Engagement metrics are the top-level KPIs that can easily be found in Google Analytics or standard SEO tools. While there is an enormous number to choose from, and they often go by various names, we’ve compiled a list of must-know engagement metrics to get you started:

  1. Pageviews.
  2. Pages per session.
  3. Average session duration.
  4. Unique visitors.
  5. Bounce rate.
  6. Average time on page.
  7. Time on site.
  8. Traffic source.
  9. Event tracking.
  10. Conversion rate.
  11. Scroll depth.
  12. Dwell time.
  13. Abandonment rate.

For greater context, let’s explore some of the driving factors behind engagement metrics and how you might decide which ones are best aligned with your marketing goals.

What Are Engagement Metrics?

Engagement metrics are indicators of how users — site visitors, customers, employees, etc. — interact with your media properties, e.g., your website, social media profiles, application, portal, software or content.

For the purposes of this post, we’ll be focusing on visitors to a website.

Sometimes referred to as consumption or behavioral metrics, engagement metrics are the measurement of how and how much users engage with what you post online. In total, webmasters and marketers can get a good idea — quantitatively and qualitatively — of which types of topics, content formats and messages are best received by their intended target audience.

With this information, you can plan future marketing campaigns around data-backed, historically engaging themes.

It’s also important to note that an engagement metric can be an easily misrepresented, overly broad term. By default, Google Analytics and other tools will register all engagement that occurs on a site. But you may want to view only customer engagement one day vs. non-employee engagement the next.

This means you’ll need to create separate views with clear intent and labels behind them. For example, filtering out all company- and employee-related IP addresses will show you a truer metric value (since you don’t really create content for your own staff to click on — they will skew your reporting).

Preliminary time spent designing and filtering your trackable views will make each engagement metric that much more meaningful.

Engagement Metrics You Should Be Tracking

Below we’ll tackle the aforementioned engagement metrics, how you can track them and why they matter.

1. Pageviews

Pageviews is the total number of times a page is viewed (clicked). A single site visitor can click on multiple pages in one visit, and they can open the same page multiple times. In both cases, a pageview is recorded.

Pageviews can tell you where traffic is landing, but it can also be somewhat shallow as far as metrics go. For example, a single user reopening or refreshing a page over and over can inflate your pageview metrics, making your data less hygienic and actionable.

If you’re looking for a quick understanding of your page performance, however, pageviews are often the first type of metric reported.

2. Pages Per Session

To determine the number of pages a visitor views each time they land on your site, calculate pages per session.

A web session is triggered when a user enters the site. The number of pages they view between their entrance and exit (a single session) is pages per session. By default, Google Analytics ends every session after 30 minutes of inactivity. This rule ensures people aren’t just loading your site and then leaving their screen on forever, effectively racking up greater time on page.

Pages per session are interesting because it can signal that your site has strong navigation and CTAs — users are able to easily move through your site via logical hyperlinks and context. Overall, you want users to view lots of pages on your site.

On the other hand, it might also be true that if a page doesn’t provide the user the information they were looking for by clicking, they might quickly click on other pages of your site in search of better answers. At that point, they might frustratingly exit your site, ending their official session and going back to the SERP in pursuit of better content.

3. Average Session Duration

The time elapsed between when a user lands on your site and when they exit averaged across all sessions and users is known as average session duration.

Divide the total duration of sessions by the number of sessions and you have an average session duration. It’s difficult to benchmark your individual metric against a competitor or even your industry, but about three minutes is commonly thought to be a solid baseline to start from.

This metric is important because it’s a higher-order measurement than simple metrics like clicks, time on page or pageviews, which don’t require additional math or averages to calculate. Average session duration paints a clearer picture of what your audience might find interesting on your site and where you might need to make future optimizations to promote higher engagement.

4. Unique Visitors

To dig deeper into the performance of your pages, track unique visitors, which is the number of individuals who land on a page for the first time.

This is different from the regular pageviews metric, which, as mentioned before, factors in individual people repeatedly clicking on the same page or returning to the site multiple times. A unique visitor is recorded by Google via cookie, which assigns a visitor a unique ID. That way, you can filter out a returning visitor and just look at the first-timers.

Tracking unique visitors is important because it gives a truer, cleaner look at how far-reaching your content is and whether it is penetrating into new audiences and markets (as opposed to cycling among repeat visitors).

5. Bounce Rate

Bounce rate is the percentage of one-page sessions relative to total pageviews. If a visitor views only one page and then “bounces” off your site, this registers as a bounce.

A bounce rate of 100%, for instance, means every single person who arrived at your site looked at one page then left. A high bounce rate could be an indication that users aren’t finding what they need, your content is very thin or your site navigation is poor.

On the other hand, visitors that land on your site via blog post may find everything they need on that one page and then leave. High bounce rates on blog articles are typical because users are often looking for answers to their questions but are not yet interested in exploring the rest of your website.

6. Average Time on Page

Time on page gives you insight into whether your content is relevant to readers. The moment when a person clicks on the first page to the moment they navigate to a second page (or leave the site entirely) counts as time on page. This metric is then averaged across visitors who recorded the same or similar paths.

If you have incredibly long-form content that would naturally take 15-20 minutes to consume, but the average time on page is just two minutes, that’s an indication that your content isn’t engaging enough to keep people on the page. Your time might be better spent creating shorter content or at least optimizing the structure or flow of your current page to retain users.

7. Time on Site

Time on site is effectively time on page on a wider scale.

It measures the duration between when a website visitor enters your site and when they click on their final page. This kind of engagement metric gives a macro view of not only the total amount of time spent on each web visit but also the performance of your exit pages.

Traditionally, you want an active user to, say, find a blog in SERPs, then navigate to a service landing page, then click Contact Us. It’s a simple, natural progression, but one that rarely occurs in the wild as designed.

What if visitors leave after reading just one blog? Or if they make it to an About Us page and then bounce? These are your exit pages — and they’re not really the ideal ones.

Time on site thus can inform you as to whether users are spending enough time on the site relative to the content they’ve viewed and whether you may need to rethink navigation and link structure. As mentioned, you want an exit page to, ideally, be farther down the funnel.

8. Traffic Source

At a high level, Google Analytics can tell you whether site visitors are arriving from:

  • Organic search.
  • Direct.
  • Referral.
  • Email.
  • Social.
  • Paid search.

These traffic sources can be further subdivided into more specific channels, like search engine, social platform or referral source.

This information allows you to see your users’ points of origin, indicating your site is performing well on specific channels. Growing organic traffic can validate your keyword strategy, for example. Meanwhile, plummeting referral traffic can potentially hint at broken hyperlinks, site errors or an under-resourced backlink strategy.

9. Event Tracking

Event tracking is another metric that isn’t immediately available within Google Analytics unless you define the parameters of an “event” and you create campaign goals and unique tracking codes.

An event is whatever you want it to be, but it’s typically any desired action or goal completion that occurs on a page. This might be filling out a form, clicking a specific link or remaining on the page for more than three minutes.

Event tracking is a way to drill down into the actions people take on your pages, which is incredibly helpful since many engagement metrics simply measure where traffic comes from and how long they stay.

You can create multiple types of events. Every time an event goal is triggered/completed, it’s registered as a conversion.

10. Conversion Rate

At the end of the day, your site should function for the purpose of driving conversions — however you define them.

There are macro conversions like requesting a sales demo or adding a product to a shopping cart. And there are micro conversions like downloading a white paper or subscribing to an email newsletter. In content marketing, there’s no dearth of conversion opportunities, so how you set up your conversion framework is totally customizable.

Once you’ve enabled conversion tracking, you can then determine the conversion rate. Conversion rate is the total number of conversions divided by the total number of sessions multiplied by 100.

By optimizing for conversion rate, you gain more value out of every page on your site which you can do by using website optimization tools. Conversions give you the opportunity to turn new visitors into repeat users and eventually into loyal, paying customers.

11. Scroll Depth

Google Tag Manager can tell you how far down a page users actually reach, known as scroll depth or page depth.

This plugin contains a tracking code that fires whenever a reader triggers a certain threshold (a predetermined pixel size or dimension). If, say, a reader scrolls past the halfway point of your page, it trips the trigger, recording a scroll depth measurement.

While time on page quantifies the amount of time a user spends on the page, scroll depth more closely measures the actions and level of engagement on the page.

12. Dwell Time

Dwell time measures how long organic web visitors spend on a page before they click back to SERPs. This action is known as “pogo sticking,” in which a user clicks a result within a search engine but pogos back to the SERP one or more times until they find a page that best serves their needs.

If your page ranks in position 2 on Monday but by next week it has fallen to position 8, this drop may be due to poor dwell time. Essentially, dwell time is Google’s way of knowing whether their algorithm has properly ranked results in an order that matches user intent. If your dwell time is low, Google may downrank your page.

Dwell time is not a clearly labeled metric in Google Analytics. You’ll first need to navigate to average session duration — which tracks more than just organic traffic — and then add a segment that’s specific to just organic traffic.

Between two and four minutes is considered standard dwell time.

13. Abandonment Rate

Abandonment rate is the key customer engagement metric for e-commerce businesses. It tracks the percentage of shopping carts that had items placed in them but never purchased. At the last moment, users abandoned the conversion.

By knowing your abandonment rate, you can optimize the goal completion process, potentially with last-minute discount activations, an email nurture or better UX on the checkout page.

Measure What Matters Most

Companies with an inbound marketing model place a greater emphasis on content engagement — engagement via channels like web, social media and email marketing.

E-commerce businesses will be more sales-oriented, with customer engagement metrics like Net Promoter Score, abandonment rate and returning visitors a high priority.

To show the diversity of metrics reporting even more, SaaS firms are greatly interested in metrics such as daily/weekly/monthly active users, time spent within the app and activation rate.

The goal is to align your analytics capabilities to the fundamental goals of your organization and to make continuous improvements over time.

You’ll find some matter more than others. And plenty will go way over your boss’s head.

Mike O'Neill is a writer, editor and content manager in Chicago. When he's not keeping a close eye on Brafton's editorial content, he's auditioning to narrate the next Ken Burns documentary. All buzzwords are his own.