What is an Engagement?

Engagement is a catch-all phrase used to describe any sort of interaction with content.

For example on a video it would include pausing the video, resizing the screen or changing the volume. It is mainly used as a Social Media metric, but is also used with traditional online advertising.

Calculator IconWork out the ER of your campaigns with our Engagement Rate Calculator >


What does Engagement mean?

The term engagement within marketing is over 100 years old. It is part of a sales strategy that is popular to this day called AIDA. This stands for Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action.

The strategy comes from a time when sales people had to inform customers what a product was before encouraging them to buy. This would involve several stages of engaging people to get them into the right mental place to make a purchase of something they had literally never heard of before.

The term has moved on repeatedly since then. In online advertising, engagement is intended as the tool through which advertisers entice users to connect to their brand.

The IAB defines engagement as “a spectrum of consumer advertising activities and experiences—cognitive, emotional, and physical—that will have a positive impact on a brand”.

The IAB Engagement Continuum

For most digital marketing practices (social media, SEO, display advertising etc), engagement simply means clicking on the thing which the marketer wants you to click on. By simply giving attention to something in any form, a relationship has begun to form between the user and the brand.

Or at least that this the idea. Marketers have in general taken this idea to the extreme by including muting an ad, or expanding a tweet (as well as numerous other seemingly inconsequential actions) as being valuable interactions.

While there is an argument to say they mean something, it is generally likely that they are not equal in value to actually visiting an advertisers website.


Top Tip

Like with clicks, engagement on it’s own is not a great measure of success. Engagement Rate is a much more fair way of comparing multiple ads, as it shows how users would react given the same exposure.

Engagement Rate Equation or Formula

Click to enlarge

Engagement Rate = Engagements x 100 / Ad Impressions


Engagement Advice for Site Owners

If an advertiser wants to buy ads on a CPE basis (Cost Per Engagement), make sure that pixels are in place so the engagements can be tracked at your end.

Engagements are not sales (or even clicks necessarily). As a result, each engagement probably won’t pay that much. It is therefore extra essential that you can optimise towards them.


Engagement Advice for Ad Buyers

When planning an engagement campaign, be sure to think hard about which engagements actually mean something to you.

Also make sure you can differentiate between them in your reporting. It is a risky business to lump high and low value engagements in to one CPE buy. Therefore strong reporting is the only way you will be able to effectively optimise your purchasing decisions.


Other names for engagement (synonyms)

User Interaction (this has fallen our of fashion)


Not to be confused with

Getting married, Engagement Marketing (which is about developing a brand with user help)



Engagement Definition


Find out more

Engagement Rate Calculator

CPE Calculator

CPE Definition

Buying Ads on a CPE Basis

Selling Ads on a CPE Basis

Author: Justin Driskill

Justin is the founder of The Online Advertising Guide and a freelance Digital Projects Manager.

Back: Glossary Index