On this episode of Ground Up, Kieran Flanagan talks about the early days of freemium at HubSpot, instilling a growth discipline that expanded well beyond the marketing team, managing cross-functional teams, and more.
Ground Up Podcast | Oct 21
Kiera Abbamonte on June 4, 2019 (last modified on October 16, 2019) • 22 minute read
Most blog posts are designed around a question-and-answer exchange–so it’s common for readers to click through from search results, find the info they came for, and promptly leave.
That’s why bounce rates are often higher for blog posts, and that’s normal—but it isn’t always the ideal situation from a marketing perspective as it limits the time you have to really build a connection with readers.
Most marketers would love to see readers spend more time on their blog posts.
With that idea in mind, we wondered if there were any proven tactics marketers use to increase average time on page for their individual blog posts.
Simply put, average time on page is the amount of time website visitors are spending on a specific page on your website.
Google calculates average time on page by dividing the total duration of all sessions for a specific page by the total number of sessions that page generates.
However, it’s not always straightforward. In order to measure the actual duration of a session, Google calculates the difference between the time stamps of hits on a page. The first hit (obviously) being the visit to the page, the second being any action being tracked in Google Analytics, i.e. a video play, ebook download, etc.
However, if Google has no second “hit” to calculate the difference in time stamps (say you’re not tracking video plays in Google Analytics), then the session duration cannot be accurately measured and therefore the time on page for that specific page cannot be counted toward the average.
We posed this very question to 78 marketers and heard some really valuable responses.
Over 45% of those marketers said their average time on page is between 3-5 minutes, so their tactics come with a layer of validation already built in. Here’s what they had to say.
One of the easiest tweaks you can make to improve time on page is to avoid losing readers every time they clickthrough on a link. That’s why Angela Ash of Flow SEO recommends setting all links—even internal links— to open in a new tab.
“That way,” Ash said, “even if the reader is drawn away for a few minutes to another page, they will ultimately return back to the original post, because the initial window will still be open.”
“One effective tactic for improving average time on page for blog posts is to include a mix of content within the posts,” said Andrew Becks of 301 Digital Media. “Rather than just focusing on flat article content, mixing in relevant photos, infographics, charts, and interactive elements can help drive a deeper level of user engagement and time on page, by transforming what would be normal content into an engaging experience that offers information and utility to your readers.”
Jesse Perreault of Car Loans Canada agreed, saying, “One of the best tactics to increase the average time a user spends on a blog post is through the utilization of quality imagery to break up your content.”
“Research shows content that includes supporting visual content is better received by an audience,” added Stephanie Riel of RielDeal Marketing.
“Images serve multiple purposes,” Fundera’s Ricardo Velez explained. “They break up blocks of text, allowing the reader to stay engaged and can also be a useful tool in explaining complicated bits of information.”
Riley Adams of Young and The Invested advises “creating a custom infographic for the post, adding a video component via embedding content, providing charts and images to break up text, and using an easy-to-read format. These items all combine to enhance the overall user experience and result in higher average time on page results for blog posts,” Adams explained.
The marketers we heard from have seen impressive results from adding more varied content to their blog posts, too.
Rachel Cottam of ZipBooks said, “We recently updated a high-traffic post by adding one screenshot of our app, an infographic and a best practices section. Since the update, the time spent on page has increased by 25%.”
Fisher Unitech’s Jackie Tihanyi shared a similar experience, saying, “We had a blog post with just text and the overall time of page was 1 minute compared to a blog post that included an infographic and video which had overall time on page of nearly 6 minutes.”
“In our research,” added Anne Shelton of Ascend Inbound Marketing, “we’ve found that one video or gif isn’t enough to increase average time on page. For posts with 3+ visuals, we see our average time on page increase by 3x (from 3 minutes to over 9 minutes).”
“There is a catch, though,” cautioned G2’s Deirdre O’Donoghue. “The media used must add value—meaning a stock photo in the middle of your post won’t help the average time increase.”
Perhaps the most common and expected answers we heard centered around adding video to your blog posts. “Videos are the most effective way to get users to engage with your website,” said Andrew Ruditser of Maxburst Inc., “since most people nowadays would rather watch content than read it.”
“People love video,” added Tim Stobierski of Pepperland Marketing. “They’re primed for it, and in many cases they’re expecting to find it—especially for more complicated subjects or step-by-step processes.”
Julia Woodward said VTS has seen positive results from adding video, too, noting, “Our blog posts with embedded videos have significantly longer average time on page, which is great because it means our video content is relevant to our audience.”
Rick Ramos of HealthJoy explained why adding video has become such a popular option for marketers. “Some people won’t commit to reading a long-form article but will spend the same amount of time watching a video. Adding a video allows you to speak with both audiences within a single article.”
“A video that speaks to the viewer and enhances their ability to understand its content,” said Chantelle Stevenson of ClearPivot, “will not only entice for a longer lingering time but cause repeat visits.”
While adding video to your blog posts can seem like a daunting task, the marketers we spoke with said it isn’t something to shy away from. Meghan Hultquist of HQdigital advised marketers not to stress about creating lengthy videos: “A short-and-sweet, one-minute long video that you record with your phone or computer is enough to get you the results you’re looking for.”
Susanna Williams of Superior Honda even notes that shorter videos are often more effective, too. “Short videos get the most engagement,” Williams said. “It’s always best to assume that your viewers are busy. If they see a long video, they might click away and leave your post. A short one keeps them engaged.”
Jonathan Auffray of Growth Hackers noted that the video doesn’t have to be created exclusively for that blog post, or even original to you. “If you have (or you know of) a great and interesting video that will add value to your readers, embed this video to your blog post.”
“The key, though,” said Kenneth Burke of Text Request, “is you still have to produce standout blog posts that do a good job engaging viewers even without the video.” Linda Musselwhite of Musselwhite Marketing added, “Just adding a video to a website won’t increase time on site. You still have to do good research and due diligence around topics and keywords—then complement with a good editorial calendar.”
With creating blog copy and videos that complement each other in mind, Crimson Vine Marketing’s Tracy Iseminger recommends, “Within the video content, refer to lines within the blog post to encourage the reading of the full blog post as well.”
“We started implementing post summaries in 2015, by testing them out on our top 10 most visited blog posts,” said Steven Macdonald of SuperOffice.
“Within a week, our top content earned higher rankings, more traffic, and an increased time on page. In fact, the average time on page increased by 39% and from 3 minutes, 55 seconds to 5 minutes.”
Macdonald even notes that readers can now see a version of the post summary technique on wildly popular blogs from Business Insider to Buffer and Drift.
221 Building’s Hagai Shechter echoed, “You need to state from the very beginning what the article is about to keep readers from leaving straight away.”
Lance Beaudry of Avalanche Creative explains further, saying that having a summary of the post right up front “allows users to get a 15-second snapshot of what the article entails and gives you the opportunity to sell them on why it’s worth sticking around for.”
Julien Raby of Combustible shared, “We’ve found that adding a table of contents to an article is a great way to boost engagement and time on page. It gives a quick, engaging way for the user to grasp the whole content and easily navigate to the most relevant section for them.”
Raby added that, after testing adding a table of contents for a few weeks, Combustible say 22% higher time on page.
Max Robinson of StreamingMoviesRight.com says they happened upon the idea of adding a table of contents after using heat mapping software. “We realized that one of the main reasons users were not spending time reading our content was that they were struggling to find the specific sections that related to them.”
“We added a table of contents to each of these posts,” said Robinson, “and immediately found that the average time on page increased.”
Another common theme in the responses we heard centered around following basic guidelines for writing for the web—a simple, but often neglected, first step. “Capture your reader’s attention and time by making your blog posts easy to read, easy to understand, and aimed at directly answering the searcher’s query,” advised RunRepeat’s Paul Ronto.
“Making your content easily readable is critical when it comes to increasing the amount of time spent on a blog,” said Samantha Simon of Roger West. In short, as Nathalie Athanasiadis of Ormi Media said, “Don’t make things more difficult and you will then find users staying on your site longer.”
“If all you have is a wall of text, you’ll either get a bounce or the visitors will just glance through the article and move on,” said Andrej Ilisin of Alpha Investors. “I generally like to use short paragraphs, a lot of sub-headings, lists, GIFs, and videos. We’ve done a lot of testing and by simply applying those 5 segments to all of our posts, we’ve managed to increase the average time on page from 3 to 5 minutes sitewide.”
David Sanchez of Mammoth Web Solutions recommends, “Short paragraphs with interesting section titles keep your readers engaged and prevent them from leaving the page after a paragraph or two. Also, people will see the potential benefits or solutions you mention in the section titles—encouraging them to move around the page more, really getting into the content instead of skimming the article and leaving.
User Growth’s Hans van Gent noted another important best practice for writing online today, advising, “Treat your reader like an equal. Write in a conversational style, a style that puts you and the reader on the same level. If you start sounding to academic, too much like you’re better than your reader, it will put them off, and they’ll leave.”
Alexandra Zelenko of DDI Development put it bluntly, saying, “The fact is that users leave every website in the end.”
“However,” Zelenko added, “you can still give them a last chance to convert into real customers or subscribers.” By using exit intent pop-ups and offers, “you can increase returning visitors and improve the average time on page by properly targeting abandoning website users.”
Editor’s note: Want a more in-depth view into performance across blog posts? Download this free Blog Quality Metrics dashboard to see which posts engage readers and encourage them to move through the funnel.
If you’ve spent time researching via Google search recently, you know that a lot of the blog posts that rank well talk about much of the same information. Covering the same topics as existing search rankings can help ensure a blog post fulfills search intent, but it isn’t a recipe for keeping readers engaged.
“The biggest mistake most media outlets make,” added Hamna Amjad of SIA Enterprises, “is focusing on the number of posts, rather than the quality of their content. That’s why they’re churning out low quality content. Most readers get distracted easily if a post is hard to read and written poorly.”
That’s why several marketers we talked to recommended making your piece as unique as possible, including publishing original data. “Infuse your content with informational data that readers find useful and actionable,” advises WealthFit’s Nathan Wade. “Dedicate time to creating your own in-depth exploratory research.”
“Most of your viewers will be looking for a specific answer, and may not stay long after they’ve found it. That’s okay,” said Andrew McLoughlin of Colibri Digital Marketing. Instead of fighting time on page by forcing people to spend more time to find the information they’re looking for, McLouglin recommends a different approach: “If you give them that answer right off the hop, there’s a chance they’ll want to stick around to keep reading and see what else you can offer.”
“That approach doesn’t alienate the users who want to read the whole post,” McLoughlin explained, “and it doesn’t frustrate the ones who just need a quick answer. Your overall average will increase, and you’ll be keeping your users interests right at the fore of your blogging practices.”
Energy Seek’s Ollie Smith similarly recommended putting the bottom line of your blog post right up front. “The internet is packed with competing content,” Smith said. “Creating a powerful introduction that draws in and holds your audience’s attention is vital. By posing a problem and offering the solution, you not just win the aforementioned attention, your website or blog becomes a ‘destination’ of choice for that audience.”
“To improve the average time people spend on a blog post, try adding an interactive multimedia element like a video, an embedded poll or quiz, an interactive graph or infographic, etc.,” recommended Alayna Okerlund of Best Company.
Martha Madero of Grou added that “adding interactive content to the blog post let’s the user spend more time and interact with it to develop a better understanding and generate a deeper interest in the topic.”
“Interactivity is one of the best ways to keep visitors on your website,” said Jacob Dayan of Community Tax and Finance Pal, “especially within blog posts. Instead of just reading block after block of text, have them interact with a short video, a quiz, or an embedded tool or calculator.”
Ben Johnston of Sagefrog Marketing Group expanded, saying, “Interactive elements that expand on the query users are finding your blog for are likely to keep their interest, and subsequently their eyes, on your page for a longer period of time.”
“If we have a post mentioning tips for finding a good life insurance rate,” said NoExam’s John Holloway. “we’ll include a widget that lets them calculate their price. We find that users will spend a few minutes interacting with the tool while they are reading the post.
“We’ve found that adding elements like this to our blog posts increases the average session length by 30%.”
Editor’s note: Looking for a better way to view website and blog engagement metrics in one dashboard? Download this free Google Analytics: Website Engagement (Data Snacks) dashboard to view deeper insights into Google Analytics metrics like time on page, bounce rate, and more.
Chris Handy of ClosedWon swears by adding proactive chatbot to clients’ blog posts. “Our client gets a lot of folks who come to their website, read one article, and then leave—in many cases, never learning about my client’s service.”
“When we added customized chatbots to the blog posts,” Handy said, “we saw a lot of numbers change dramatically on the conversion side. People stayed 16% longer because they were spending that extra time interacting with the chatbot.”
“If the content is great, the amount of time visitors will spend reading is likely to skyrocket,” noted Matt Erickson of National Positions. “We make sure to not only outline our subjects and research sources, but also the goal, audience, tone, keywords, and even the structure. The more we can provide in terms of vision and flow, the less chance there is of a writer going too far in the ‘wrong’ direction.”
“Make sure the content is easy to read,” advised Roger West’s Natalie Lane. “Don’t use jargon or make it too hard to understand. As an expert that can be a challenge, but it’s important.” Lane recommends running posts through Flesch Reading Score Test to ensure they’re easy enough to understand.
Will Craig talked about how proper transitions are an integral part of LeaseFetcher’s direct writing style. “I think transitions are a really simple, really effective tool that you can add into your blogs relatively easily. When we’ve used transitions in our blog posts. we’ve noticed a significant improvement in average time on page—a boost of around 30% on average.”
“Nothing beats great copy,” said Dan Christensen of Morningdove Marketing. “Words tell a story, and the more people relate to and engage with that story, the longer they’ll stay on the page.”
Donna Duncan of B-SeenOnTop similarly advises writing blog posts from the perspective of your customers. “If visitors recognize themselves in your writing,” Duncan explained, “if you discuss their pain points and challenges, and offer insights to help lessen them, visitors are more likely to continue reading. If the content is all about you, they’ll bounce and look for empathy elsewhere.”
Putting it another way, Oliver Roddy of Catalyst Marketing said, “If you’re looking to increase the average time spent on a blog post, you need to think about reducing the skim-read potential of your piece. One of the best ways to do this is to use stories and anecdotes to make your point.”
Christina Brodzky of MediaSesh notes that, most of the time a blog post underperforms on time on page, it means “the page is too thin, and we need to add more content.”
“People have a natural addiction to stories,” added Roddy. “Use them in your blog posts and not only will the average time on your posts increase, people will remember your work long after they leave your site, a far more powerful metric than the time spent on page.”
Stacy Caprio says Her.CEO has seen how storytelling can increase time on page. “I’ve found incorporating personal stories into the post, along with the lessons learned from that experience, tends to increase engagement and time on page. People want to learn from your mistakes.”
Hima Pujara of Signity Solutions echoed Caprio’s experience, saying, “The best way to make the audience stay on the blog post is by adding content that solves customer problems with reference to success stories or user-generated content.”
Now, I know what you’re thinking: why write in-depth content when digital attention spans are shrinking with each passing day? Quest for $47’s Kathryn Roberts things that concern is overblown.
“While everyone preaches people’s short attention spans, having a long, well-written and value-added blog post means that people are likely to skim through what you have to offer, pick and choose what they want to read from a post right now, but ultimately come back to it to check out the rest of the content when it suits them.”
“Include related articles links on the sidebar and bottom of the post to keep readers engaged with similar topics,” advises Travis McGinnis of Leighton Interactive.
Phillip Konchar of My Trading Skills recommended a similar approach, noting that boosted time on page wasn’t the only benefit of solid internal linking practices. “We found organic traffic on our blog increased by over 35% after we implemented ‘Recommended Reading’ snippets throughout or existing blog posts.”
Run Repeat’s Sadi Khan recommends including some bonus value add to each blog post—then teasing it throughout the post to keep readers engaged. “Start your post with the promise of a bonus or something of additional value, hidden somewhere in the post. It can be a template, checklist, or cheat sheet that they can download.”
“This will keep readers hooked and encourage them to go through your entire post,” Khan added. “It can also double as a lead magnet to convert visitors into subscribers.”
Lily Ugbaja of FindingBalance.Mom swears by “Bucket Brigades”—a concept taught by Backlinko’s Brian Dean. “They’re essentially words and phrases that keep people interested, curious, and scrolling to the bottom,” Ugbaja explained.
Some of these curiosity driving phrases include:
“People are hard-wired to fulfill their curiosity, so when you create a curiosity gap, you’re bound to keep their attention for longer,” added Ugbaja. With FindingBalance.Mom pulling in numbers like 6 and even 11 minutes on page, there’s some weight to these phrases.
Atanas Valchev of Pixus shares the same approach, recommending, “Break up the text as much as possible and use the right phrases to keep people reading.These types of phrases are incredibly effective at keeping people engaged.”
“If your readers don’t think the article can be applied to them personally, they’ll likely click out immediately,” noted Best Company’s McCall Robison. “That’s why changing up your intro can completely skyrocket your time on page.”
“Instead of using your intro as a place to explain the topic your readers likely already know about, use it to tell your readers exactly what they’ll gain from reading your piece.”
“For example,” Robison explained, “say you’re writing an article about reputation management and online reviews. Instead of beginning your article with a long spiel about what reputation management is and why online reviews are important, tell your readers something like ‘By the end of this article, you’ll know what steps you need to take to improve your reputation management and generate positive reviews for your company.’ This is more detailed about what your audience will gain from the article that will be specific to them.”
“Check out Neil Patel’s posts,” Chhavi Agarwal of Mrs Daaku Studio recommends. “He gives you so much information that you need time to take it in. That’s the secret of keeping your audience with you and improving average time on page.”
Agarwal boasts average time on page between 3 and 5 minutes, so it’s clear that actionability can spur much improved session durations and dwell times.
As Marc Andre of Vital Dollar wisely observed, “The source of traffic can impact the amount of time the average visitor spends on your blog.” Social media traffic, for example, tends to come with higher bounce rates and lower time on page.
When it comes to time on page, organic traffic is one source that tends to boast higher numbers. “It takes a lot of work,” Andre remarked, “but dedicating time to building links and growing your brand’s reputation can go a long way towards increasing the amount of time an average visitor spends on your site.”
“Different people prefer to consume their content in different ways,” said Nelson Jordan of The Ecommerce Profits, “and this changes depending on the context. If you’re on the bus and you’ve forgotten your headphones, a written blog post is great—but if you’re sitting at home in the evening, you might prefer to passively consume a video instead.”
Jordan said that producing videos that sit atop the rest of the blog post has improved time on page for one client by a whopping 82% across the entire blog.
“You need to give readers a reason to stay on your post longer,” said Eric Melillo of COFORGE. “This is a great opportunity to provide more value to the user in the form of rich media content.”
Melillo added, “You don’t need to reinvent the wheel when creating new rich content. A good example is to repurpose your existing blog post.”
As an example, Melillo said they updated an existing post that was seeing relatively good search results to include the same information repurposed as a SlideShare.
“Within 30 days, the post reached page 1 and saw additional organic traffic. This traffic also stayed on the page an average of 30% longer. Over the next few months the post continued to rise and is now averaging position 3.”
When it comes to blogs and content marketing, we know that engagement metrics often come with a grain of salt. That said, it’s still beneficial to work to improve those metrics—including time on page.
Using the tactics recommended by marketing pros above, you can learn what works for your audience and your blog, and get people spending more time with your content.
Ground Up Podcast | Oct 21
Marketing | Oct 21
Content Marketing | Oct 15