Engagement! Everyone wants engagement from their content. The problem is we’re not quite sure of the best way to get it. Engagement is one area in which content marketing is more art than science.
Even though there are no formulas to predict engagement, there are patterns of success. Here are five things you should add to every blog post to increase engagement.
But first, what is engagement? Since engagement is the whole point of this article, it’s important to define terms. Many of the how-to articles on online engagement simply gloss over the missing definition of engagement. If it’s so important (and most content marketers agree that it is), then what is engagement?
It’s kind of fuzzy
Much of the discussion around engagement happened a long time ago – 2007ish. Engagement has come a long way, and so have our tools for measuring it. In spite of the progress, the definition of engagement still needs to be clarified.
Mark Ghuneim, General Manager of the Curator tool for Twitter, proposed a consumer typology of engagement that looks like this:
Still, that’s vague, at least to me.
Here’s a working definition
To keep it simple, I define content engagement as real people responding in measurable ways to your content. There’s a lot of overlap between social engagement and content engagement, but I’m focusing on the actual interaction with the content itself as opposed to how that content is distributed on the social web.
Engagement starts with objectives
Before you try to measure engagement, make sure you understand the goal of your content. Why does it even exist online? Most businesses have one or more objectives. Here are some common ones:
- Increase leads
- Increase page views (Note: For many sites, the goal is simply to increase traffic separate from any other level of site activity.)
- Boost brand awareness
- Encourage audience interactions such as:
- Social sharing
- Quizzes and personality identifiers (e.g., BuzzFeed’s Which Disney Princess Are You?)
To get your engagement right, you should first get your objectives right. Here’s how the process is pictured by Digital Telepathy.
From your objectives, answer the question: What is it that I want these blog readers to do? You want viewers to make some behavioral change. That action is the engagement.
Engagement simplified to six features
For the sake of simplicity, I want to boil down this discussion to six features of engagement that I will tell you how to increase:
- Comments – People share their thoughts, ask questions, or criticize your blog post.
- Social sharing – Users share the article on their personal social networks.
- Dwell time – How long do users stay on the page? This metric available in Google Analytics tells you if people are spending time on the page.
- Reading – RavenTools says “the best way to measure reader engagement is to track user scrolling.” Tools such as Crazy Egg allow you to view scroll maps (where, how much, and how far people scrolled) and heat maps (where people click).
- Links – The quantity and velocity of inbound links tell who considers your content to be important. More links equal a higher trust, better SEO, and more readers.
- Conversions – Whatever your conversion action, it is one of the most meaningful engagement metrics. Many blogs use email sign-ups as the primary conversion action.
Your engagement metric depends on your content platform
To measure engagement, though, we need to know what platform is used. For example, if you’re hosting a webinar, you would measure engagement by the number of sign-ups, attendees, duration online, interactivity in online comments, the number of questions asked, and conversions after the webinar.
If you use Google+ as your primary content platform, then you can measure engagement by plusses, shares, and ripples.
Now that we have a basic understanding of engagement, let’s figure out how to improve our blog engagement.
Increase engagement with these five simple elements
1. An obvious point
Your article or blog post should be extremely clear as to what it’s trying to say. It needs to have an obvious point.
This may sound obvious, but many blog posts fail to do so. Why is this so important? If your content is unclear, then people won’t understand what you’re trying to say, and will, therefore, have no motivation to share or read the article.
Next time you comment on an article or share it on social media, ask yourself what about the article compelled you to do so. Chances are that you understood what the author was trying to say. His point was obvious, and you responded.
How do you communicate an obvious point? Let me share a few of the things that I’ve used:
Your point should be in your headline.
A weak headline is a nonstarter. A strong headline, by contrast, is motivating.
Here’s an example of a strong headline:
The headline tells me everything I need to know to motive me to read the article, with just enough understanding and a bit of curiosity. It tells me the content:
- Poses 25 questions
- Is about social media marketing
- Will help me define a social media marketing strategy
- Will give me answers to the questions
Clear, compelling, and obvious. That’s what you need to accomplish in your headline.
Make your point in your first few lines.
Your opening paragraph or two should convey your basic idea. Don’t leave people wondering, “What the heck is she going to say?” Put forth your main idea, then develop it.
Long, wandering introductions are not compelling. You lose readers before they even understand what you’re trying to say.
Support your point using the structure or outline of your article.
The structure of the post (discussed below) must support your main idea. You need an outline that explains or proves the point of the article. An article is not a bunch of disparate thoughts. It’s a cohesive series of thoughts that supports a main idea.
Repeat your point in the conclusion.
The conclusion wraps up the article by making the main point obvious once again. Remind people of what you’re saying. Don’t let them forget.
2. A structure
Every article needs to have a clear structure in order for it to be engaging. The idea of structure has two parts – logical and visual.
Logical structure — Make it coherent.
As you research and write your article, create and follow an outline. Don’t merely string together a few thoughts. Instead, create something with shape and substance. Your outline forms the bones for a successful and engaging article.
Visual structure — Make it easy to read.
Visual structure is just as important as logical structure. Why? Because no one will read (i.e., engage with) your content if it isn’t visually pleasing.
Compare that wall of text to this:
A few well-placed visual formatting techniques make a huge difference. These include:
- Short paragraphs (no longer than seven lines)
- Bullet points
- Numbered lists
Breaking up your content compels viewers to read and engage with it.
3. A conclusion
How does your article end? If it concludes with a whimper, then your readers will whimper away without engaging. If it ends in confusion, then your readers feel the same. If it ends abruptly, your readers won’t know what to do next.
Somehow, the conclusion of an article has become one of the most neglected pieces of real estate in the entire Internet. We labor over headlines and opening lines, but we forget what to do when it’s time to say “This article is over.”
The way you end it has the potential to engage readers or leave them floundering. Take a look at the ConversionXL blog if you need an example of great conclusions.
The end nails it. It is obvious with the use of that single word, conclusion. The wrap-up is clean. It sums up the article, reiterates the main point, and makes a great call to action.
There are a few basic elements to a great ending:
- It’s labeled as a conclusion.
- It’s short.
- It sums things up concisely.
- It encourages action.
Give your conclusions a little extra time and attention, and you likely will improve engagement on your posts.
4. A question
Not everyone does this, but I’ve used it with incredible success. At the end of almost every article, I ask a question.
Why do I do this? Because it makes people think. Engagement doesn’t always have measurable metrics. When readers reach the end of my article, I want them to be thinking about and applying the principles that I’ve explained.
Asking and answering questions is one of the most effective techniques for teaching critical thinking and building knowledge. A simple question in closing helps to produce this response.
My questions are not an attempt to inspire comments, though they sometimes do. Instead, my question is a simple challenge to encourage thought.
Here’s one of my recent blogs, which includes a somewhat obvious question. People didn’t answer the question in the comments, which was fine. I didn’t expect it.
Sometimes, writers ask a question or call for action in the comments. This is appropriate. Author Tim Ferriss does on his blog, and he finds it successful.
5. A bit of controversy
This one is optional, but it doesn’t hurt.
Controversy is everywhere. I have encountered it within every niche in which I’ve dabbled. Some controversy is silly. Some is serious. Most is engaging.
The post was so controversial that the editor had to step into the comments to weed out inappropriate argumentation.
Controversy is like fire. It can be dangerous. You might get burned. But at the same time, it’s especially useful if you want engagement.
Conclusion: Don’t stop at engagement
This is an article dealing with engagement so I’m not going to turn around and tell you that it’s not important. I do, however, want to offer a caution. Content marketing is not all about the engagement. Engagement is only part of content marketing, not its sum and substance.
Measurement tools exist, and developers are making these tools even better. But we need to realize that if we focus only on engagement, then we may miss some of the most significant components of business success: brand value, trustworthiness, customer loyalty, etc. These things can’t be measured, but they can be achieved.
Engagement is one way of achieving these successes. So go ahead and work to increase engagement. It’s well worth the effort.
What are the best ways you’ve found to increase engagement?
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute