Remember when hit counters were all the rage? I do. I remember putting them at the bottom of my web pages to see how many people were reading and then reloading them incessantly to watch the number go up. Time was when hits and page views were the king of web metrics. But now we have a new metric to focus our energy on: engagement. How engaged are our users, we ask? How often do they visit? Are they really involved in our design, or did they give up on it?
Here follows a list of engagement metrics that have been used over the years. As you go down the list the metrics go from almost meaningless (hits) to very meaningful (daily active users). This is a spectrum of engagement metrics that you can use for your own projects.
- Hits: How many requests hit the server? This is the most broad metric there is, how many requests were made to a server. This includes hits to images, scripts, files, and anything else and could come from anything, even non-humans like search spiders or applications.
- Page views: The driver of web economics for many years, page views were simply hits to web pages. They were the backbone of web analytics for many years, and some antiquated advertising platforms still rely on them as a metric for engagement.
- Visits: How often do people visit your site? Visits are a series of page views from a uniquely identified computer (not necessarily a person). This gives you a sense of the overall volume of activity, but could mean little if lots of people are simply visiting and leaving immediately or if one person is visiting every five minutes. Another way to see how visits can be deceiving is that 1 million visits could either be 1 person visiting a million times or 1 million users visiting and leaving immediately.
- Unique Visitors: How many individuals visit? This gives you an overall idea of how many people you’re dealing with. One visitor can make many visits.
- Returning Visitors: How many people come back to your site more than once? This is a beginning to get to a decent measure of engagement as it suggests that someone is getting value more than once from you. It also includes, however, those folks who came through a link to you twice or more and weren’t necessarily knowingly engaged.
- Registered Users: Registered users is a valuable engagement metric because it includes only those people who took some step to become a user in the system. This means they made some decision to create an account, which immediately separates them from those who merely visit.
- Customers: These are people who have completed a customer transaction with you, so are very valuable people to be aware of. They often include those registered users who decided to go the extra step and give you money.
- Frequency: Measures how often people return to the web site. It is calculated by dividing the total number of visits by the total number of unique visitors. It is often used to measure loyalty.
- Time on Site: Reflects how much time people spend using your application. All else being equal, the more time they spend, the more engaged they are.
- Daily Active Users: Reflects what percentage of your user base comes back each day. This is a key engagement metric because it signals high engagement, as it only includes registered users who visit each day (thus they are returning visitors). This is one of the key metrics used by social networks.
Going further, as we investigate metrics more and pull them into our UX projects, we can get even more specific to our own situation. This usually comes in the form of specific actions (like who invited others, who started a group, who publishes a lot of content) that are a core part of whatever it is we’re building. For each design project, the core actions and metrics will be slightly different. However, your core engagement metrics will probably include some combination from the above list as you’ll constantly need to know if you have enough engaged people to keep you in business.