Content engagement is one of those ambiguous terms everyone likes to toss around, “We’re boosting engagement this year!” But few people actually know how to define this term or, for that matter, effectively measure it.
From our vantage point, several years into the content marketing revolution, old-school analytics like page views have effectively gone the way of the dinosaurs. We know that maximizing clicks is shortsighted and that whether your goal is boosting brand awareness or generating more leads, content engagement is where it’s at.
But what exactly does “content engagement” look like, what’s the best way to measure it, and how can we improve on these measurements?
Today’s analytics experts now like to throw out measurements such as “scroll depth”, “on-page time” and “social media shares.” These are all different sides of the complex world of content engagement metrics, which at times can seem much more like an art than a science. There is still no formula to predict successful user engagement with your content. However, there is a clear pattern of best practices emerging from this burgeoning field.
Before we start assessing the validity of different content engagement metrics, we need to start with a clear definition of content engagement. Personally, I’m a fan of how Neil Patel defines content engagement as “real people responding in measurable ways to your content.”
Content Reach and Content Engagement: What’s the Difference?
A high number of clicks but low user engagement means you’ve got great audience reach, but your content is leaving something to be desired. High engagement but low readership means that you’ve got great content, but you need to get this content in front of more people.
The goal is great traffic AND great engagement. The right people will have their eyes on the right content. With great traffic and great engagement, you’ll start seeing the difference in brand awareness, increased leads, and improved conversion rates.
Untangling Engagement Metrics
Like any metric, you cannot measure engagement if you do not have clear objectives. Your pattern of Web analytics should look a little something like this chart, created by Digital Telepathy. I’ve modified it slightly here:
Set Clear Objectives
“What do I want from my site?”
You want readers to be more than readers — you want them to interact with your content in a meaningful way. But you may also want to boost brand awareness, increase leads, and/or increase page views. Your objective goal affects which engagement metrics will be most important for your website.
Establish Engagement Goals
“What do I want visitors to do on my site?”
This interaction could occur as comments, social sharing, dwell time (how long readers stay on a page), user scrolling (how far down the page do readers go), heat maps (where are people clicking), and inbound linking (more quality inbound links equates with higher trust and better page rank).
Pick the Right Metrics
“What are the best ways to measure visitor actions?”
The metrics you use depend on the content platform. In the case of an article, you’ll be measuring engagement metrics in terms of comments, shares, dwell time, user scrolling, inbound linking, heat maps, etc. If you were measuring content engagement on Facebook, you’d be focusing on likes, re-shares, and click-through rates. For a webinar, you’d focus on sign-ups, duration online, comments, questions asked, etc.
Evaluate the Data
“What is my data telling me?”
Once you’ve collected your data, you’ll need to determine what it all means. While general engagement metric tracking is a good way to keep an eye on your blog performance, if everything remains the same, you’ll never know if you could be improving over the status quo. That’s why I recommend making slight changes to your blog and testing the engagement response to your changes.
For example, you might test how ending your blog’s conclusion with a question affects comment engagement or how choosing a somewhat controversial topic affects inbound links and social media posts. If your goal is boosting engagement (and not just keep the same level), then you’ll need to make changes!
3 Tools to Better Monitor Content Engagement
Now that you’ve established a clear plan for setting objectives, measuring engagement and analyzing feedback, it’s time to choose the right tools. Sure, you could stick with just Google Analytics for content engagement measurement.
However, if you have room in your budget, a number of content marketing analytic companies really help you dig in beneath the surface to understand the quality of engagement time. And, most critically, these tools also provide strategic recommendations that help you translate your metrics into actionable improvements that not only lead to better engagement, but also help you more effectively reach your end goal, be that a stronger brand or higher conversion rates.
These are three of my favorites:
Chartbeat pioneered the wild, wooly world of active engagement. Are users actually engaged with that story or video, or is it unspooling in the background while they’re off stalking a former significant other on Facebook?
Chartbeat doesn’t measure clicks. Instead, the reader’s browser sends Chartbeat pings every few seconds that tell Chartbeat exactly what the reader is actively (or idly) up to. Below is a screenshot of their dashboard:
Contently’s analytics package, Insights, is built specifically to optimize brand-reader relationships. While this package may not be useful (or affordable) for a personal blog, Insights’ focus on “readers” rather than “visitors” is an important takeaway. Insights tracks the number of times a reader comes back to your site, re-reads the same content, and how much time they spend with this content.
This has important implications for everything from conversion rate optimization to lead nurturing. For example, it’s a safe assumption that a visitor who comes back to your website and reads the same piece of content repeatedly over a limited period is more valuable as a lead prospect than a visitor who reads the blog post only once and fails to finish.
Even if a specific blog seems to underperform your others in terms of views and finish rates, you’d still want to know if a reader returned multiple times. Below is a screenshot of their dashboard:
What’s hot and what’s not? That’s the basic (and highly over-simplified) premise behind TrenDemon, which embeds a single line of code in your site. TrenDemon’s algorithms identify which sources, pages and paths on your site are most effective.
Visitors are engaged in real-time with relevant personalized content recommendations and calls to action. WordPress users can use TrenDemon’s plugin to integrate and access TrenDemon directly from the WP admin interface.
The tool’s Google Analytics integration makes it easy to optimize TrenDemon’s performance and include custom reports within your Google Analytics account. Below is a screenshot of TrenDemon’s dashboard:
Nearly two-thirds of visitors to an average site do not return again in the next 30 days, according to Chartbeat. Tools like Chartbeat, Contently’s Insights, and TrenDemon help you bring back visitors by understanding how visitors engage with your existing content and providing insights regarding what you need to do when it comes to boosting engagement. Better engagement leads to more click-throughs, more social shares, more trial sign-ups, and stronger brand relationships.
Do you currently measure content engagement? What metrics matter most to you and how do you use data from these measurements to improve your content?
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