Analytics tip – do engagement metrics lie?

Originally titled “Measuring Customer Engagement,” this post intended to offer a neat and firm list of metrics to measure customer engagement. Sounds easy, right?

In our quest for dependable metrics, Avinash Kaushik’s views on engagement caused us to pause and rewrite the blog title. Avinash states measuring engagement is fatally flawed. He argues that we rely too heavily on black and white numbers to infer how customers feel about us. Yet, there are a variety of personal factors we cannot measure influencing our customers’ feelings.

For example, we launch a PPC ad on a new content piece and see a spike in website traffic. We pat ourselves on the back – that content piece was awesome! We write five more pieces on the exact same topic, and are bummed as our “engagement levels” decrease with each piece. Did the traffic spike tell us with certainty that the topic of our content piece was awesome? Or was it merely a quantitative metric supporting that running a PPC ad – on any topic – increased website traffic?

Don’t get us wrong – we love analyzing data, but we must be careful to measure and compare a variety of metrics to ensure we pick the correct next step. We’ve listed a few ways to add context to our favorite metrics, helping you interpret visitors’ online activity. (Need a refresher on basic Google Analytics terms? Get it here.)

Traffic with page content and session duration

Measuring unique and overall traffic is a clear indicator that something is working, but doesn’t narrow down “what” is working. We recommend pairing traffic metrics with page content and session duration – the length of time a visitor spends on your site during one session (visit to your site).

The page content or topic helps contextualize both traffic and session duration data. To measure whether a page is successful, compare these metrics on other pages with related or similar topics.

Google Analytics Session Duration


Page depth with page content

Toggle to the tab next to session duration to see page depth. Page depth conveys how deeply customers explore your website. You might assume a higher average for page depth suggests more engaged visitors, but again, it’s possible customers are seeking specific information and cannot find it. Compare the page content and context of visitors’ arrival on your site to see whether it’s likely customers are lost and frustrated – or that your content rocks and is leading customers further into your site.

Google Analytics Page Depth

Frequency & recency with days since last session

Frequency & recency indicates whether you’re retaining visitors. These numbers average how frequently visitors return to your site and how many pages they view. Toggle to the days since last session to see how many days pass, on average, before repeat visitors return.

If visitors are returning to your site every few days, it’s a strong indication they find your content valuable or are interested in your services. If visitors come once and never come back, or come infrequently, than you should objectively review your site for unfriendly navigation or lackluster content.

Google Analytics frequency and recency

New vs returning with medium

Similarly, new vs. returning measures how many visitors landed on your page for the first time or returned for additional visits. In our example below, we’ve added context with the secondary dimension source / medium to determine how visitors arrived on our site in the first place. These numbers can help you infer whether marketing efforts are enticing visitors to return or helping you gather fresh faces.

Google Analytics New vs Returning Visitors

Bounce and exit rate with content

 Bounce rate and exit rate both measure customers leaving your website. Exit rates measure visitors who explored your site (visited two or more pages) and eventually exit. Bounce rates measure people who started on one page and left the site from that same page.

It’s important to analyze these numbers at the page level. You can expect a high bounce or exit rate on a blog post, for example, because visitors are specifically seeking out information in that post and may not need to explore further. However, if you see a high exit rate on a transactional page, like a shopping cart, you may have a friction problem dissuading visitors from converting. (Notice the 88.56% exit rate on our blog post below. It has a high exit rate compared to our other site pages, but we aren’t too worried. Visitors are probably getting information they need – average time on the page is 8:00 – and then leaving the site.)

Google Analytics Bounce and Exit Rate

Love your data, but don’t live your data

We have unparalleled access to customer data and must leverage these insights into our tactical marketing strategy. With that said, jumping on metrics that support your efforts while conveniently ignoring others, or planning your next steps based on numbers without context, is not the best way to continuously improve your ROI.

Measure and review your data on a consistent basis and compare it to data resulting from similar kinds of marketing efforts to gauge what is working over time. Quoting high levels of “engagement” is not helpful if you cannot pinpoint what engagement means to your customers and tie it to actionable steps. The end goal is to delight and satisfy your customers at every interaction, not satisfy yourself with positive (and ambiguous) analytics.