daunting challenge.

We recommend starting by examining what your audience is searching for, so you can determine how relevant your content is and if you’re serving their needs. Conduct an SEO audit and investigate what keywords your users are using to find your site.

Ask yourself how effectively your content is addressing the needs that sit behind these keywords. Are there any keywords that users are searching to arrive on your site that you’re currently doing a poor job of providing relevant content for? These could be a good starting point for generating new engaging content ideas. We recommend aligning your content strategy with what this data is telling you.

From then on, take a test-and-learn approach, conducting A/B tests and tracking what changes are effective at increasing that all-important deep engagement. If you want help from our team to configure your analytics or to help improve engagement, get in touch. We’d love to talk.