Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Perspective on web site engagement effectiveness

There are multiple ways to measure the effectiveness of a web site, but few ways to get a holistic perspective but to rely on multiple metrics sources and analysis techniques.

User Experience metrics

One obvious and often used method is to poll the users about their satisfaction level: straight and effective. This qualitative data, however, is often highly suggestive and not standardized.

From their own perspective, web analytics solutions provides valuable quantitative information about the behavior of the users on the site. We get a broader view, from the user origin up to his or her exit point on the site. The challenge, for many companies, is to correlate this information with the off line activities taking place either before or after the user's visit to the site.

Web site engagement brings a newer perspective focused on the site visitor. Peterson, Marshall Sponder and Gary Angel are some of the leaders discussing this analysis method, which encompass the following metrics:
  1. Click-Depth Index: Percent of visitor sessions of "n" or more pages
  2. Recency Index: Percent of visitor sessions occurring in the last "small n" weeks
  3. Duration Index: Percent of visitor sessions of "n" or more minutes
  4. Brand Index: Percent of visitor sessions originating directly or originating from search engine searches for a significant term or phrase.
  5. Blog Index: Ratio of blog reading sessions to all sessions
  6. Conversion Index: In this case, session- or order-based conversion.

Infrastructure metrics

Information about the health of the infrastructure provides another angle to help us analyze causation and improve the site. Sadly, lots of organizations still live in a world of great divide between their "business people" and their "IT techies" department. Perceptions and attitude often creates a cleavage between marketing, communication or sales departments and their IT department. On the Web, like in many other situations, the business objectives can only be realized with the support of technology...

Strategic objectives

The last angle, maybe the most important, comes from the business side analysis, the real bottom line: is the site contributing to the core business objectives? Too often, we get generic objectives for the Web site: "I want to increase sales" or "I want to reduce costs"... who doesn't? We need to first understand the business side of the equation, without ever saying a word about the Web. Then, and only then, should we see how (and if!) the web can contribute to those objectives.

Holistic perspective

It's only when you can correlate and explain the relationships between the user experience, the infrastructure, and the business that you really start to get a holistic view of web analytics. That's essentially where "reporting" grow to become "analysis". Reporting is factual and often help to explain anecdotal episodes, while analysis is much more valuable in it's approach from root causation up to strategic recommendation.

Where does Attention fits in?

The previous perspectives covered the user, the technology, and the business. But where do I bring the Attention Economy concepts?

The user is not merely a "unique visitor", he or she is a human being with some needs to satisfy, some goals to accomplish and living emotions. In the concept of Attention Economy, the scarcest resource, and the most valuable element, what we're seeking, is our fair share of Attention. The problem (or interesting thing!) is attention takes different forms:
  • captive or voluntary
  • front or back of mind
  • aversive or attractive
The example below, taken from The Attention Company study on attention types for various media channels, clearly shows the user behavior is different. Knowing this, each media is better positioned to address those differences and try to transform an aversive experience into a more attractive one. Or a captive activity into a more entertaining and voluntary one.

In future posts I will describe how this concept could be applied to better understand a specific web site.