In the digital world, analytics are everywhere and, increasingly, everything. Today’s product, marketing and advertising strategies are based on more hard statistical data than ever before. While traditional indicators like page impressions and unique browsers have retained their importance, the concept of engagement has risen to the fore as both publishers and advertisers look to get the most out of their efforts in the digital realm.
Health24’s associate editor Harry Phillips outlines what types of engagement strategies have helped make Health24 the largest health and lifestyle platform in South Africa, a feat that could not be achieved without significantly high engagement from their users.
How do you measure engagement?
Time on site, pages per visit, frequency, bounce rates; there are innumerable ways that one can measure engagement, with the actual metrics you should be paying attention to varying from site to site and audience to audience. One of the main metrics that we look at is Visitor Recency. Basically, this measures how often the same user returns to the site and it’s important to us for a couple of reasons. Firstly, attracting new users is always great, but reducing the churn so that these new users are adding to an established base of frequent users is a much more effective way of growing your audience. Secondly, and more importantly, if someone comes back to your site it usually means they were reasonably satisfied last time they visited, which means your product is doing what it’s supposed to.
Other metrics that are very useful to measure are the average time a user spends reading an article, how far down the page these users actually scroll, how many pages they visit after entering the site, and of course how long is it before they come back. If we look at Health24’s engagement stats based on these metrics, over the past year the average user spent nearly three minutes on the site per visit, with almost half of all users visiting multiple times a month and more than half of all users scrolled at least 80% of the way through the content. All of these indicators are markedly higher for South African users than our international ones. Visitor Recency is also high, with a third of users having visited Health24 in the previous seven days, which is particularly rewarding.
When should you measure engagement?
Obviously engagement statistics should form part of any report – be it weekly, monthly or quarterly – which seeks to assess the health of the site overall, but there’s not a day that goes by that you shouldn’t be checking the engagement levels of a certain area of the site, or of a particular kind of user. This information is invaluable in decision making around product development, which for us is a perpetual process. You need to ensure that you have a holistic view of your site, and how users interact with it, which can often differ substantially from a developer’s expectations. The digital world is incredibly fluid, and users can be quite fickle – what they like today they may ignore tomorrow; so it’s essential to analyse engagement trends as often as possible, and tailor your product accordingly.
Users love content that is relevant, informative and accessible. Our HealthEngage centres for example, which are full of rich, instructive medical information, enjoy a higher engagement rate than that of the overall site. Each piece of content is supported by related articles which further flesh out the topic and answer questions that might have been raised, encouraging the user to engage further with the site and leaving them satisfied and increasing the likelihood they’ll return in the future. Here we see why engagement is perhaps the best indicator of the health of a website as, if interpreted correctly, it can shed great insight on how easily users interact with the site, and whether they got what they came for.
From a trends point-of-view, hot topics often tend to see substantially better engagement than average – Banting and Ebola were two such trends last year, which saw almost double the site average for almost all of our indicators, again highlighting user’s desire for relevance.
Who does it work for?
All of the above considerations need to be taken in the context of who you want to talk to. If you’re looking for high engagement, and you should be, then you should be looking to target an audience that is likely to engage with your content and your platform. That way you know that they’re interested and invested in the topics they read about on your platform and can more accurately judge when your tactics are or aren’t working. If you’re talking to the wrong people in the first place, then to get engagement you’re going to have to step further and further away from your business model, which a decision that needs to be taken very carefully indeed.
Instead, identify the right kind of people and then provide them with accurate, informative answers or solutions they want. This recipe works, over the last year our engagement stats have stayed pretty stable across the site despite the fact that our audience grew substantially. Normally, you’d expect engagement to decline as your audience grows and you pick up users further away from your core demographic, but we have not seen this drop. You need to focus on speaking to the right audience, not just a large audience – the latter might come over time, but it’s the former that makes users engage.
You have your engagement stats, now what?
Engagement is driven by appetite and if there’s an appetite for something that you don’t have, it makes sense to fill that gap. Engagement and content performance monitoring need to be engrained within the team, so that all content decisions will be influenced by engagement. For every story that is published, consider how users have reacted to similar content in the past, and whether there is any good reason that you expect this story to be different. It’s also important to factor in what is trending on social media – Facebook is a fantastic way to gauge how much interest there is in a particular topic and it provides a great platform for people to make their thoughts on the topic known. This in turn informs editorial decisions. Ensure that you have constant, detailed monitoring and an up-to-date picture of what your users are interested in – this will help to tailor your content and platforms to fulfil these interests.
The best way to engage a user is to give them what they want, ideally before they even realise they want it.
Harry Phillips is associate editor of Health24.
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