Measuring User Engagement, with Examples from Yahoo

If you own a web site, how do you measure the way that people interact with your site? What data do you look at, how do you analyze it, and what do you do with that analysis?

The topic is becoming a popular one on the Web, and I have some links below to some articles on the subject that I thought were pretty interesting. I was inspired to collect those links after looking at a patent filing from Yahoo that describes some of the methods that they might use to try to understand how engaged people are upon their web properties.

The patent application is Techniques for measuring user engagement, and the listed inventors are Francesca M. Soito and Nitin Sharma (who appears to have now moved to Google).

User Engagement Variables

There are much better ways than using “page views” as a metric for measuring user engagement. In a fairly general way, this document explores some other techiques that could provide meaningful analysis of the way that people interact with their web sites. It looks at user engagement variables in three areas for different services and products that it offers:

  • Number of sessions with a product,
  • a time spent interacting with a product, and;
  • a user’s actions involving that product.

Based upon those interaction, it could create a user engagement score, which could be segmented in different ways – based upon time, viewed as a frequency over time, and so on.

The authors use an email program as an illustration of how this process is used. I’m wondering whether this kind of process is really something that is patentable, but regardless, it’s an interesting inside look at how a couple of search engineers from Yahoo might suggest measuring how people interact with a site.

They do provide a big list of things that they might count as “user actions” within the context of that email illustration. Let’s consider a different example, and come up with our own list. If this process were applied to Yahoo’s photo site Flickr, what kind of information would you look for as a measurable user action, to tell how well the service is working?

Here are some:

1. Free Signups
2. Premiums Signups
3. Photos uploaded
4. Photos uploaded by users of the free, and the premium services
5. Information about captions created for photos
6. Information about tags used for photos
7. Comments left on photos
8. Groups created
9. Growth of groups
10. Percentages of people joining groups
11. Contacts made
12. Pictures geo-tagged

In other words, I would try to identify all of the different activities that people can take on the site, and find different ways to measure that activity. Looking at that activity, plus information about user sessions, and time spent on the site could possibly provide me with some interesting information that I can act upon.

For example, if memberships in user groups start to slow significantly, I will want to explore why. If the number of images uploaded by premium members drops significantly, but the number of pictures added by free members increases significantly, I might want to uncover possibly reasons for the change in activity by the two groups.

Demographics and User Engagement

The patent briefly brushes upon the topic of looking at demographic information, if any is available for the user population, in conjunction with user engagement scores. It’s possible that this kind of information might be helpful in developing strategies for improving user engagement.

They note that if the “low engagement segment of the user population has a high proportion of users corresponding to a particular demographic, new product features targeting that demographic may be introduced in an effort to increase the engagement of those users with the product.”

Demographic information could be broken down into a lot of different types of information. Here are the examples that they provide:

Gender,
Socioeconomic status,
Tenure,
Online behavior metrics,
Property usage (e.g., page views generated on other properties),
Age,
Which country the user is in,
etc.

User Engagement Articles

If you’re not looking at and trying to measure how users engage with your website, you may be missing out on some valuable information that could be used to make your web site more effective. These are some of the articles on the subject that I found interesting:

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12 thoughts on “Measuring User Engagement, with Examples from Yahoo”

  1. Thanks, Eric.

    I see one or two things in your visitor engagement metric that look interesting, involving branded search, which I have some thoughts on. I’ll think some more about them, and leave a comment on your post.

    Appreciate your stopping by.

  2. I use statcounter.com The thing I like most about it, apart from being free, is it shows a visitors path through a web site and how long they spend on each page. It also shows where they came from in terms of search terms.

    Nice post once again.

  3. Hi Brisbane SEO,

    I’m partial to analyzing the log files from my host, though I’d argue that using any type of program to learn a little something about how people come to your site, and what they do once they get there can be really helpful.

    There are some very good analytics programs available these days, and using them can help you make your site better if you pay attention to more than just the traffic numbers…

  4. I’ve been using a combination of Google Analytics and heatmap software to track visitors progress through my site, and their actual clicks (which I have found immensely helpful). The links you provided made me realize there is a lot more I could be tracking.

    Thank you very much for this post.

  5. Hi brothersole,

    You’re welcome. The combination of Google Analytics and heatmap software that you’ve been using can be really helpful when you make changes to content, and the layout of content on your pages.

    But there may be many different ways of measuring how people react to your pages, and it’s worth exploring those. An old cliche, but one that holds some value, is that you can’t manage what you don’t measure. And even some very small changes can make some big differences.

  6. Thank you for sharing a great article. I have been wondering how to track my visitors and the progress of my website. I’ve only been using Google Analytics for this. I’ve also used sitemeter to track visitors.

  7. Hi Mia,

    You’re welcome. It does help to try to define different ways to measure the effectiveness of your pages, and objectives that you would like to achieve with your site. Using Google Analytics or other analytics programs are a good start, but setting specific goals regarding visitors actions is really helpful.

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