Whatever your reason for blogging—to express yourself, to build your personal brand, to generate referral traffic for your freelance business—we all have the same desire when we hit publish on a new post: for people to read what we wrote.
Thanks to our blogging and analytics platforms of choice, we can measure exactly how long people spent reading our page, or what part of the post captivated them the most. This can be thrilling to review—but it can also be deflating, especially if our posts don’t gain traction.
A common metric that businesses and individuals use to measure the success of their page is their “time on site” or “time on page.” While they don’t tell the whole story, these metrics do tell you whether people enjoyed your writing.
Or do they?
There are actually a lot of other factors that can impact how long a user lingers on your page. Maybe you’re a fantastic writer, but you don’t have a sense of how to best format your piece to keep people’s attention. Maybe there are certain visual elements you can include to improve your article’s feel to visitors. And, yes, maybe your writing could use some work as well.
With all that in mind, here are six tips you can use to keep people reading your blog post, and your blog in general.
How to Create Engaged Readers (6 Tips)
- Get the headline and introduction right
- Format your piece with lots of blank space
- Include all kinds of visual media
- Don’t overlook the technical side of things
- Hold off on the pop-ups
- Further reading: internal linking and recommended reading widgets
1. Get the headline and introduction right
There’s nothing more important when writing a blog post than writing a catchy, engaging, and compelling headline and introduction. A study by the Nielsen Norman Group found that 17% of users will leave your blog page after just four seconds—meaning you have a very limited window to capture the attention of prospective readers.
Yes, we’re talking about how to “keep” people reading your post, not “start,” but you can’t do the former until you do the latter.
Your blog post’s title and introductory paragraph set the stage for the reader and tell them what they’re in for. Early on, the reader wants a sense of two things: if you’re going to write about something they want to hear, and if you’re any good at writing.
Check out how catchy Adam Enfroy’s headline and introduction here are:
Your sentences should be clear and concise throughout—but especially in your introduction. You should include important keywords and phrases in your intro— not just to appeal to Google Search, but to inform your readers of what this post is about.
And you should engage your readers in one of several ways—by offering to help them to address a problem, by asking questions, or by expressing excitement and emotion in a way that draws readers in.
When it comes to headlines, there’s lots of useful information out there about how to write a good one, but use a tool like CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer to ensure you’re hitting the right marks.
2. Format your piece with lots of blank space
This may seem, at first, counterintuitive. People are here to read, not scroll down a long article, right?
The truth is that people often find large blocks of text daunting to read.
With most blog posts, they are searching for the nuggets of truth—the actionable takeaways they can scan and take with them when they leave your page. Going back to Nielsen Norman Group’s research: Only 16% of web users read content word-by-word. Scannable text (lower word counts, bulleted lists, meaningful sub-heads) is key here.
Just look at how clean and readable this DigitalMarketer article is:
Walls of text, on the other hand, require people to more actively read your article, a task they’ll soon tire of and leave.
The goal isn’t to change reader habits by writing a blog post so outstanding that the reader sticks with you through large paragraphs. That’s what books are for. You’re not writing a book.
Keep your sentences and paragraphs short and sweet. A good rule of thumb is no more than three sentences per paragraph. You’ll notice that, with very few exceptions where I felt it necessary, I follow that rule in this post.
3. Include all kinds of visual media
You know what else breaks up text besides blank space? Pictures and videos.
It may seem like cheating, but not only does visual media encourage people to keep scrolling (you can use images as a sort of cliffhanger between salient points of your post), but you can use them to flesh out your thesis or argument.
Use charts, graphs, and other data represented visually to give your post depth and a scientific-backing, when appropriate. (Be sure to attribute the images to the original source if you got them elsewhere.)
The longer you keep a visitor engaged, the more likely they are to return. Charts and other images can help you do that. (via Chartbeat)
You can also use videos as a way to improve your time on page. A relevant and helpful video—either of your own making or by another content creator you found on YouTube—can captivate an audience and demonstrate that you’re interested in fleshing out this topic to the fullest. They’ll be more likely to return if they know you’re a source for quality content.
Even the occasional gif can help set the tone for a fun but informative piece. Don’t overuse them, though—they can get old fast.
4. Don’t overlook the technical side of things
As you might have noticed, people have become impatient lately.
Back in the days of dial-up internet or 3G data service, we might have been willing to wait a few seconds for a page to load.
Not anymore! According to recent data, 40% of consumers will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load.
Similarly, and this is a given at this point, but don’t use a platform that doesn’t optimize your blog posts for mobile users. Go beyond making sure the platform is “responsive” (i.e. that it serves a mobile-friendly version of your site to mobile users) and make sure it’s easy-to-use on mobile as well—fast load times, readable text, etc.
In all, take the time to ensure that various technical bells and whistles that you add to your blog don’t affect site performance.
5. Hold off on the pop-ups
A lot of businesses or people trying to build their brand through blogging will use their blog posts as a launching pad to try to get readers to convert into customers, or subscribers. They often use pop-ups with CTAs like, “Subscribe for more great content!” or, “Sign up here to learn about our product!”
Example from Sujan Patel here:
If I visit a website and immediately get served with multiple pop-ups even before I read a word of the article, I’m tempted to (and often do) leave right away.
The reasoning here is sound—you want to capture readers before they leave your site, which they often do before scrolling below the fold. But pop-ups, done incorrectly, encourage people to leave.
Don’t get in your own way. Wait to serve these pop-ups to readers until they’re further into your post, or use more subtle CTAs like a little button that scrolls with readers as they read. Hook readers first before trying to reel them in.
6. Further reading: Internal linking and recommended reading widgets
Let’s say your reader gets all the way to the end of your latest blog post. Congratulations! What now?
Do you just tell that reader, “Hope you liked that content, good luck finding something else like it?” Or do you drive them towards more just like it?
In order to keep a reader, user, and/or potential lead on your site, give them further reading options.
That could mean a recommended reading widget at the bottom of each blog post, pointing people in the direction of related or trending content. You can also manually add internal links to each post, sprinkling links to related content by applying them to relevant anchor text throughout your posts.
Proof uses recommended reading widgets all over their blog:
If you establish yourself as a resource for readers in your field, they’ll stick with you and return to you when they have future questions. People don’t necessarily want to jump around from site to site. Let them know you have more where this post came from, and they’ll often take you up on that offer to keep reading.
Keeping people on your blog post and your site is a delicate combination of art and science.
These tips above are more about the science; the art is up to you. Learn how to become a better writer, and you’ll be well ahead of the curve—but don’t neglect things like formatting, load times, and media.
Every second that you keep people on your site counts, so consider all options at your disposal to keep people reading, clicking, and converting.