Dear Jeff,

My Web guys keep touting things like "desired action percentage" and "visitor engagement degree" whenever I question the performance of our website. Do I care about those things or are they just blowing smoke?

Name withheld by request

Any provider that consistently uses terms you don't understand to describe what they do--or what you are getting from them--is probably doing what an old boss of mine called "hiding behind the technology." That's been my experience, at least.

So let's take a look at those two metrics and see.

Desired Action Percentage (DAP) is basically the same as conversion rate. The formula is DAP = visitors who execute the desired action / total visitors.

So, let's say the goal of an individual page is to get visitors to sign up for your free newsletter. Twenty thousand people visit the page, 500 sign up for the newsletter.

500/20,000 = .025

Your DAP, or conversion rate, is 2.5%. Is that good? The answer depends on several factors.

One factor is how well your marketing or SEO results in targeted visitors. If most of your traffic comes from visitors who are already interested in your product or service, a low DAP indicates the newsletter is of very little interest to the average visitor, or that you did a poor job explaining its content and value.

On the other hand, if the average visitor stumbles on your site through a wide variety of sources, a low DAP may indicate you're intentionally casting a wide marketing net. In that case, a low DAP is to be expected.

Plus, if a page includes a number of different desired actions it can be difficult to determine which visitors came for which reason. If you offer a free e-book, a free newsletter sign-up, and a paid subscription plan all on the same page, and you used a variety of marketing efforts to draw visitors... it can be tough to distinguish which "type" of visitor took which action.

A great way to evaluate DAP--as you should evaluate conversion rates--is to analyze your results over time. Say you want visitors to sign up for your newsletter. Test a number of variables individually and compare the results.  Change the placement of the sign-up box, change the wording of your PPC ads, try different SEO initiatives... and each time compare your results.

Visitor Engagement Degree (VED) is a metric, in its simple form, intended to determine how "engaged" site visitors are. (We'll look at the term "simple form" more closely in a second.) The formula is VED = unique visitors/ total pages viewed.

For example, your site got 5,000 unique visitors this month and 30,000 total page views.

5,000/30,000 = 7.17 pages per visitor. Your VED is 7.17.

Now let's talk about "simple form." VED can be measured in a wide variety of ways. Some equations include eight to 10 variables. (Math can be fun, but that's a little too much fun.) More complex calculations include variables like click depth, duration indices, loyalty indices, interaction indices... okay, I'll stop.  Unless you're a mathematician--and even if you are--that's probably too complicated.

VED is one way to measure the level of site visitor engagement.  Theoretically, an engaged visitor tends to view a relatively large number of pages. A visitor that stops by and clicks a link or two and leaves theoretically didn't find much of interest. Visitors who clicked eight to 10 links theoretically not only found your site useful but also may be likely to return.

I say "theoretically," because if the visitor arrived with the intent of getting your phone number, the fewer pages they have to click the better.

So: What is the purpose of your site, or of individual pages?

If conversion is important, DAP is important. If you don't want visitors to take action, DAP is largely irrelevant.

If getting visitors to click multiple pages is important, VED matters. If your goal is for targeted traffic to arrive on a specific page and get all the information they need from that page, then VED is largely irrelevant.

What is never irrelevant is whether your Web provider--or any provider--speaks in a language you can understand... and whether they provide the results you need. If you think they're blowing smoke, make them show you the fire.

If they can't, get new providers.