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Make reading time sexy again: how this overlooked metric could unlock huge comms success

Hayat Rachi
Posted by Hayat Rachi on Apr 13, 2021 3:26:52 PM

We get it. You’ve just spent significant time crafting content that you believe will engage and inform readers beyond the heading. The content delves deep into the subject matter, answering an array of questions, meaning it could take several minutes to read and understand. You publish the piece, anticipate praise and positive feedback rolling in, only to be met with shocking bounce rates and low session lengths.

How long readers spend reading your content could be central to measuring the success of your communications efforts. But how do you know whether content is so clear that readers can dip in and out with ease, or so convoluted that they run away immediately?

Keep reading to bust myths around bounce rate and learn how to keep your audiences engaged for the length of your webpage.

Hand drawn clock

Bounce rates vs average time on page

A bounce is a single-page session on your site. Google explains that “these single-page sessions have a session duration of 0 seconds since there are no subsequent hits after the first one that would let Analytics calculate the length of the session”. Bounce rates, then, are only important if your success is measured by users hopping to another page.

However, if you have published a piece of content that you anticipate being around a minute to read, and the average page duration is falling way below that, you know you have a problem. Longer sessions indicate more engaged readers, whereas a shorter average time per page could hint that your reader hasn’t been able to find what they’re looking for and they’ve gone elsewhere.

How long do readers spend reading content?

If bounce rates are a vanity metric, then measuring them doesn’t tell you much about the success of your work. But teaming bounce rates up with the average time an audience spends on your specific page will reveal much more about the quality of your content, rather than merely the quantity of viewers landing there.

Only a tiny percentage of people get to the bottom of the articles that they’re reading. You may not even make it to the end of this one. More worrying, however, is if there were a piece of crucial information shoehorned at the end of an informative web page, far below the point at which a reader gives up searching for the content that they need.

In our research, we’ve found that the average reading time of a webpage across a range of sectors is 17.5 seconds, highlighting the real need to curate your content to suit the reading time of your average audience. As a communicator, this data may frustrate you. It takes a lot of time and energy to create content, only to find out that the average time spent on your pages is so low. But ask yourself, how much content do you read in full? 

Does read time differ per sector?

This is where it gets interesting.

Not happy with delving into the average time readers spend on pages across the board, we wanted to unpick whether time reading differed per website sector. For example, whether trade union webpage audiences spent longer on average on each page compared to a local government or learning institution webpages.

We found that there were significant variations in reading time depending on the sector a page was published by. Check out our average reading time findings:

Text outlining average reading time per industry

Variations per organisation are key, as these measurements can be used by comms teams to benchmark content performance. If the average reading time per page is significantly lower within governmental institutions than your average media organisation, there is no significance in comparing.

Is it important to keep the audience on pages for longer?

Beyond the obvious – that glancing at a page will not always provide the reader adequate time to harvest crucial content – we’ve also found, through our own research, that there is a trend between length of time spent reading an article and the likelihood that a reader will share content forward.

We’ve witnessed this trend particularly within trade unions and learning institutions. Check out the graphs below: 

Graph showing trend in reading time and share quantity

Simply put, the longer you can keep a reader engaged, the wider external reach your content will have – and increased shares will gain kudos internally as well.

Top tips to keep your audiences reading

Now that we’ve convinced you just how important read time is, here are some of our top tips to keep your audiences on your page for longer (if that’s what you need).

  1. Provide an estimated reading time

Feel like your readers aren’t getting below the header of your piece? If they know before they get stuck in that it will only take them a minute to read, they’re more likely to scroll through and find the information they need.

How? We’ve found a handy free tool to calculate the estimated reading time of your content with a simple copy and paste. Head to this link to get started!

  1. Create scannable content

We can all admit to scanning through an article and only cherry picking the nugget of information that we need. By using sections and subheadings, keeping it short and using bullet points readers won’t have to wade through information to get to the heart of what they need.

How? Break up your content into smaller, digestible pieces or employ drop down functions to make sure that the reader isn’t overwhelmed.

  1. Keep it accessible

We bang on about accessibility all the time, but audiences won’t linger on pages that they can’t understand or that have physical blockers to their capacity to read. Make sure your content meets all audiences needs by complying with web content accessibility guidelines, a readable font, and enough white space.

How? Get familiar with web content accessibility guidelines, and ensure that all of your tools are compliant too. Rest assured, React & Share is fully WCAG compliant.

  1. Incorporate visual elements

Images, infographics and video content (thanks, TikTok) all work wonders to draw and more importantly retain the attention of the audience.

How? Guide readers through lengthier informational content with eye catching visuals. There are plenty of websites to gather free stock imagery, however creating your own is always worth the investment. Infographics work well, and generating graphs around engaging data is a surefire way to hook a reader in.

  1. Cut it short

Yup, you saw it coming. If there is crucial content buried under heaps of fluff, strip it back to what the reader needs most. If you find that readers are dropping off 10 seconds into a hefty article, pull out the key contents that could be grabbed in that time.

How? Choosing your favourite content to keep can feel like choosing your favourite child. Be ruthless.

  1. Quality is Queen

If the quality of your content is bad, no one will want to hang around. Simple. Qualitative measuring, alongside quantitative, will allow you to sharpen up your content and hang onto those audiences.

How? Rather than just depending on Google Analytics to give you the numbers, use tools that provide actionable, page-specific insights to zone in on your lowest performing content. React & Share ranks your articles so that you can quickly prioritise the content that needs attention the quickest.

Now what?

Get started! Take a deep dive into your bounce rate, average session length and time spent per page across your website content and benchmark your data against your peers. Measuring is one small step for man; acting on the measurements is one giant leap for comms kind. 

Let us know how it goes by tweeting us at @reactandshare

Topics: Reading Time

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