3 ways to measure genuine online engagement

More and more experts are rejecting the generic page view in favor of other metrics that gauge audience involvement with Web content. Here are three you should try.

Most organizations do not have a data strategy.

They may collect data, but they are still struggling with knowing exactly what, where and when to measure. That’s why many of us cling to very simple measurements of success like page views and “likes.”

“It’s time to kill the page view as a measure of success,” said Liz White, Head of Strategy and Business Development at Poshly during a session at SXSWi 2015.

She is one of a growing chorus advocating new measures of the effectiveness of content, putting less emphasis on the number of people who see content and more emphasis on how people engage with content.

Why is measuring engagement more important? Because it shows an actual level of impact with your readers. What is the point of creating content if it doesn’t move people?

That’s why page views are a false metric: it’s easy to get someone to click through to an article, but much harder for the piece to engage or inspire them. Similarly, what does a video view mean?

So how exactly can we measure engagement and inspiration? What engagement metrics should you measure?


Buzzfeed’s philosophy is that content is about sharing experiences and feeling closer to friends. Therefore, content that is not shared-even well-written content-is not worthwhile.

“The inspired reader will initiate the sharing of content,” Danica Lo, editor-at-large for Glamour, said at an SXSWi session. Sharing is about motivation. You can’t ask for it; your content has to elicit it. That’s why it’s a good metric. If your content isn’t being shared, it’s not resonating with readers.

Lo suggests using a clicks-to-shares ratio for Web content or a posts-to-shares ratio for social media content.

By using data to build a picture of what kinds of content gets shared, you can start to understand what kinds of content resonate with your audience.


Comments are another great measure of engagement. Did your piece inspire readers enough to respond?

“Comments are the next bridge,” Lo says. “They care enough to comment.”

Keep track of your posts that have generated the most comments, and look for trends in the data. What is it about those posts that is motivating conversation? Is it the topic? The way the headline is worded?

Value exchanges

Millennials are more willing to give email or survey data in exchange for information that they find useful.

If you are able to gain an email address (which you can use to keep them in the loop with your content) in exchange for your content, this is a good indication that your content has value. Test out different content types and topics to learn what content merits a value exchange in the eyes of your readers.

Always be testing and measuring

Look at data over long periods of time to find trends. Don’t look at a week of data and try to make decisions. Look at data over a period of months. (I prefer to measure quarterly.)

“Learn what works and make your process better,” Peretti advises. Keep experimenting. Conduct A/B tests on headlines to see what inspires more click-throughs and shares. Swap out images, and note differences in reader behavior.

By redefining which measurements are important, you will be able to gain insight into who your actual readers are by finding out not just who may see your content, but who is inspired and motivated by your content. This is the real target for content; start trying to hit it.

Ryan Johnson is an award-winning Web content producer, online and traditional marketing strategist and SEO strategist at Imagination in Chicago. A version of this article originally appeared on Social Media Today.


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