In five seconds, I can take the pulse of your blog using a little-known but crucial blogging metric.
This one metric reveals whether you’ll succeed – or if you’re in danger of:
Today, I’ll teach you how to take your blog’s pulse, but first, we need to put this vital sign in perspective.
Google Analytics tracks hundreds of metrics related to the health and wellbeing of your blog. But out of those hundreds of metrics, just one in particular can tell me at a glance whether your site is thriving.
That metric isn’t page views, bounce rate, or even the percentage of your traffic coming from Google.
But in FIVE seconds, that one metric can show me all this and more:
In a nutshell, this blogging metric takes the pulse on your site engagement.
Before I tell you where to find this magical Google Analytics engagement metric, humor me and take your best guess at the answers to these two questions… 🤔
- Out of all your visitors, what percentage sticks around longer than 10 seconds?
- What percentage stays longer than 30 seconds?
Go ahead and jot down your two guesses on a scrap piece of paper, and we’ll come back to it. ✏️
Later in this post, I’ll tell you:
Spoiler alert: It won’t go away on its own, but I’ll give you some practical, doable steps to get on the right path.
The amount of online content that’s available in today’s world is just plain overwhelming.
Not only that, but the quality of that content ranges from excellent to fair to even unreliable. And unfortunately, most of the content falls more toward the middle or end of that spectrum.
And so the online reading experience is a bit like walking into your regular grocery store to find that the owners renovated it to fit as many products as possible into every last square inch. (Hope you like shopping for avocados in the store bathroom! 🥑)
Picture this: Instead of finding your regular manageable grocery store inventory with four options for mayo and three options for creamy peanut butter, you see every single one of the 12 million different products currently available on Amazon.
You’d have an awful lot of poor quality products to wade through, so you’d need to come up with an efficient sorting system. Otherwise, you’d end up wasting all day in this Monster Grocery Store just to get what you need to make tacos for dinner.
This is why research shows that most readers will decide within 10 to 20 seconds of opening your post whether they should keep reading or leave – and never come back.
“People know that most web pages are useless, and they behave accordingly to avoid wasting more time than absolutely necessary on bad pages.” – Nielsen Norman Group
Your blog is just one product on the endless shelves of that Monster Grocery Store. And the reader’s figured out a few surefire signs to quickly determine if your site isn’t worth her time.
Unfortunately, most bloggers don’t realize how the reader’s making that decision. In fact, many of us are actively scaring readers away instead of pulling them deeper into our sites. ☠️
Here’s what happens if you can’t keep a reader on your site longer than 30 seconds (or even 10 seconds):
Why is user engagement important? Because…You can't convert a reader into a subscriber or customer when they've already left.Click To Tweet
Now that you understand why it’s so important to keep readers around longer than 30 seconds, let’s check your site engagement.
Below, I’ll step you through how to calculate engagement quickly. But if you prefer video, you’ll find one after the step-by-step instructions.
* Full disclosure: Google Analytics isn’t the end-all-be-all perfect tracking tool for site engagement, but it’s free and good enough to give you a general idea of how you’re doing.
To figure out how well your site is doing, the crucial site engagement metric is how many users are leaving within the first 30 seconds. After the 30-second mark, people are more likely to engage with your content and stick it out.
Grab that scrap piece of paper from earlier, and get ready to compare your guesses to your actual website engagement metrics.
In the Your Diagnosis column in your spreadsheet, check out the pink-highlighted percentage next to “Percentage of readers leaving in the first 30 seconds.” That’s the percentage of people who leave your site without engaging in a meaningful way.
If your percentage is higher than what’s shown in the green-highlighted “Benchmark” row, you have room for improvement. For example, in this case the site’s 30-second leave rate is 27 percent worse than a site with a strong brand.
The 60 percent benchmark is a rough guideline, but I’ve seen some sites get that percentage as low as 20 percent. If you’re already below 60 percent, change the “Benchmark” number to another goal for yourself like 50 percent or 40 percent. 🤩
If your 30-second number is higher than the benchmark, that means one or more of the following:
Below your percentage and the benchmark, you’ll find rough estimates to give you a general idea of the potential for your business. For example, you’ll see estimates for ad income you could get from increased viewability, plus subscribers you could gain from readers staying longer than 30 seconds.
So now the question is…
How can you increase website engagement?
To build a strong brand with a healthy site engagement, the best solution I’ve seen is the Blog Smarter program. In fact, it’s the sites of Blog Smarter graduates where I’ve seen the 30-second attrition metric get as low as 20 percent.
However, that program opens just a couple times a year. So I wanted to leave you with a few practical, actionable steps you can take starting today that will keep more readers around in those crucial 30 seconds.
Imagine that while you’re out running errands one day, I sneak into your home. Then I thoroughly cover every inch of your kitchen countertop with bills, receipts, and junk mail flyers. (Forgive me, Marie Kondo!)
Hidden within that endless mess of papers is one important paper: a check for $1,000.
When you walk in the door and see the mess, what are the chances that you’ll zero in on that one important paper in the chaos?
Slim to NONE.
First, you’d have to overcome the stress and anxiety of encountering all that visual clutter, and then you’d have to sort through it all piece by piece.
We’re committing the equivalent of this Clutter Sneak Attack with our readers. But instead of sorting through the clutter piece by piece, they give up and leave.
As just one example, a long sidebar filled with blog badges and ads and other widgets is competing with your content for your reader’s attention.
But what’s the quickest way to connect with a new reader? Letting her know you’re in the “Food Blogger Brigade” – or by delivering high-value content she’ll be able to use in her own life?
Bottom line: Ask yourself what’s the most important thing to get across to your reader in the first 10 seconds? Do that, and remove the rest of the clutter to maximize site engagement.
Those first 10-30 seconds are crucial for site engagement. Because if the reader leaves in the first few seconds, you can’t convert her into a subscriber or a customer.
The best way to spend those first 10-30 seconds is to deliver value to the reader. You might share a solution to a problem she has, answer a question she needs answered, inspire her, or make some other impact on her life.
Suppose she’s reading in search of the value you’re delivering, but something happens at the 15-second mark.
Your site displays a pop-up window that takes over the whole screen, asking her to subscribe to your mailing list.
Or maybe she didn’t even make it that far. Maybe when your site first loaded and before she could read the first sentence, the entire page shifted down and out of sight to make room for one of those impossible-to-ignore “welcome mats.”
But why on earth should a reader subscribe when you haven’t yet delivered any tangible value to her? When she has no idea yet what your site’s about and if it’s the right place for her?
Plus, even if you take out all the pop-ups and video ads and countless distractions we’re giving our readers, that still leaves all the real-life distractions. Social media notifications, chat windows, open browser tabs, new emails, text reminders from their spouses to pick up toilet paper on the way home, and more.
Bottom line: Protect that 10- to 30-second window for site engagement and focus on delivering value instead of interrupting the reader’s first experience with your site.
In journalism, “burying the lede” means starting your story with unimportant details and pushing the most important part of the story much later. The risk of burying the lede is that you’ll lose the reader’s attention before you communicate why she should care about what you’ve written.
As bloggers, we do this to our readers all the time.
We need the reader to pay attention to the value we’re delivering – a wicked useful blog post, a step-by-step tutorial, a product that will solve a pesky problem.
But instead we start with things like this:
In the first 30 seconds, the reader needs to know what’s in it for her if she sticks around.
When you fill up that 30 seconds with unimportant details, it’s harder for her to find the main reason why she should keep reading. And if she isn’t compelled to continue reading, she certainly won’t turn into a loyal subscriber or a paying customer.
Bottom line: Make sure your value proposition to the reader is clear within the first 30 seconds. Because of the way readers scan content online, a good rule of thumb is to include the most important point in the first two paragraphs on the page.
The reader visited your site only because she thinks you can add value to her life, such as by helping her with a problem, answering a question, or inspiring her. The only reason you matter to the reader is as a stepping stone to get where she wants to go.
If you’re familiar with the original Star Wars movie, here’s an analogy that will resonate: Your reader is Luke Skywalker, the hero of the story. And you are Yoda, the hero’s guide along the way.
When the reader doesn’t feel like the hero right off the bat, she’ll typically leave your site.
But while sharing our thoughts and opinions and experiences with the reader, it’s human nature that we sometimes cross the line into making ourselves the hero instead of the reader.
Compare these two post titles to see which one makes you the hero of the story versus the reader:
How I Got Control of My Life
How to Get Control of Your To-Do List and Feel Productive Every Day
In Title A, the focus is on you, the blogger. You got control of your life somehow, which is good for you but probably doesn’t mean much to the reader.
In Title B, the perspective has shifted to make the reader the hero because she’s going to get control of her to-do list once and for all.
To be clear, that doesn’t mean you can’t write in the first person. But this is just a simple example of how shifting your perspective can help the reader see that she’s the hero.
Bottom line: Think of yourself as Yoda, and the reader as Luke Skywalker. When you see through the lens of the reader as the hero, you’ll see where your perspective needs to shift, what you need to cut, and where you need to focus on what matters to the reader.
Back in 2000, a couple researchers from Columbia University ran a famous study. They set up a table in an upscale supermarket with samples of 24 varieties of gourmet jam. Any customer who sampled the jam got a coupon for $1 off any jar.
The next day, the researchers set up a similar table but displayed only six varieties of the jam. All customers who sampled that day also got the same $1 off coupon.
As you might expect, the table with more varieties of jam attracted more customers to sample. But here’s the part that surprises most people: At checkout time, customers who saw the large display were one-tenth as likely to buy as customers who saw the small display.
In other words, customers who had way more options to choose from ended up choosing…nothing. Customers with fewer choices were more likely to buy.
You may have heard this phenomenon referred to as “choice paralysis” or “decision overload.” And other studies since this “jam study” have confirmed that more choice is not always better.
When a reader visits our blog post, let’s look at how many different things we’re asking her to do:
The list goes on and on.
But when you give the reader too many choices, often her choice becomes…nothing. Not exactly a recipe for healthy site engagement.
Bottom line: Decision overload is a real phenomenon, and asking the reader to do too many different things could be overwhelming her. Focus on the most important actions you want the reader to take, and communicate only those.
This post gives you a few quick ideas for low-hanging fruit so you can stop pushing readers away in those first 30 seconds. But ultimately, the root of the issue is that you need a strong brand to quickly communicate to the reader where they are – and that your site is the perfect place for them to stick around.
Over the years, I’ve worked with hundreds of bloggers to improve their site engagement. The bloggers who hang onto the most readers are the students who’ve graduated from the Blog Smarter program.
If you want to build a strong brand for your business and boost your site engagement as high as possible – then get on the waiting list NOW for the Blog Smarter program. Enrollment opens just twice a year, and waiting list students get first dibs.
For more than 15 years, Kelly Holmes worked as a professional writer and editor at a billion-dollar company, where she earned a reputation as the best marketing writer and editor at the company because of her commitment to studying the craft constantly.
After leaving her corporate career, Kelly applied the best proven marketing techniques to her parenting blog, quickly replacing her high-tech corporate income (and then some). In her Sticky Blogging courses, Kelly encourages bloggers to step off the hamster wheel of chasing page views and focus on turning visitors into true fans who keep coming back for more.
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