Time on page and its value for your content strategy

Nearly everything we produce online these days is content. It varies in depth, breadth and purpose from fun and shareable to detailed and converting. In business terms, the former equals more leads and the latter means better quality leads. Ultimately, your content strategy becomes a balancing act where you draw in more of your audience whilst sifting through it in search for gold dust.

How do you know your content strategy really works? As we have already established, there is content that you intend to go viral, i.e. get vast social media engagement and, thus, increase your visibility (note: not necessarily brand awareness), and there is content that serves a strategically different goal: it is thoroughly thought through and aims to resolve a problem.

Content marketers use a number of metrics to measure the ‘quality’ of content. The most commonplace and, let’s admit it, the most simple one is social media engagement. We look at how many likes and shares we received and consider it to be a valid estimation of success. Most of us also look at bounce rate. Google defines it as ‘the percentage of visitors to a particular website who navigate away from the site after viewing only one page’. One would consider it a fair way to assess the engagement of your website. There is also another metric that is often neglected and misunderstood – Time on Page. This is how it works:

 Time on Page X = Time on Page Y – Time on Page X

For example, someone spent 5 minutes on Page X, then visited Page Y for 7 minutes and then exited the website. In this way, Time on Page for X would be 5 minutes, but Page Y will be left unaccounted for since there was no further visit

Page Y is the page visited after Page X. Therefore, the time spent on Page X is calculated only if there was another page visit. This is the main reason why many do not consider this metric to be a reliable representation of the success of their content. However, this does not mean that it should be neglected. On the contrary, for the above mentioned ‘problem-solving content’, Time on Page becomes increasingly relevant. Let’s see exactly why.

Why Time on Page is important

Time on Page provides you with a unique insight into how visitors interact with your content and your website in general. That is all very well, but what makes it so special?

Normally, you would expect the most accurate data to come from your audience’s natural habitat . In this way, many content creators turn to social media for their content performance indicators. However, the way people consume and react to digital content is very different from the way they interact with the traditional content. The fact that you acquired an X number of views or shares does not indicate that your content reached an X level of audience engagement. If you look at the time users actually spent on your page, it might paint a completely different picture.

Do we read the articles we share?
Image credit: HubSpot

HubSpot published an interesting chart that shows the correlation between the time we spend consuming content and our reaction to it on social media.

The conclusion can be drawn roughly as “we don’t tend to share what truly interests us”. If you think about it our behaviour on the web in many ways mirrors what we do offline. We tend to display things that help us create a certain perception of us by the outside world and do not necessarily want to share things that might make us seem overly mundane or even strange, although very often these issues resonate with us a lot more than those we actively share.

In terms of content, Time on Page reflects the quality of your content in a more accurate manner. Content quality is your ‘soupe du jour’ if business value is your primary focus. It has an incredible effect on search rankings, and the higher Google ranks you, the more visibility you gain for those who are actively looking to solve a problem using the web. In this way, Time on Page becomes a key metric if your content strategy is heavily inclined towards providing business value.

Obviously, the first thing that comes to mind when you hear ‘search rankings’ is SEO. It might seem like SEO is only there to make your website appear higher in Google search results, but Time on Page could actually be improved with the help of SEO too.

SEO and Content Marketing

If you think about it, content, copywriting and SEO have effectively merged, and one does not exist without the other. Simply creating compelling content can only get you that far in the digital world. Not only does your content need to be interesting, trending, relevant and authentic, but it also needs to be optimised. Keywords, keyword density, meta descriptions – all of these factors matter in digital content production. People who come across your content via search engines are probably already actively searching for something. For you, that means they are looking for a precise answer and are dedicating their time to finding it, which translates to you as ‘this person is likely to engage with my content very closely’, which would ultimately result in increased Time on Page.

After all, you acquire readers via search engines, so if search engines do not rank you high enough to appear on the first or the second page, you are unlikely to get your message across on the web.

Along with the traditional SEO factors – metadata, metadescriptions, etc., you should also look at the aspects that are currently part of your content optimisation process. Let’s look at them in more detail:

Writing

Your content might be marvelously optimised, but if your copy is not great, no webmaster will be able to fix that. Copywriting matters a great deal, especially when it comes to online content. Consumers tend to be more demanding on the web seeking content that is brief and to-the-point, so you have to be able to deliver a clear message. Use headers and subheaders, and generally, cut the nonsense, but do not sacrifice your copy. Your unique voice and/or your special approach make you stand out from the crowd, which is exactly what makes your readers engage with the content on a given page and the website as a whole.

Readability

Readability is a fairly recent addition to the content marketers’ toolbox which appeared as a result of user behaviour studies on the web. Each type of content has a certain readability rating. For instance, an online academic journal would receive a lower readability score compared to an article in an entertainment magazine. Both would receive an equal level of engagement, however Time on Page for them would vary significantly. There are various ways to measure readability, Flesch-Kincaid and Gunning-Fog being amongst the most popular.

Video

Video content is widely used by the marketers across all industries. It is so popular for a reason, as such, 70 percent of B2B consumers claim that video content is more appealing to them; moreover, it influences their decision-making. However, not all kinds of content need to be complemented with video material, especially considering that multimedia content often affects your page load time. This should not put you off video content in general, but use it wisely, this is where estimating the necessary Time on page becomes vital.

Content length

Picking the right length for your content is paramount. Depending on your target audience, there is an optimal amount of words/characters they can consume at any given moment. If your post looks way too long or complicated for the topic, chances are people are not going to spend their time reading it and bounce off.

Semantically related keywords

Unless you are dealing with matters of general awareness and common knowledge, it is unlikely that you can predict the exact wording your audience would use in relation to each particular query. This is why semantic  keyword research is so important. It can be a powerful instrument, if used correctly. By incorporating appropriate related keywords into your content, you can improve your text by making it more ‘searchable’ and therefore increase your chances of ranking higher in search engines. Besides, people do not like stumbling upon the same words over and over again, it also gives an impression of poor writing ability, which could result in increased bounce rate. You can learn more about semantic search here.

Pictures

A picture paints a thousand words, which in this particular case means that apart from making your content aesthetically pleasing it also has a power to optimise it by replacing lengthy descriptions and schemes with a wonderful visual material. At the end of the day, clarity is key in the world of digital content. The quality of the images you add has a direct impact on Time on Page: as such bad images have proved to significantly affect Time on Page.

Clearly, Time on Page is as important as anything when it comes to building and assessing your Content Strategy and SEO serves as an instrument to improve this metric and the overall performance of your content.

Tools that will help you:

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Alexandra Nedorezova

About Alexandra Nedorezova

Alexandra is a Senior Marketing Manager at SEMrush, a provider of a single pane of glass tool for digital marketers. She has worked in IT marketing for over 6 years specialising in regional marketing strategy and business development with her expertise stretching across the globe from Latin America to the Middle East.