Web user behaviour is changing and topics like content portability and offsite engagement are receiving more attention from marketers. But all the new opportunities that have come with the Web 2.0 phenomenon, has bought the inherent problem of measurability.
One of the key strengths to the online channel has always been its accountability – and thus this once very transparent channel is now facing a bumpy road ahead.
Exploring the complexities
So just what are some of the complexities of online measurement and what is the advice out in the market?
Engagement measurements not eyeballs are the flavour of 2009. But just how are the experts defining engagement? The first difficulty the web analytics experts must contend with is standardisation of how to effectively measure this concept. Forrester Research defines engagement as 4 I’s Interaction, Involvement, Intimacy & Influence whilst another definition has been proposed by an analytics expert which is 8 parameters and includes clicks, recency, duration, brand, feedback, interaction, loyalty and subscriptions.
But do engagement measurements onsite and offsite differ and just how complex is it to measure engagement? I spoke to one of Australia’s leading digital agencies on the topic. “Measuring visitor engagement is complex. Measuring onsite and offsite engagement is hard particularly with the unpredictability of visitor behaviour online and offline whilst interacting with your brand. Engagement as a metric in itself does not exist in web analytics tools. Based on the measurement goal, the web analyst can manually calculate an engagement index from a combination of different metrics such as conversions, average sessions, latency or recency of the visit. However this does not provide us with a 360 degree view of onsite and offsite engagement” says Joan Tsepofat, Lead Analyst at Next Digital.
Despite a lack of clear guidelines, one thing is certain, qualitative feedback will play a much bigger role. As marketers start to grapple with new measures such as these there will be increased focus on usability, as well as focus groups and surveys to gather qualitative insight – whose role had been somewhat diminished by web analytics in years gone by.
As identified by Forrester, influence is a key measure particularly in the measurement of offline conversations and brand engagement. The old saying of “its not what you know, its who you know” is definitely important on the web. Social networking and micro-blogging conversations are virally distributing brand related conversations and measurements across the web but it is those who have the largest audience of followers that will have the greatest impact and influence. But to attempt to follow these conversations and aggregate the information in a meaningful way to measure buzz is not an easy task. One organisation who has started to respond to the need for marketers to track offsite conversations which consider influence is Hubspot – but this area is still relatively new and the next 1 – 2 years will be the defining years of the next generation web measurement.
On the measurement front, search is another area that is becoming increasingly complex to measure. Rankings as a measure is dead with the increasing importance of on personalised, blended and local search. So should search marketers focus on search traffic as a metric? This on its own will of course not provide the complete picture as search traffic may be growing at a lower rate than overall search volume is growing – thus competitive data sets will be of increasing importance. Joan Tsepofat highlights the need for business to invest into web analytics to help measure search traffic. Closely examining your traffic sources such as organic versus paid search traffic or other referring sources will assist you to better understand the performance of your search marketing activities. Similarly, web analytics should be the key to measuring the effectiveness of your search engine optimisation efforts” And what about brand interaction which is starts from search results and occurs offsite – how should this be measured?
Web measurement is obviously experiencing the growing pains of web 2.0. Senior executives must start to take a holistic view of engagement and begin to focus on what’s happening offsite along with onsite from an engagement perspective.
So what do we do?
1. Focus on what is important to your business. Whilst buzz and engagement is occurring – this is the same problem inherent with measuring brands in an offline world – so you need to determine how much time you can afford to invest based on the return. Don’t get too caught up in over-analysing and start by identifying some basic measures ie popularity of your site through social bookmarks or feedback about your brand and use this to demonstrate the value of your new activities.
2. Make sure when you are creating integrated online campaigns, that your agency is beginning to address some of the new challenges in measurement and not leaving this part to your organisation.
3. If you have the budget, consider increasing the number of tools you utilise to measure online performance. Web-analytics is just one piece of the puzzle and competitive data sets like Hitwise can provide competitive data to benchmark your site. Even if you don’t have the budget to invest in tools, usability sessions and online surveys can be conducted at low cost to understand how interactive and engaging your site is.