Engaged Time

Last updated in July 2022

What is engaged time?

Engaged time refers to the total amount of time users spend actively engaged with a specific piece or pieces of content. Being "actively engaged" means a user is moving their cursor, clicking, scrolling, hovering, or playing audio or video on an active tab in their browser window.

Engaged time is not dependent on entry/exit events, so it encapsulates a more precise measurement of audience engagement. This includes the time spent on the final page in a user's session, as well as single-page visits.

How is engaged time calculated?

Parse.ly uses a "heartbeat" tracker to measure engaged time. This tracker scans a page many times every second to check if a user is still actively engaged, and aggregates the total amount of active engagement time.

After five seconds of inactivity, the tracker no longer considers the user engaged. It will pick up again later, if the user re-engages with the page.

While heartbeat trackers technically estimate actual time spent, they are markedly more accurate than entry/exit time metrics in terms of measuring true engagement on a page.

Why is engaged time important?

Engaged time is a realistic representation of audience interest and content value. If an audience finds a piece of content interesting, compelling, or valuable, they'll likely spend more time actively engaged with it.

For many organizations, especially those who have content goals tied to revenue, user experience, and content strategy, engaged time is a great metric to optimize for. Whether the goal is linking audience loyalty to subscriptions/purchases or understanding what content your audience responds to, engaged time serves as a valuable benchmark.

The problem with traditional time-on-site measurement

Many analytics platforms, including Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics (Omniture), measure engaged time based on a user's entry event (when they come to the page) and exit event (when they leave the page to go to another page on your site), both of which come with a timestamp. From there, these platforms calculate the time delta between each of those events per user session.

However, this way of measuring cannot take into consideration sessions that do not include an exit event. For example, if a user visits your site and then leaves to go to another site, or leaves the tab open, an exit event never gets recorded.

This is an issue, as single-page visitors can comprise 30-70% of a website's audience. That's a substantial chunk to leave off any benchmark site analysis.

Engaged time vs. bounce rate

Bounce rate has traditionally been used as a proxy to determine audience engagement. But relying on bounce rate can lead you astray.

Some pieces of content (for example, recipes) are intended only for single-page visits or websites. In these cases, a high bounce rate is expected and doesn't necessarily mean that visitors didn't find the content interesting or valuable.

Disregarding your readers' activities while on a page and relying on bounce rate alone can mislead you into believing your content is performing poorly. What's important in understanding the true value of your content is knowing how much time users spend actively engaged.

For example, though a recipe page might have a consistently high bounce rate, engaged time will provide insight into how successful the piece truly is—if users spend a long time actively engaged with the content, they're likely making the dish!

Learn more about engaged time and the actionable insights you can surface with Parse.ly's content analytics platform.

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