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May 19, 2010

What is User Engagement Anyway? (part 2)

My colleague Jordan Willm's put his thoughts into words on user engagement in an earlier blog post. That inspired me to do the same.

About a year ago, I decided to challenge myself to take a deep dive into the world of web analytics. But because user experience design is at the heart of my practice, and not number crunching, I wanted the numbers to make me a smarter designer.

As I started to get my head around page views and bounces, user paths, conversions, advanced segmentation and pivot tables, I searched for a way to put these into a meaningful context.

Things started to really click when I started tying those metrics to strategies across the full customer lifecycle. Here's how my thinking has evolved.

1- Define the stages of customer engagement

I'd long been working on user experience strategies that lifted the barriers to engagement in web apps.  Josh Porter talks about this in Designing for the Social Web where he postulates 5 stages of the usage lifecycle. Josh describes these as Unaware, Interested, First-time Use, Regular use, and Passionate Use. For each stage of a person's experience with a site or app, it's our job to make it easy (and enjoyable!) for them to succeed.

We design with different strategies for a first time visitor landing on a site using organic search, compared to a returning user who wants tangible value from our offering. To that differentiation, add a hard look at objective metrics to see if an engagement strategy is working. To do that you need to establish set of metrics that apply to each stage of the experience.

2 - Envision a customer funnel

For our design strategies to lead to ROI (return on investment),  we're also applying the familiar concept of a customer funnel:

  • Widening the top of the funnel means getting more visitors [think SEO, SEM, marketing]
  • Stopping leaks means keeping our users engaged [think landing page optimization, usability, great content and interaction, game mechanics, comments, reviews, outreach, social referrals and sharing]
  • The bottom of the funnel is where you convert prospects to customers or evangelists [think tools and rewards for top contributers, great shopping experience, checkout flow]

I like the model proposed by Dave McClure where you define a set of metrics, a goal and a $ value to each phase of the customer lifecycle. His 5 stages: Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral and Revenue. The point is to match your user experience strategy to a relevant set of measures, and stick to it.

Another powerful concept for growing apps is the viral co-efficient. That means getting users to spread the word widely, achieving a strong uptake on referrals, and shortening the length of the viral cycle. Measure and act on the results.

3 - Monitor your success

Analytics luminary Avinash Kaushik argues for devoting some unstructured thinking time to make sense of your analytics. The basics are revealing — where people bounce off your site, what customer loyalty metrics indicate about your stickiness factor. But deeper insights defy simple equations. They call for an integration of strategy, empathy for the customer, and a willingness to "fail fast".  Gone are the days when you could build a website and forget about it for 3 years. Kaushik believes analytics has the potential to "drive a continual improvement of the online experience of your customers and prospects."

For me that's precisely where web analytics meets user engagement strategy.