With thousands of media projects and publications competing for attention, it’s never been more crucial for publishers in search of an audience to serve up both quantity and quality. Except for niche publications, most publishers have to produce a generous amount of content each month. But within volume publishing, how effectively individual pieces of content and individual formats perform matters too.
One of these crucial quality measures for individual pieces of content and content formats is readability, often called scroll depth. Readability measures how thoroughly your audience digests your content by tracking where most people finish reading each individual article. You can’t track it in Google Analytics without a plugin, but some commercial analytics providers offer it as a feature.
For digital publishers, two aspects of readability make it worth your attention. First, it accurately gauges the quality of your content by measuring one aspect of user engagement. Second, it can easily be improved, allowing you to quickly alter your content and increase performance using analytics. Let’s look at how this metric can be used to diagnose low-performing content and how you can start tracking it on your own sites.
Good content needs great structure
The key to good readability is structure. An article layout that supports the content also encourages readership. It’s not enough for the content to be interesting. If key information is readable immediately, if there’s no incentive to scroll, or if page elements like ads or links get in the way, your audience won’t bother.
For example, DMG Ireland is one of Ireland’s leading media groups. Its brands include national newspapers like the Irish Daily Mail and digital lifestyle magazines like Evoke.ie. A focus on readability allowed the group’s analytics to soar in 2017.
“Viewability of ad content was becoming an increasingly important metric so I decided to focus on readability as as this would help our sales team serve out more ads,” said Desmond Farrelly, DMG Ireland’s digital audience manager.
Farrelly realized that Evoke.ie had lower readability than the company’s other publications. In particular, style posts — articles covering one featured image, usually related to fashion or celebrity news — had particularly low readability and were dragging the site’s average rate down, even though they had high page views.
As a consequence, ad view metrics site-wide were down.
The solution turned out to be a simple one. Farrelly’s team added a teaser image at the top of the article that led readers to scroll down to see the featured image, enticing the reader to complete the article and spend more time on the page.
This resulted in a 14 percent increase in readability for featured image articles and a site-wide 6 percent increase in readability across Evoke.ie. The change also caused corresponding rises in every major metric, especially in recirculation and depth.
“We found the more readers scrolled down the page, the likelihood would be that they consumed additional content,” Farrelly said. “This meant that our depth and recirculation metrics benefited as a result of improving one metric: readability.”
How to measure readability
The benefits of healthy readability are considerable. High quality content increases the loyalty of your current audience and attracts more readers in the process, making your readership larger.
One popular plug-in for tracking readability is this Scroll Depth plugin that works with Google Analytics and other event-based analytics tools. Using this tool, readability can be measured in percentages of the overall page height, in pixels from the top of the page or by specifying specific elements on the page to measure against.
Once you are able to start measuring readability, you can start to diagnose and fix issues.
Experimentation with your content will allow you to track and improve readability. If you notice an article has poor readability, or you want to generally experiment, change its structure and measure the effects in real time on your analytics tool.
If you have an advertising business model, for example, look at readability to place your ads in places most likely to catch readers attention without causing them to end their visit. You can do the same with recommendation blocks to boost recirculation and depth on your site.
If readability improves with the changes you make, retain the structure you used and apply it to your other articles. If it stays the same, or drops, avoid using this layout.
Complete quality needs symbiotic thinking
Remember, like many metrics, readability works best in combination with other metrics you use on a daily basis. A solid readability rate correlates with many other metrics you work with, so it’s important to master it.
Make sure that any analytics tool you use includes readability, and also allows you to track its impact on and interaction with other metrics. After all, you may be able to track the quantity of your content, but without quality, you won’t have room to grow.
Don’t be afraid to experiment and always keep track of your successful results as great readability really can get your audience clamoring for more content.
All graphics courtesy of the author.
Andrew Sweeney works at IO technologies, a digital analytics company that provides tools and services for publishers and e-commerce.