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When it comes to blog posts, “engagement” doesn’t just indicate quality. Often, it also correlates with the number of conversions your sales-oriented content generates.
And, since many SEO-ranking factors are based on human behavior, engagement really is a necessary metric for optimizing already high-ranking content that appears on the first page of Google search results.
The problem is that the way most people measure content-marketing efforts today is via the Time on Site metric in Google Analytics, which fundamentally limits your ability to optimize your blog posts for higher engagement.
That’s a problem. Alternatively, I present below a process for measuring engagement that’s designed to achieve the higher engagement levels that I believe will bring you 80 percent of your desired outcome using only 20 percent of your effort.
Why “time on site” is the wrong criterion (and a better alternative to use)
Why is Time on Site in Google Analytics a bad metric for content engagement? Two main reasons:
By default, the Google Analytics tag is activated only when users interact with your website by visiting different pages on its domain. This means that Google Analytics will omit data on readers who read only one blog post on your site during their visit, no matter how much time they actually spend there.
It is a fundamentally flawed method of measuring engagement. Time on Site tells you just that: the time users have your site opened in their browser tab. It puts into the same category a highly engaged user who reads your content intensely for 10 minutes with one who opens your blog post and then goes off to the kitchen to make a coffee.
Luckily, data advocate Simo Ahava has developed a great way to measure user engagement based on research done by Chartbeat — i.e., one based on actual mouse moves, clicks, scrolls and key depressions. This is a much better method for tracking user engagement, and you can start mastering it, using this step-by-step tutorial.
Assuming you’ve implemented this algorithm, let’s jump into what I call the four rules to follow to increase engagement.
1. Create a captivating headline.
Based on my experience split-testing blog posts, the element which has the single biggest impact on engagement levels is the headline. It’s the first thing that people read when they land on your blog post, and it can help them decide whether to read further, or take their attention elsewhere. That’s why it’s crucially important to always test your headlines for engagement. In fact, big brands like BuzzFeed test their headlines on a regular basis.
Related: 26 Ways to Bring Your Blog to Life
A study conducted by Conductor revealed that among classic headline templates, “X ways to do Y” is almost always the best choice. I concur: I saw a significant engagement spike on my own post about how to make a website, after adjusting the article title to this format template.
Psychologists don’t agree on why this type of headline is the most engaging, yet a likely reason is that it gives a reader the impression that the article is densely filled with easy-to-access information.
The takeaway: When testing headlines, always consider playing around with these tried-and-true formulas.
2. Write a compelling introduction.
Another example of the 80/20 rule in optimizing blog post engagement is split-testing your introduction, which is the second thing that readers will concentrate on after the headline.
The most fruitful approach to writing introductions is to treat them like sales copy: Imagine that you’re writing a gated-content piece that asks readers to buy straight after the introduction.
What will you say to make them think that your post is going to be the most important thing they read all week? How are you going to show them that your article is a way for them to escape their fears and achieve their desires? How are you going to make your writing help them rationalize a purchase?
The takeaway: Of course, these aren’t the only questions that can help you write a captivating introduction, so don’t feel limited. But, overall, they’re a good start. So is using personal story, or a controversial opinion.
3. Increase your post’s perceived value by adding great graphic design.
Like it or not, people judge a book by its cover. If you’ve ever bookmarked a well-designed piece of marketing content without reading it, then you know what I’m talking about. This is the effect you should be going for with your own readers.
Graphic design, done right, can be the single best way to increase user engagement and conversions, and is a classic way to increase perceived value. Bloggers who earn significant money understand this concept: Blogger Pat Flynn, for instance, has dedicated resources to redesigning his blog seven times to increase engagement and conversions.
The takeaway: Of course, graphic design can be expensive, so it’s worth checking the conversion data in Google Analytics to decide which landing pages are worth touching up. You can easily do this in Google Analytics by clicking “Behavior” -> “Site Content” -> “Landing Pages.” On the right-hand side, you can see the goal completion data for your specified conversions.
4. Format text for different types of readers.
Research done by the Nielsen-Norman Group shows that online content is read in a very scattered fashion.
The most important conclusion from these studies is that most users don’t read text word by word. Instead, they tend to stop at headlines, bullet points and the beginnings of paragraphs to try to pick out information that they find relevant.
Another study by Nielsen-Norman concluded that people are likely to read only 20 percent of the words on a given web page during a visit — that is, if they actually devote their time to reading.
In order to maximize engagement for your content, adjust your format to the preferences of the average reader who prefers to scan content for fragments of interest. To achieve this, be sure to:
Write short paragraphs and avoid large chunks of text. Paragraphs with no more than three sentences generally yield the best results. Most importantly, remember that large chunks of texts are hard to digest at first glance.
Make frequent use of subheads and of ordered and unordered lists. These are the elements that readers focus on the most, so include them in your writing often. Also, try to make your headlines descriptive, so that readers can easily navigate your text.
Use graphics to depict some of your ideas and break up the text. It will make the article more digestible, and the graphics will draw the attention of your readers.
Optimizing user engagement is about getting to know your readers. However, no amount of split-testing will help you if you don’t make great content your top priority.
And high-quality content is always worth it. It may not be easy to create; it may be time-consuming and research-intensive. But it’s worth the effort.
Rest easy: Over time, you’ll gain more awareness from your content and increase your web traffic from organic search results. And the more valuable your content, the better your business results will be in the long run.