Data Reveals The Value of Visitor Engagement
Having website visitors that are engaged with content is paramount to publishers that value the longevity of their digital properties. As more and more research emerges about the impact of things like user experience and visitor behavior, the more we are learning about the bottom line value of the metrics that are associated with these factors.
With more being learned about visitor behavior and intent, we are starting to understand exactly what elements are providing the most value to all the parties involved. Phenomenons like Fake UX have become the subject of popular news articles and studies recently.
Below, we will summarize information and data from a recent case study and presentation at Pubtelligence — which was recently hosted at Google in San Francisco. The presentation focused on exactly what metrics are most closely aligned with authentic visitor engagement and improvements in digital revenue.
Watch the full presentation from Pubtelligence
Visitor Engagement is correlated with visitor value
Not surprisingly, a bulk of research and data shows that user experience has a direct correlation to user value. UX metrics and revenue are inexorably tied together. You cannot talk about the revenue that a visitor generates during a session without taking into account things like how many pages they visit (as those pages have CPM values) and all the different navigational and experiential elements of your site that could be influencing those behaviors.
Understanding how parts of your site affect things like bounce rate and how many pages people visit is ultimately just as important — if not more important — to the bottom line than how much revenue the ads on all of your pages are actually generating.
Hopefully, you’re caught up on most this information and understand EPMV (earnings per thousand visitors) and how that metric helps encapsulate UX in its revenue calculation.
Understanding the Fake UX Phenomenon
Recent articles in The Drum and Ad Monsters highlight just how popular this term is becoming. Fake UX is a hot topic of discussion, but I think it’s more important to understand why it occurs than what it actually is…
Fake UX is the artificial inflation of common user experience metrics like session duration and pageviews per visit and the artificial deflation of bounce rate as a result of factors that are actually interrupting visitor sessions. This means the metrics are showing above average user experiences when in reality, visitors are actually having poor experiences. This could include things like having session duration elongated due to long page loads times.
Whether a publisher fully-understands the in’s and out’s of Fake UX isn’t as important as understanding exactly what causes it to manifest itself. In many cases, Fake UX is the direct result of a publisher’s efforts to actually improve UX!
In this example, a publisher implemented technology that was designed to help them “improve” navigation for visitors. They enabled swiping features that let mobile visitors swipe to go to a next article. They also added some features that automatically sent visitors to the next article once they reached the bottom of the page.
This change resulted in an increase in pageviews per visit; exactly what the publisher was trying to achieve. This is good, right?
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. More pageviews doesn’t inherently mean visitor experiences were better. Pageviews can be manipulated by confusing or unclear navigational elements. This can lead to a higher number of navigation bounces.
Navigation bounces highlight a problem with the way pages are linked together. They produce pageviews with very little time on page (something you can see in Google Analytics).
So, this kind of Fake UX — or artificial inflation of pageviews — might be bad for visitor experiences in reality, but in theory, this statistical increase in pageviews should result in more revenue, correct? Actually, no. Quite the opposite appears to be true.
Case Study Results: The site in question
So how are sites impacted by these changes across the board? Do they actually end up improving overall user experience metrics and what was the impact on the bottom line?
Below is a case study of a site that implemented many of the same changes listed above.
Unfortunately, outside of an increase in pageviews per visit — that is likely inflated (we’ll get to that more in a moment) — other metrics like time on page and navigation bounces were negatively impacted.
This kind of material helps the publisher reveal actual visitor behavior and the extent of visitor engagement when these changes are in place. Having this deeper level of knowledge can be really helpful in understanding the reality of these changes. Which is important because…
These factors also seem to be tied to organic search satisfaction factors that search engines, like Google, measure. For example, you can see above, this site saw some pretty dramatic results in a negative direction after an increase in Fake UX.
The monetary impact of Fake UX
As we asked above, does it really matter if the metrics are artificially inflated? The answer is, yes. Not only do your visitors have worse experiences, but you may be doing significant financial harm to your website long-term. Here’s how…
Having lower time on page and a high number of navigation bounces means that you are offering potential advertisers inventory with lower viewability, lower CTR, and poor campaign performance. This doesn’t just apply to potential direct advertisers. It applies to the programmatic exchanges as well.
These changes in your visitor engagement metrics mean that CPMs on your site could be decreasing on the pages affected, and could ultimately lead to many advertisers adding you to their blacklists. This means less competition and even lower ad rates long-term.
Three visitor engagement metrics that can keep you safe
What we’ve been able to find in case studies like this is that there are really three visitor engagement and user intent metrics that signal when user behavior is authentic or inflated. All three help determine when users are actively engaged in content vs. waiting for content to load, accidentally clicking, or actually browsing in another tab.
These are mentioned above, but they are one of the easiest ways to tell when an element of your site might be causing accidental or low-value pageviews to occur. You can use this metric to test new features or compare different landing pages. Reducing navigation bounces can help you cut down on low-value pageviews and increase the overall EPMV of your website pages.
Engagement time refers to the time a user is actually engaged in the content on the page, not scrolling, waiting for pages to load, messing with navigation bars, or browsing in another tab. This provides a very clear picture of when visitors are actually spending time on the page with the content. This can help publishers establish quality time on page; which is the time that advertisers are really interested in.
These are a close product of engagement time. These help publishers identify all pageviews in which visitors met a minimum threshold of engagement time on the page. These help publishers visualize the number of quality pageviews vs. actual pageviews. A publisher should be monitoring visitor behavior closely to ensure that there isn’t a large discrepancy between pageviews and engaged pageviews (site-wide and by landing page) to ensure that certain factors aren’t producing a high number of low-quality pageviews.
The key takeaways
- Carefully monitor common UX metrics (PVs/visit, session duration, and bounce rate). They are directionally aligned with user experience but do not provide granular info.
- Navigation Bounces and low-quality pageviews reflect poor user experiences and degrade the value of your site over time to advertisers both directly and programmatically.
- Measure Authentic User Intent Metrics (e.g. Engaged Time on Site, Engaged PVs/visit) to ensure you’re increasing the value of your pages and proving visitors with the best possible experiences.
Not sure how to track user behavior or visitor intent? The Ezoic platform provides detailed visitor engagement reporting for any site using the platform. There is no-cost to try Ezoic.
Tyler is an award-winning digital marketer, SEO veteran, successful start-up founder, and well-known publishing industry speaker. Tyler also serves as the host of Pubtelligence, a publishers-only event hosted at Google offices around the globe. Tyler describes his core competency as learning. He has composed content for some of the world’s top publications and has over a decade of experience building businesses in the digital space. Tyler is currently the Head of Marketing at Ezoic and serves as an SEO and marketing expert for start-up competitions across the U.S.