Can You Really Increase Conversions By Decreasing Engagement?

Engagement is a magnetic “measure” of online effectiveness. You might call it an “engaging” metric. This is because it is a nice stand-in when real measures of sales, leads or subscriptions are too difficult to track or deliver disappointing results.

“No, we didn’t increase sales, but look at the engagement!” is the mantra.

The definition of “engagement” changes from channel to channel. On a landing page, it may mean tracking how many visitors scroll the page, click on a form field, or watch a video.

In social media, engagement can be measured by liking, commenting, following, connecting, uploading a photo – almost anything.

On your website, it may be measured by how many visitors bounce, how long they spent on the site or how many pages they saw during their visit.

In general, engagement is a predictive measurement. It doesn’t tell us how much money we’re making or how many new prospects we’ve identified. In general, a high engagement rate is considered a sign that we are more likely to get more sales or more leads.

As it turns out, this is not a very good assumption.

The Fine Line Between Engagement & Distraction

Having just come back from Conversion Conference East, my head is freshly filled with the odd workings of the human brain when interacting with the Web. In particular, Tim Ash’s mantra that rotating headers on an ecommerce home page will kill your conversion rate.

The motion of a rotating header draws visitors’ attention – it engages them – but it does so at the expense of their natural page-scanning behavior. If your constantly changing offers aren’t what the visitor came for, and their scanning is interrupted, then they won’t find a reason to dig deeper into your site.

In this scenario, the rotating header (or rotating logos, or rotating testimonials) on the page tests out as a distraction, not engagement. The primary difference between an engaging feature and a distraction is that one reduces your conversion rate while one increases it.

When doing split tests, it is not unusual for us to see a decrease in engagement for the winning treatment. In situations like this, if we focused on increasing engagement, we would be driving the conversion rates lower and lower.

The bottom line is this: Don’t rely on engagement statistics unless they correlate to a conversion rate. You want to be sure that engagement is predictive of conversion, and not a distraction. Engagement and conversion must move in the same direction.

Engagement and Conversion Don't Always CorrelateDon’t assume that better engagement means higher conversion rates.

Unfortunately, this means that you must solve the ROI problem. When ROI is hard to measure, engagement is usually put in the game. But, you may unwittingly be putting in his evil twin, distraction.

YouTube Attention Measurements Don't Translate to Conversions YouTube’s Viewer Attention metric would predict that “talking head” video would deliver the lowest conversion rate. In fact, it is the highest converting style of video. In this case, engagement doesn’t predict conversion.

Simplicity Rules For Landing Pages

If you’re driving search traffic to landing pages (as you should) distraction is more common than engagement.

The person who clicked on your PPC ad came expecting something specific. Your ad is a promise that the landing page must keep. If you place “engaging” content on a landing page, you are more likely to add to distraction.

Even things like a description of your company or your products should be well-considered before being added. If they build trust with visitors, they may be engaging and increase conversion rates. If they make the page harder to scan or obscure the key call to action, they are a distraction.

For each component you add to a landing page – or the ecommerce equivalent product page – ask yourself if that component is important to the action at hand. Does it make completing a form easier? Does it remove a barrier to clicking “Add to Cart”?

Even navigation and logos found in your corporate site template will add distractions. Consider the  process.

The best way to ensure that you’re adding engagement and not distraction is to track visitors all the way to conversion. This means measuring revenue or lead count for each visitor.

Of course, once you’ve established a correlation between engagement and conversion, why bother looking at engagement at all? I don’t know.

Video Cuts Both Ways

A lot has been written about video and it’s ability to deliver a step up in conversion rates and revenue per visit. Because of the cost in time and money, we don’t usually test video. It’s as if we just don’t want to know.

The truth is that video is full of both engagement and distraction. In my Conversion Conference keynote, I stated that showing visitors video is like breaking a bottle against the back of their skull 30 times per second.

While there is a lot of research on how we watch Superbowl commercials, there has been little done on how we watch video more common to landing pages.

Until now.


In a partnership with Mirametrix Eye Tracking, we tested three kinds of video: talking head, webinar-style and drawn whiteboard. What we found is that video can be a major source of  engagement as well as a distraction.

Motion in the video pane can steal attention away from the form

In this series of frames, a call to action in the video causes the viewer to look at the landing page form. Then, motion in the video seems to steal their attention back.

Our hypothesis was that whiteboard video would engage the viewer more, keeping them on the page and increasing conversion rates. When we looked at eye tracking studies, we saw that participants who viewed whiteboard video spent significantly less time looking at the copy and forms on our landing pages. We thought this might reduce conversion rates.

In the series of images at right, you can see that a call to action in the video directs attention to the landing page form. However, the scene changes and the animation seems to steal the attention away from the form and back to the video. The green dot is where the viewer’s eye is looking.

Tests Will Tell

Fortunately, we combined our eye-tracking study with a split test. As of this writing the talking head video and whiteboard video are outperforming the slide video, the latter of which has the least motion. You can participate here.

So, while eye-tracking data shows that motion will draw attention away from our call to action, it doesn’t seem to have a negative impact on conversions. The low-motion slide video like that delivered by webinars is converting more poorly by comparison.

How To Use Motion To Your Benefit

Motion can be a distraction or can increase engagement depending on how you use it. Based on our preliminary findings, here are some good rules to follow.

  1. Minimize motion of all sorts on a landing page. If you use video, repeat the page’s call to action in the video.
  2. Use talking head video and whiteboard video to teach or explain concepts. These keep the attention of visitors long enough for you to tell your story.
  3. Place calls to action in or near moving components.
  4. Test moving components including video to ensure they are increasing engagement (conversion) and not increasing distraction.

You can pre-order a copy of the video eye-tracking report today and get the complete results of the study.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Search & Conversion


About The Author: is the Conversion Scientist at Conversion Sciences and author of Your Customer Creation Equation: Unexpected Website Forumulas of The Conversion Scientist. Follow Brian at The Conversion Scientist blog and on Twitter @bmassey

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  • Kevin Cobourn

    The thing with engagement is … often times it is not measuring anything beyond the intend of a visitor. For example, let’s say we find people who engage with video convert at a higher rate. While that’s a correlation, it’s likely that the person who’s interested in video and engages is already more like to convert. In other words, engagement doesn’t predict revenue so even in correlations this metric fails.

    As an alternative, you can A/B test a video being on or off a page. Then, any change in conversion you see about that specific product could be more defensible in terms of proving causation.

    However, even THEN you can’t extrapolate that assumption to all videos … you see, it does get complex huh?

  • Brian Massey

    Kevin, it does get complex. This doesn’t mean that we can work with simple conclusions from what we learn. It’s smart to bet on statistical swings in conversion rate. The alternative is guessing or gut feel. Which do you want to hang your future on?

  • Bill Hennessy

    I love this article. Even though the word “engagement” appears in my official title, I see, every day, how blind pursuit of engagement can undermine a company’s purpose. Thanks for debunking the myth and replacing it with useful information.

  • James Schramko

    I have has similar results in my tests. Conversions are higher even with lower engagement.

  • Filip Galetic

    KISS – Keep it simple stupid. This mantra works every time. Good to see you delve more into how videos can drive engagement, I think this is a good story which illustrates some of the pointers:

  • Carol Dodsley

    Great article and so glad to see someone split testing and measuring engagement V conversions within videos too – thanks for some great info

  • Brian Massey

    James, it would be great to see some of your data.

  • Brian Massey

    Thanks, Carol.

  • Andreas

    My experience is that the tool Visual Website Optimizer is measuring Engagement not very precisely. At least it didn’t a year ago.

    It does not count
    - form submits
    - actions on elements added after page load (e.g. click on an AJAX search)

    In my experiments customers often used the search more often, but it isn’t engagement in Visual Website Optimizer. You will say: OK, but the user will generate a page view after the search (e.g.the product detail page) and so engagement will go up, but VWO doesn’t count this, engagement does only count the actions on the tested page.

    In our tests with lower engagement but higher conversions our customers used the search more often and found their products faster – and so converted more.

    Tip: Use Custom Goal to track AJAX searches and / or define the Search Result Page as a goal.

  • Brian Massey

    Andreas, there are lies, damn lies and analytics. I appreciate you warning us about the VWO engagement metric. It’s something we’ve watched with curiosity, but have never paid much attention to. Thanks for the tip on search results pages. SERPs are SO important.

    Thanks for the comment.

  • Andreas

    Hi Brian,

    I meant the internal search of a page, not Google SERPs.

    Best regards

  • Brian Massey

    As did I. iSERPs?


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