Time Spent Is The Right Metric To Measure Engagement

If you're attempting to measure engagement online, you're most likely looking at time spent in ad units as one of your primary considerations -- and if you're not, then you're probably doing it wrong. That being said, keeping a watchful eye on time spent in a single ad unit is only telling a part of the whole story, so you're still not looking at the whole picture.

The fact is that we have many, many different metrics we can evaluate to determine success -- but when you break them all down, time spent across the entire campaign is the only one that truly covers all bases. Click rate is not the right metric and it hasn't been for quite some time. Interaction rates are good, but they can be gamed by the creative and influenced using trickery. Conversion rates are ideal, but not always applicable when you're trying to drive an offline transaction that can't be measured in a single online session.

Traditional brands that are looking to spend money online are looking at ways to generate awareness, create interest, stimulate desire and inspire action (the typical AIDA model that we all learned in Marketing 101). These metrics ultimately measure consideration and intent, which translate to sales and market share. If consumers spend time with the brand, whether it's via searching for information on Google, visiting the core Web site, or engaging in discussions and commenting with bloggers, then they are spending time with the brand -- and this is what you should be measuring.



Time spent is a standard measure that can be applied to a rich media display effort, but measuring time spent is much more interesting if you can aggregate together the time spent on the activities mentioned above. The only way to do that is to create an organizational plan in your media that forecasts the number of touches you have with a brand and the resultant amount of time spent with the brand. For example, if you're running a campaign that integrates social media, mobile, search and display, then you should attempt to evaluate the total number of exposures, as well as the visits you'll drive to the site and the increase in total mentions that can be measured within social media by using established tools.

Once you understand the total touches, you can either measure directly or assume through general patterns what the time spent is across each of these vehicles, and then create a cumulative time spent for the campaign. This metric is actually quite relevant to traditional media, where TV advertisers tend to evaluate their campaigns against a GRP as well as a cost per point. The cost per point assumes that value of the exposure, which is typically in a fixed setting of either 15, 30 or 60 seconds. In online you can assign the value of the media to the total time spent and create a cost per point-esque metric that not only measures efficiency of the initial exposure, but provides an apples-to-apples comparison of one campaign to the next.

When you break down the individual media vehicles, time spent is actually quite easy to report on -- so why shouldn't this become the de-facto metric for measuring engagement? If consumers spend more time than the average, they must be interested in your product or service -- and if they are interested, that is a measure of intent. The more efficient you are at implementing a campaign, which includes paid as well as non-paid placements, the more likely your campaign will be to drive that increase, which ultimately results in sales.

If you're using time spent in this manner, share with us on the Spin board what success you're seeing. If you aren't using it in this manner, tell me what you think. Would you give it a try? Would you agree with the concept? Let me know!

5 comments about "Time Spent Is The Right Metric To Measure Engagement".
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  1. Gregory Wilson from Red Ball Tiger, June 3, 2009 at 1:23 p.m.

    Nicely put, Corey. As you know, we've been recommending time spent as the "engagement metric" for the digital platform for some time now. Branding, after all, is about building relationships. And relationships can only be built through time spent together. The more time spent with a brand online and/or its advertising, chances are, the greater the affinity for that brand. Our belief, which we're now in the process of proving, is that share of time leads to share of mind which leads to share of market. Nice to find another supporter.
    Gregory Wilson,

  2. Joshua Hofmann from Vertical Acuity, June 3, 2009 at 4:55 p.m.

    Couldn't agree more Corey, it's the cornerstone of our measurement platform. It's not just the campaigns that need measurement to establish baselines for engagement, its the effectiveness of the content where the brand appears. How does HP, Apple, or the band U2 know if 20, 30, or 40 seconds is good without a baseline? Our approach is based on directly measuring the brand in the content across sites, but the conclusions are the same. If your content is effective, your engagement metrics will rise.

  3. Kevin Dwinnell from Brand Thunder, June 3, 2009 at 4:58 p.m.


    I agree with your premise, and I'd like to include tenure in the time spent. (NOTE: The following may sound a bit commercial, but it is directly relevant to the topic.)

    Brand Thunder's product is a custom browser designed to give brand's a persistent connection with their online audience. We are a complete outlier when it comes to time spent because the browser's in front of the consumer the entire time they are online, and it's immersed with the brand's design, its content, messaging and functionality. The discussion around engagement can get lost.

    We see a lot of interest at the click and conversion level. Focus is on the incremental traffic driven, the additional commerce delivered and the revenue effect from the online effort. It's easy to measure, easy to see the impact on the bottom line and it's helping the business now.

    When you start to measure time spent and tenure, you're committing to an ongoing relationship with your audience. It's more work to remain respectful, interesting and relevant, and more work to illustrate the recurring revenue stream instead of a one-off sale. It ends up like selling the benefits of compound interest.

    If you think about the difference between a long-term relationship and a summer fling. They both feel good, but one keeps delivering long after the other has faded.

  4. Michael Mcmahon from ROI Factory / Quick Ops, June 4, 2009 at 2:32 a.m.

    Hey Corey. As I read the headline I was already halfway through drafting my fiery response about how we've got to move beyond engagement. But when I actually read the article I found it to be very insightful. The idea of tracking time spent across MULTIPLE touch-points and equating that time to brand loyalty and customer value is excellent. Nice work.

  5. TARA TREVILLISON, June 11, 2009 at 4:15 a.m.


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