The rise of engagement

The Internet is ever evolving. It is no longer just a series of pages that are linked together. It is no longer a place where we “surf the web.” It’s rich, dynamic, and engaging. Today, we’re using applications. The same applications that could be installed via CD-ROM on your desktop, are made available through your browser and mobile phone.

This shift in how we use the Internet has made me realize over the past few years that page views are becoming less relevant. The most innovative companies in the world have realized that building interactive and engaging experiences for their customers are going to make them more loyal. So why are some companies measuring views of a page?

Page views have long bamboozled people in and out of the tech industry. After all, advertisers just care about eyeballs right? What easier way to convince advertisers of those eyeballs and how often people come to your website than marketing the sheer number of page views you generate. If revenue is the ultimate key metric, then by comparison page views are the ultimate bullshit metric.

So what is the new, useful metric the industry can hang on to but is also characteristic of how companies are building their products? Engagement. It is the actions people take in these applications that are also far more relevant and specific to their businesses.

Just think about your email today. If you use Gmail, you don’t click on an email and wait for your browser to load a full new page. The email just immediately pops-up, right in front of you like you would expect. If you delete, archive, or star an email, it just happens and you move on. It feels like an application.

Facebook similarly feels this way when you’re looking at someone’s photos. When you’re trying to see the next photo, you don’t find yourself waiting 10-20 seconds for the next photo to load on a new page, it just loads immediately. Everybody wins: you get to see the next photo faster and Facebook gets to keep you more engaged.

Another great example is Pandora. Your experience on Pandora is essentially on a single page. You search, play, and skip songs from the same place without a new page loading. It feels like iTunes on your desktop.

Even media is beginning to be transformed from their historical page-to-page experience like on the New York Times’ website. This is especially due to mobile. Flipboard has really made reading content more social and provided a unique way to scan or read that content faster than browsing a website. Apple has started to transform that with iBooks where you can buy or download magazines through their store. The ability to highlight sentences, share, and personalize content make these media experiences incredibly engaging compared to their flat page-to-page counterparts.

Surprisingly, enterprise companies are even becoming more app-like. Box, who is transforming how people share and access content from anywhere, has built iPhone and Android applications to make it even easier. Even their website feels more like an application than a website.

Even the Internet has moved beyond page views on desktop computers and into things like TVs, cars, and mobile phones where it’s not even possible to track anything but engagement! Take a page-to-page website like eBay, for example, and see how its business is being transformed by mobile as people list 100M items on their service items on their phone. Understanding how users engage is critical to learning how you can make the applications that reside in those mediums better.

Engagement has even become an important component in advertising. Facebook and Twitter are good examples of companies who make the ads feel like they’re a part of the experience by learning from how their customers engage with content. The more engagement these companies see, the more value advertisers can potentially receive. Slowly, but surely page views are becoming less relevant to marketers in charge of huge advertising budgets.

There are challenges in understanding and learning about engagement. Every product is different which means companies must track engagement specific to them. This can make it hard to directly compare two companies as they can measure engagement differently. Just look at Twitter and Facebook–two very dominate social communities with different engagement metrics. While we lose the ability to compare companies easily in the media, those companies gain the ability to focus on a specific metric that highly correlates to how their business is doing.

So how do you figure out what kinds of engagement you should measure? Applications are highly interactive and give customers many ways to engage with them. Picking the right set of engagement metrics for your company requires meaningful thought since you’ll eventually bet your company around them. But odds are you know the right engagement metric for your business.

Lastly, once you have figured out the right metrics, how do you know if you’re even doing well? Even if you measure how often someone comes back and engages with your application again, do you even meet the bar? As more companies adopt measuring engagement, businesses will become more comfortable sharing their baselines just as they do with page views today.

None of these challenges are insurmountable and as products move into this engagement era of the Internet, comparing, benchmarking, and standardizing a set of metrics for each type of company is going to get much easier over time. It’s going to be important to be more open and critical about the things we measure.

Page views may have made sense nearly a decade ago when the Internet first started. Today, it has evolved. Businesses that do not create engaging experiences for their customers will be disrupted by companies with better products. Advertisers who continue to cling on to ads that maximize impressions will find worse returns and fatigued mediums. It’s time to retire page views and measure engagement instead.


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