Thank F*sed7 it’s Friday: Here’s How You Can Improve Your Content
June 29, 2018
Google’s algorithms are increasingly focused on user engagement, which means sites with great, engaging content perform better in search rankings.
However, while long-form content continues to outperform short-form pieces, users typically only read a small percentage of any given article.
The longer you keep people reading, the more your search rankings will benefit. So what can you do to maximise visitor engagement, and how are users really consuming your content?
How Much Are They Reading?
On average, when somebody clicks through to an article, they will only have time to read 20% of it before navigating away.
This information comes from a study by the NNGroup, which found that users averaged 25 seconds on each page plus an additional 4.4 seconds per 100 words.
Assuming an average reading ability of 225 words per minute, our visitors only have time to read an additional 16 words in 4.4 seconds.
So, while they might keep reading a little longer, they’re not reading anything like the whole article.
In fact, even on short pages with 111 words or less, the average visitor will only have time to read half the content.
Since the data only tracks the length of time they spent on a page, and not their behaviour on that page, we don’t even know whether they were actually reading or not.
All we can say is that they couldn’t have read more in this amount of time.
That’s a scary thought – users are reading no more than 20% of the content we produce. That’s a best case scenario; many will read quite a lot less than that.
With content being so central to online marketing and SEO strategy, we need to take this into account when producing material for online consumption.
So, we know that our users simply don’t spend enough time on our articles to read more than about 20% of the word count.
How does this correlate with what we know about the best-performing types of content?
Optimum Post Length For User Engagement
The website Medium conducted a separate study, focusing on the performance of different lengths of content. They discovered that the optimum length to read a piece of content was 7 minutes.
In this graph we see the average total time spent on a post plotted against the length of time it would take to read the whole post.
We see a very strong correlation between longer content and greater engagement leading up to the 7 minute mark, which becomes much more scattered for longer material.
Keep in mind that the engagement axis on this graph is logarithmic; each integer is an order of magnitude higher than the last.
This means that an average 7 minute article attracts ten times as much engagement as a 2 minute article.
If we were to plot the y-axis linearly we would see a much more pronounced “spike” in content engagement.
By combining this data with what we already know about user behaviour, we can extract some useful insights:
- At 225 words per minute, the ideal length for content is 1,575 words (7 minutes minutes at 225 words per minute)
- Of these 1,575 words, the average user will only read about 315 (20% of 1,575).
Now, bear in mind that the whole point of producing this content is to boost your Google rankings.
Let’s examine what impact this information has for our SEO strategy, and how it contradicts what we’ve been told.
Post Length And Google Rankings
From what we know of how Google’s page ranking algorithms work, user engagement is amongst the most important factors.
Good user engagement demonstrates a good user experience, so these pages are pushed higher up the results pages.
At a recent SEO ranking factors panel, SEMrush presented their findings on the correlation between page length and ranking.
As you can see, there’s a strong correlation between the length of a page and its SEO performance.
The top three positions (on the left of the graph) all have significantly higher word counts than the lowest three, emphasising the link between content length and higher organic search rankings.
This contradicts what many in the industry were predicting; that mobile users would demand shorter content.
This presents a dilemma; from everything we’ve seen, we know that we need to provide long-form content in order to perform well on search engines.
However, we also know that the vast majority of this content won’t be read. So what does this mean?
Making Sense Of It All
We need to adapt our understanding of how people are consuming the content we produce. They aren’t sitting there and reading through at an even pace; they’re scanning quickly, looking for the information they need.
If they don’t find it quickly they’ll hit the back button and look somewhere else.
This fits with how people use search engines. People aren’t casting around looking for something to occupy their time; they have a question, and they’re looking for an answer. We need to keep this in mind when we produce content.
How You Can Improve Your Content
Here’s the good news; the hard work is already done. We already know how our audience is consuming our content, all we have to do is make a few alterations to how we create material for online consumption.
Here are a few of our favourite methods for improving user engagement:
Give Content Breathing Room And Create White Space
A big block of text is an obvious time commitment. Subconsciously, your readers will be put off by this, and they’ll simply skip past.
Just by breaking up your text a little you’ll make it much easier for visitors to skim, which is what’ll keep them on the page.
You might well need to re-organise your content quite significantly here. You won’t necessarily need to cut back on the overall word count (after all, we’ve just been talking about how long form content performs so well).
However, each page needs to be properly spaced and broken up, so you might be better off dividing one large topic into several smaller ones.
Use Visuals Consistently And Form A Pattern
Inserting graphics and images into your content helps provide “anchor points” for readers who are skimming through.
This helps to orient them within your content, and gets them into a rhythm.
Leave about 300 words between images; this gives the words plenty of room whilst still providing regular anchor points.
Users are likely to stop at an image and read the content surrounding it, especially if it appears to be relevant to their query.
This makes the text around images a strategically important location to place information. Or, to put it another way, you should always use images to emphasise the main points of your content.
Create Anchor Points With Good Formatting
Clear structuring and good formatting helps to signpost relevant information, and it further breaks up big walls of text.
It’s the perfect tool for users who are scanning through content, because it allows them to quickly identify the information they’re looking for.
Use a combination of different formatting techniques;
- bullet points
- different font sizes
Draw the user’s attention to relevant information to help them find what they’re looking for; this is the key to creating genuine engagement.
Give Away Spoilers
It’s tempting to make users “work” for their information. After all, if engagement is measured in time on-page, you don’t want to give the game away that quickly, do you?
On the other hand, users won’t spend long at all looking for an answer; as we’ve already seen, an average reader won’t spend more than a few seconds on your page.
A much more effective technique is to provide answers straight away. Notice how at the start of this piece we told you how “. . . while long-form content continues to outperform short-form pieces, users typically only read a small percentage of any given article”.
That’s the key observation of this article, and we gave it away in the first paragraph.
By providing an answer to the user’s question straight off the bat, we encourage them to dig deeper into our content.
They’re not scrolling down to find out basic information; now, they can spend some time finding out why this is the case, how we know, and what they can do about it.
In short, they’ll be properly engaging with our content.
Making The Most Of Your Content
Creating content can sometimes seem like an uphill battle, but it’s well worth the effort. By integrating these useful points into your own content creation strategy you’ll be able to improve user engagement.
This boosts both your standing on Google and, of course, the satisfaction of your users.
- Long content still outperforms short content
- Visitors only read a small portion of your content
- Users scan for information . . .
- . . . so information should be easy to find
- Avoid “walls of text”
- Insert images regularly (every 300 words or so)
- Use formatting to signpost important information
- Don’t make users “work” for information; give it to them straight away