User behaviour Web metrics

Testing an engagement metric and finding surprising results

As regular readers know I’ve been working on web metrics for a few years now and experimenting with different models for cultural institutions. So it was with interest I read the’s equation for online engagement over at Nieman Journalism Lab.

… two months ago,, home of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, began analyzing their web traffic with an “engagement index” — an equation that goes beyond pageviews and into the factors that differentiate a loyal, dedicated reader from a fly-by. It sums up seven different ways that users can show “engagement” with the site, and it looks like this: Σ(Ci + Di + Ri + Li + Bi + Ii + Pi)


One possibility they considered was measuring engagement simply through how many visitors left comments or shared content on a social media platform. But that method “would lose a lot of people,” Meares said. “A lot of our users don’t comment or share stories, but we have people — 45 percent — [who] come back more than once a day, and those people are very engaged.”

They ultimately decided on seven categories, each with a particular cutoff:

Ci — Click Index: visits must have at least 6 pageviews, not counting photo galleries
Di — Duration Index: visits must have spend a minimum of 5 minutes on the site
Ri — Recency Index: visits that return daily
Li — Loyalty Index: visits that either are registered at the site or visit it at least three times a week
Bi — Brand Index: visits that come directly to the site by either bookmark or directly typing or come through search engines with keywords like “” or “inquirer”
Ii — Interaction Index: visits that interact with the site via commenting, forums, etc.
Pi — Participation Index: visits that participate on the site via sharing, uploading pics, stories, videos, etc.

Philly’s equation draws heavily on Eric T. Peterson and Joseph Carrabis’ “Measuring the Unmeasurable: Visitor Engagement” (pdf) .

I started thinking about how to apply this equation to the Powerhouse’s web metrics.

Click (6 pages or more) and Duration (5 minutes or more) indexes are fine. However Recency set at daily visitation is simply not achievable for museums – especially where through the door museum visitors are likely to average out at around once a year – and our online content is never going to be as responsive as ‘news’ has to be. So in thinking about Recency I settled on a 90 day figure.

Here’s an eight quarter look at how we’ve been tracking against a variant of this metric – downplaying the interaction and participation indexes as our content type and site doesn’t work evenly for these.

I’ve added a column for Sydney-only visitors so you can get a sense of how geographically specific this engagement metrics is for a museum such as ours.

Philly-style High Value % Philly-style High Value Sydney %
Q3 2010 3.73% 8.10%
Q2 2010 3.20% 7.78%
Q1 2010 2.38% 7.69%
Q4 2009 1.60% 5.56%
Q3 2009 1.73% 5.14%
Q2 2009 1.75% 5.67%
Q1 2009 2.12% 7.24%
Q4 2008 1.45% 4.59%

Taking a closer look at Q3 2010 and the Sydney Philly-style high-value segment there are some interesting data.

This apparently highly-engaged segment that comprises 8.10% of all Sydney traffic to the Powerhouse website for the period. 71.25% of this segment are new visitors to the Powerhouse, looking at a remarkable average of 17.3 pages per visit and spending and average of 19:44 minutes on the site up until the final page of their visit. These are clearly a highly desirable group of web visitors.

So what do they do?

Interestingly it turns out that these are primarily what we used to call ‘traditional education visitors’. I’ve written about them before in my paper for Museums & the Web earlier in the year.

31.47% visit Australian Designers at Work, a resource built and last modified in 2004
15.45% visit Australia Innovates, a curriculum resource built in 2001
7.58% visit exhibition promotional pages
7.54% visit the online collection

Perhaps unsurprisingly for such committed, but traditional, web visitors, they also accounted for 50% of the online membership purchases during the period.

3 replies on “Testing an engagement metric and finding surprising results”


I am happy to hear you read the article and ran the metric against your site. It is great to hear that you are finding useful information from analyzing the engagement of your visitors. If you need any more help with anything with the engagement metric please feel free to reach out and good luck!

Chris Meares

This is really very interesting. I curious how you are using these new insights–is it affecting where resources are being placed in the museum and what is being developed for your website?

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