There are a lot of metrics that you can look at as a publisher to understand how well your content is resonating with audience members—pageviews, returning visitors, keyword performance, referrals, etc. Each of these gives you insight into some form of reader engagement.
One metric in particular that is particularly indicative of overall reader engagement, is time on site.
Why Time on Site is Important
We’ll start with an example.
Let’s say you see an average page view count of 4.5 pages per visit. Sounds great, right? But then you take a look at your average time on site, and it’s around 55 seconds. This means people “read” each of those 4.5 pages in less than a minute. It doesn’t take much math to realize that’s not a lot of time on each page, meaning your readers are just skimming. Or, even worse, this could indicate your readers aren't finding anything valuable enough to look at more deeply.
The longer someone remains on your site, the more likely they are to convert on an offer or display some other trackable form of purchase intent. So, while overall traffic indicates top-of-the-funnel strength, time on site is indicative of middle-of-the-funnel health.
At the top of your site's marketing funnel, a high number of visitors is healthy. As you move down the funnel however, your job is to identify those visitors who are demonstrating more interest in your content, and possibly more purchase intent. Time on site is an indicator of how much and how deeply readers want to interact with your content. If someone is on your site longer, they’re more engaged. When they’re more engaged, they’re more likely to trust you, and exchange personal information for sponsored content and even product/service recommendations.
To advertisers, these engaged users are the needles in the haystack that they care about. These readers are the qualified leads you want to be generating.
What You Can Do to Increase Time on Site
There are several things to think about if you want to see your time on site improve.
Create Great Content
Most obviously, you need to continue to create great content. Always think about value and relevance to your reader, and balance in-depth pieces with short, snackable articles that are easier to digest. Make sure you’re including visuals and have well-organized articles that appeal to different target personas, and use on-site analytics to understand what content is performing best! Don't be afraid to think outside of the box and try new formats.
Your site should encourage exploration to lead people from one piece of content to the next. Make page or section transitions clear, include additional content suggestions related to what readers have already consumed, and have an easy site search tool available. Even after you’ve gotten a conversion, you should encourage them to stay on your site rather than close the browser. For instance, if you have someone come in on a landing page that doesn’t feature a navigation bar (so they focus on the CTA), bring the navigation bar back on the confirmation or thank you page so they have more places to explore.
Personalize the On-Site Experience
Relevance has everything to do with time on site. The more a page is geared toward your unique user experience and interests, the more likely you are to continue browsing. Amazon.com, and the titans of ecommerce have learned this lesson, and now it's time for publishers to take note as well. Use smart content to serve followup content and CTAs that are new and relevant to their personal interests. Additionally, make sure that people aren’t being driven away by ads that aren’t relevant to them.
Make sure you know where your strong and weak points are. Look at the bounce rates and exit rates of individual pages to see where people are leaving your site and where they’re sticking around. Use that data to improve page content and build out new strategies to keep readers engaged.
With a few quick changes and a focus on site organization and structure, you’ll likely see increases in the amount of time readers are spending on your site, and therefore their overall engagement level with your content.
Originally published Aug 20, 2015 7:00:00 AM, updated February 01 2017