Analytics gardening-tulips

Published on March 2nd, 2013 | by Derek Slater


Content gardening: Improve your content’s performance (part 2)

Quick recap: This 3-post series describes a step-by-step process to improving the performance of already-published website content:

  • by bringing more visitors to the site  (last post)
  • by getting them to stay longer and visit more pages  (this post)
  • and by converting them (next post).

Getting the job done will require you to tweak content pages based on four pieces of data:

  • inbound search terms
  • bounce rate
  • pages per visit (PPV)
  • and search rankings.

In part 1, I took the example of an article on MyFreshLocal which shows good engagement metrics for visitors coming from the search phrase “sky vegetables”. We looked at six tactics that could help raise the article’s search rank, bringing more happy visitors to the site.

But what if people DIDN’T like the article?

That’s the question we’ll tackle in this post.


Part 2: Getting search visitors to stay longer and visit more pages

Web analytics guru Avinash Kaushik has famously described bounce rate as a measure of site visitors saying “I came, I puked, I left.” A bounce means the visitor arrived on the site and (quickly) left without clicking or otherwise interacting with the landing page. “Puked” might be a bit strong, but a high bounce rate does suggest people aren’t finding what they want.

You can find an abundance of good advice on the web about how to reduce your overall bounce rate.  For example: Reduce Bounce Rate: 20 Things to Consider

Those things are all worth thinking about. Some are more reader-centric than others:

  • improve site speed / page load times
  • fix broken links and images on the page
  • improve your site-wide navigation
  • paginate long articles
  • open external links in new windows
  • etc


But this being Content Informatics, I want to focus on how to lower the bounce rate for individual pieces of content. To continue our gardening analogy from last post, this process is about finding the droopy plants on your site and giving them a little love and attention so they can flourish.

So let’s say you look in your analytics reports and identify an article that does get ongoing visits, but has a bounce rate higher than your site average, and fewer pages-per-visit (PPV).

Whatever shall you do?


6 techniques for improving engagement with a single piece of content


1. Improve the quality of the content.

That’s right, I said it. Visitors bouncing off of an article page may simply indicate that the content is not good. So fix it!

- Grammatical mistakes and misspellings turn people off.  Here’s a relevant bit of data; I’ve seen more specific research on the question of overall website traffic before, but am not having luck retrieving it now. Anyone? Give the content a good scrub with your copyediting loofah.

- Inaccuracy turns people off. If you are lucky, someone will make fun of your error in the comments or other feedback mechanism (you do have those built into your site, right?), flagging the problem for you. Give low-performance content a quick accuracy check, or ask a subject-matter expert in your organization to do the same for you.

- But this one is more subtle and more pernicious: Thin content turns people off.

The infinite capacity of the web and the ease of counting has led to the rise of The Cult of Quantity: To hit ever-higher business goals, the most obvious solution is to keep producing more content, and faster. Result: metric tonnes [sic] of thin content, with more on the way every day.

Or, as Doug Kessler of Velocity Partners delightfully expressed it: “We’re all about to be buried in crap.”

But more a high volume of bad content does not necessarily outperform a low volume of good content. Seems like that point should be self-evident, but it’s not, so here’s some data to back it up:

“We’ve also — completely against the trend — slowed down our process. We’ve tried to work longer on stories for greater impact, and publish fewer quick-takes that we know you can consume elsewhere. We’re actually publishing, on average, roughly one-third fewer posts on Salon than we were a year ago (from 848 to 572 in December; 943 to 602 in January). So: 33 percent fewer posts; 40 percent greater traffic.” That finding from Kerry Lauerman, editor of Salon.

And still more empirical evidence:

On SEOmoz, Carson Ward published a writeup of some academic research aimed at determining what makes content “go viral.” (The actual research was done by Professors Berger and MilkMan of UPenn.) What was the quality most closely correllated with viral success? LENGTH! “Sheer word count was more closely correlated with sharing than any other variable examined,” notes Ward.

As explained in my book Online Content Marketing in 30 Minutes (what?! You haven’t read it yet?), if you want people to share your insights, you need to cover your subjects in sufficient detail.

Establish a culture of quality, including depth, in your content work.

And to the point at hand, ask yourself whether the low-performing content at hand is simply thin, and how it needs to be beefed up or trimmed down.

  • Do the points need more statistical evidence?
  • Have you skipped important steps in the process you are describing?
  • Is the piece verbose (like this one <g>), lacking clarity?
  • Should you interview another source and add her insights?
  • Is the video editing sloppy or the sound quality poor?
  • Does the post need a clearly labeled addendum/update?

Happily, for most content types, “published” does not equal “cast in stone for all eternity”. So slow down and fix your bad content.


2. Add (better) images with captions.

David Ogilvy, advertising icon, did some research and found that image captions were read 300% more than body copy. Cited here, among millions of other places:

Yes the research is old. So take it as a hypothesis and test it on your low-performance content. Add a quality image with an informative caption, and see if visitors’ time-on-page improves for that specific content.

Potential side benefit: Images can be good for SEO purposes. So you might see some bonus traffic to the page.

people read photo captions!

You’re probably going to skip the whole post and just read this caption. You can’t help it – it’s science! Photo by SurlyGirl – Flickr; CC BY 2.0


3. Improve the content’s match with searchers’ intent and language.

Speaking of SEO… If visitors are finding this content via search engine, what is the specific phrase that brings them to the page?

This starts with sort of the reverse of a process I described in the previous post in this series.

In Google Analytics, from the view

Content > Site Content > All Pages,

click on your specific content page, then use the buttons directly above the URL

Secondary Dimension > Source.

This shows me whether search engines are major referrers to the article. And changing the secondary dimension to

Secondary Dimension > Keyword

shows the exact phrase(s) searchers are using.


Here is a well-documented user behavior: When a web surfer clicks on a link taking them to a site, they expect the page they land on to *clearly and exactly* match what was advertised in the link.

If it doesn’t, they bounce off the landing page. In a matter of seconds.

If they click on an Adwords ad for “bridal boutique” and land on a page that doesn’t prominently feature the words “bridal boutique”, they’re gone.

So where appropriate, make sure the headline or other labeling matches the phrase Googlers are using to land there.


Here’s an example.


You’ll notice the time-on-page number is actually not bad. But that’s in part because we renamed the article to include the word “techniques”, since a year after publication, the only people finding and reading it were those coming from a Google search specifically for “money laundering techniques”.


4. If you can’t make the content better, link to better content

Do you have better content that’s generally on the same subject? Unapologetically and prominently link to it.

You’ll be doing your readers a service by pointing them to your best, most informative stuff on the topic of interest.

Here is an example of this concept in action.




See those boxes – “more about Starbucks” and “more about supply chain security”?

Those were added years after the original publication of the article. It ranked well for the search phrase “starbucks supply chain”, and had pretty bad PPV (like 1.1 pages per visit) and bounce rate metrics. People were finding it, but evidently it didn’t match the intent of their search very well.

I couldn’t change the essential nature of the article; it was written for security professionals, so I didn’t want to de-emphasize the security focus and I didn’t want to spend hours doing research or interviews to update the piece on behalf of those visitors (a majority, judging by the metrics) who weren’t really the target audience.

But it did occur to me that I had other information on the site that correspond with elements of the inbound search.

So we added these link boxes. And by better serving some percentage of that inbound traffic, we improved the engagement metrics for this page by 10 to 20 percent, with very little investment of time.

Similarly, we sometimes insert link boxes on old articles, saying in effect, “Want updated views on [TOPIC]? Read these newer articles over here!”


5. But also, what’s simply GREAT on your site? Make that accessible too.

Closely related content makes excellent reader service. But it’s also valuable to just link to whatever material you have that resonates with your audience, topic be darned.

One example out of millions – these How-To Guides on the right rail of the Content Marketing Institute’s site.




This can be done programmatically, but there’s nothing stopping you from featuring links within the content space itself – in fact, they will be more effective there, as long as you show consideration for the visitor by not clobbering him over the head.



About the Author

is editor of an award-winning B2B media website and magazine. Opinions and ideas expressed here are my own, not my employer's.

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