GA4 Website Engagement Benchmarks for A/E/C Firms [2023]

10.12.2023 9 Minutes

A/E/C firms are often left high and dry when they go looking for benchmarking data for their websites.

While benchmarking played an important role in understanding website analytics with Universal Analytics, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) still hasn’t released any form of comprehensive benchmarking report to compare our collected analytics against.

Now that Universal Analytics has officially been sunset, many marketers are left stranded when it comes to understanding the relative performance of their various KPIs.

In this article, we’ll explore three key benchmarks for A/E/C websites you can use to inform your marketing and website improvement efforts: engagement rate, average engagement time, and ratio of new to returning visitors.

All data collected for this article was sourced using GA4 data for the month of August, 2023 from a sample of 20 client websites with a minimum monthly active user base of at least 2,000 visitors.

What is the average engagement rate for an A/E/C website?

Average engagement rate box and whisker chart for a sampling of high-performing A/E/C clients.

Average engagement rate box and whisker chart for a sampling of high-performing A/E/C websites.

Engagement rate helps you measure the percentage of visitors to your website that perform some kind of relevant and valuable action, such as reading your content or clicking a link.

This makes engagement rate a vital KPI in gauging your site’s ability to quickly connect with visitors and satisfy user intent.

An engaged session is a session that lasts longer than 10 seconds, has a conversion event, or has at least 2 pageviews or screenviews. The engagement rate is the percentage of engaged sessions on your website or mobile app [when compared to the total number of sessions on your site]. — Google Analytics Help Center

Engagement rate benchmarks for 2023

Using data collected from our clients, we have found that a healthy engagement rate for most A/E/C and professional service firms is around 55-60%, depending on a variety of factors such as industry, monthly active users, and the ratio between organic and paid traffic.

As a few points of reference to compare this range against:

Taken together, these numbers hint at an average engagement rate target of somewhere in the realm of the mid to upper 50s, with sites that place a greater emphasis on engagement rates breaking into the low 60s.

Since we’re still in the early days of GA4, however, it’s important to note that none of these numbers are set in stone.

Benchmarks between industries can vary, and websites can see a range of engagement rates from different channel sources as well — ranging from relatively low numbers for PPC solutions and direct traffic to extremely high engagement rates for organic search or email traffic.

How to increase user engagement on your firm’s website

Engagement rate is calculated as the total number of engaged sessions a site receives divided by the total number of sessions. For this reason, the best way to improve your site’s engagement rate is to simply find ways to make your site more “engaging.”

For this specific discussion, this means either (1) finding a way to make a greater percentage of sessions last longer than 10 seconds, (2) adding tracking tags for key conversions on core pages (such as if someone lands directly on a team member’s page from organic search and immediately clicks on their phone number), or (3) providing more compelling UX signals to users so they are more likely to navigate to a second page or another location on your website.

Using these three ideas as a guideline, we can identify a few ways to improve a site’s conversion rate through small, iterative improvements:

  1. Provide high-quality, relevant content — Users want to spend time with content that is both rich in value and intimately relevant to their interests or needs.
  2. Prioritize page speed and overall site design — Websites that load quickly will often perform better than ones that don’t. Further, foregrounding an attractive and compelling design is an effective way of grabbing and holding the interest of your users, making them stay longer on your site.
  3. Position your firm as a subject matter expert — Take steps to position your firm and your team as experts in your field through supplementary content such as case studies, white papers, and videos.
  4. Perform a detailed website audit — The most effective way to quickly gauge where you should spend your efforts is to perform a detailed website audit with the goal of identifying areas for improvement and the strategies you’ll need to get there.

How long should a user spend on an A/E/C website?

Average engagement time box and whisker chart for a sampling of high-performing A/E/C clients.

Average engagement time box and whisker chart for a sampling of high-performing A/E/C clients.

In Google Analytics 4, the “average engagement time” metric measures how long users interact with your website during a single session.

Specifically, average engagement time is measured by dividing the total amount of time users spent with your web page in focus by the total number of active users that visited your site in a given time period.

For example, if a user (1) clicks on a link to your site, (2) looks at your home page for one second, then (3) clicks on a different tab and doesn’t come back to the site, GA4 will measure the “engagement time” of this session as only one second, since the page was only in the foreground for that first second.

Meanwhile, if a user spends five minutes scrolling through an article on your site, that session’s engagement time will reflect how long they were actively engaging with your content.

Tracking engagement time in GA4

Because average engagement time is a measure of how long users directly interact with your site, it’s a good way of gauging the effectiveness of core pages at engaging members of your audience and convincing them to interact deeply with your content.

Historically, the target in Universal Analytics for “average session duration” was close to 01:30 for most websites. However, this target looked at the total duration of the session, and not the time that the user had your site in the foreground.

For example, a user might click back and forth between your website and another tab several times over the course of 15 minutes, but Universal Analytics would still count the session as being the full 15 minutes (instead of the subset of time that the user actually spent on your site).

Meanwhile, GA4 would keep track, in milliseconds, of how long the user actually spent browsing the content on your website.

For this reason, it’s not at all uncommon to see average engagement times of closer to a minute or less on sites currently running GA4, if only because the new system shows a more accurate representation of how long users actually spend interacting with your content.

Average engagement time benchmark for A/E/C firms

In reviewing our clients’ sites, we found that the average engagement time was equal to around 60 seconds (with a median of 63 seconds), with datapoints ranging from 00:42 to 01:22 depending on the client and the amount of content they had on their highest-trafficked pages.

While there isn’t much information available regarding engagement time benchmarks to compare this number against, anecdotal evidence and further parsing of the Databox Benchmark Groups datasets suggest that this is a relatively accurate target to shoot for when it comes to engagement time for high-performing A/E/C websites.

Note, however, that your performance in this metric will largely depend on the types of content users are looking for on your site. After all, some users may want to spend ten minutes reading a detailed blog post, while others may want to just get the email or other piece of contact information for a project manager as fast as possible.

It’s all about finding the baseline and target that work best for your individual site.

What's a good ratio of new vs. returning visitors?

Generally speaking, most A/E/C firms approach their websites with the goals of driving business development, attracting and retaining top talent, and establishing themselves as thought leaders in their industry.

Importantly, all three of these target audiences (potential business partner, potential recruit, and industry peer looking for information) share the common trait of giving your users a reason to visit your site several times across a period of several weeks or months:

  • Potential leads for new business might be looking for firms with the capabilities and experience they need to complete a project, and may revisit your site several times looking for more information when weighing their options.
  • Potential recruits will reguarly check the careers section of your website, follow your blog for thought leadership, or perform research on your leadership team or culture across the various “about” pages of your site, resulting in several sessions over the course of the recruitment process.
  • Finally, industry peers or other parties looking for authoritative and reliable expertise will regularly view your website’s thought leadership materials (articles, white papers, videos, etc.) to learn more about the work you do.

For this reason, the ratio of new vs. returning visitors is often a key predictor of higher engagement rates, longer engagement times, and a stronger ability to convert this engaged traffic into leads (or to leverage it toward other overarching business goals).

After analyzing analytics data for our clients, we found an array of returning visitor percentages ranging from around 14% to around 23%, with the average across all the firms surveyed sitting at a returning visitor percentage of 17%.

While the reasons why a user may return to your site may be different depending on your site’s content, your firm’s goals, and any number of other factors, it’s still generally a good idea to keep a healthy ratio of close to this 15-20% returning benchmark to ensure your site is successful at retaining visitors and compelling them to come back for subsequent sessions in the future.

Monitor how your audience engages with your website

Keeping the pulse of your website’s engagement is a crucial part of any digital marketing or digital recruitment strategy, and plays a central role in providing a superior experience to users.

Significant drops in your site’s engagement numbers may indicate a technical problem or other issues, while a slow decay over time in your engagement rate or average engagement time may indicate that your site is nearing the end of its life (or that it’s in dire need of a facelift).

For these reasons, it’s important to regularly monitor these KPIs for your website to ensure your numbers are holding steady or, if possible, trending upward over time.

Similarly, it may be wise to perform a regular audit of your site and its performance to ensure it remains in tip-top shape for as long as possible — increasing your firm’s return on your initial investment and guiding your plants for any potential future website redesigns or iterations.

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