More On The Audience Engagement Story

Last week I began with the idea that "Engagement is a story, not a metric." I referred to Brian Haven's excellent Forrester white paper on engagement as a context for understanding how the Web has exemplified the notion that now "complexity reigns in the middle of the marketing funnel." Then I turned to Young-Bean Song's Microsoft/Atlas white paper on "engagement mapping," to illustrate a way to account for that complexity.

Atlas is offering ad server analytics to provide advertisers with a view into the various influences along the way to visitor conversion. Instead of giving 100% credit to the last ad that a visitor clicks before becoming a customer, Atlas promises to detail the full engagement story -- other sites where the customer had been exposed to the ad, the size and type of ads the customer had seen, and so forth.



If indeed Atlas can deliver on this promise, then let's all cheer them for giving advertisers a way to understand the engagement of site visitors and the effectiveness of their advertising.

On the publisher side, is there a value to trying to quantify engagement? At the recent eMetrics Summit in San Francisco, Gary Angel and Eric Peterson, two leading Web analytics experts, both wondered whether, from an advertising perspective, high engagement on a publisher site might indeed be a negative. The argument: If visitors are "too engaged" on a site, they might be less likely to leave to visit an advertiser's site. "You probably want visitors who are moderately engaged," Peterson said.

Afterwards, I suggested to him that if publishers could map their audiences to one or more segments of the sales/marketing funnel, then they could offer advertisers intelligence on how to effectively connect with their customer prospects. Consider this scenario:

On an IT content (news, analysis, community, peer and editorial reviews) site, visitors can be scored on whether or not they are engaged in buying decisions. How would you know? The more publishers know about their audience and their site behavior, the better. But let's say for argument's sake that these kinds of activities indicate deep engagement in a buying process:

  • Downloading a blade-server buying guide
  • Viewing conversations in an online forum on the subject "Dell vs. HP Servers," that has 186 posts
  • Posting a question in that discussion thread
  • Clicking on 7 editorial reviews
  • Clicking on 18 peer reviews
  • Downloading a white paper by HP

You might say that the audience on this site can be segmented in terms of low or high engagement. Perhaps the best way for Dell or HP -- or Sun or IBM for that matter -- to look at this kind of information is to do awareness advertising on news and analysis pages and evaluate other forms of "engagement marketing" to sections of the site where visitors are most certainly attempting to narrow the evaluation process.

It strikes me that this kind of analysis can work with any site oriented toward visitors who are making a considered purchase. I used the example of an information technology decision, in which staff members are tasked with researching market trends, companies and specific products.

And while B2B sites lend themselves to creating engagement stories, consumer sites can also engagement-map. Let's look at a travel site,

screengrab concierge.comVisitors here can drill down on specific countries, regions, and cities. They can look at photos, videos, maps, and draw up trip plans with "My" advice. They can download or subscribe to newsletters, and click on archived articles from Conde Nast Traveler. Clicking, subscribing, time spent, recency of visits, downloading -- all can lead to an engagement story. It is up to the publisher to know how to evaluate its own audience segments and provide advertisers with the wisdom necessary to advertise effectively. Here we can assume that a highly engaged visitor is a very valuable target for a hotel, such as the Carlton Hotel Baglioni, which has done a nice job of getting its message out to the right visitor.

Kevin Mannion is founder of Sky Road Consulting LLC, which provides management, sales, and marketing solutions for online publishers

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