Reader Engagement

How to Define Reader Engagement — A Guide for Publishers

Track, analyze, and encourage reader engagement

The newest generation of digital publishers is defining reader engagement in a totally different way than their predecessors. These days, engagement is being defined as active involvement or participation. Engaged readers aren’t just clicking randomly from page to page. They’re actually reading the content that publishers put out, and they’re posting in comments sections and sharing articles with their friends on social media.

The process of encouraging people to get engaged online isn’t always an easy one. Some publishers simply ask their readers to get more involved. Others are developing content in a way that promotes reader engagement, such as including more polls, adding “like” buttons and sharing widgets, and soliciting reader feedback.

We’d like to see publishers tracking engagement the way they track website visits and click-through rates, but that isn’t always easy to do. Reader engagement tends to be a more challenging metric. Publishers are left to decide for themselves what qualifies as engagement. How do you measure how interested or involved a reader is in the content you’re publishing?

There does seem to be a growing consensus among publishers that some metrics matter more than others. A survey by the content analytics firm Parse.ly found that publishers believe the metrics most representative of engagement are:

  • Shares
  • Engaged time
  • Comments
  • Page views
  • Offline impact

As you can see, publishers have a number of ways to define reader engagement. Different publications will find that different metrics are best for measuring active involvement from readers on their sites. For example, using “shares” as a metric for measuring engagement works best for publications that have social media widgets on all article pages. Similarly, using “comments” as a metric only really works for publications that have active comments sections.

Although publishers shouldn’t necessarily define reader engagement as the average number of pages per session, this can be a useful metric to watch. Logically speaking, it makes sense that the more pages a person visits during a session on a publisher’s website the higher the engagement. Just as with the above metrics, though, using the average number of pages per session to measure engagement comes with its own challenges.

Publications that have especially long articles tend to see readers with a lower number of pages per session. That’s totally understandable. However, in that case we would recommend that the publisher choose a different metric to track when watching for reader engagement.

The Best Definition

As you can see, reader engagement is difficult to define. Publishers have found dozens of different ways to track and measure this metric. The best definition depends on how your website is designed and how your readers interact with your content.

Rather than comparing themselves to other sites, publishers might be better off tracking reader engagement on their own websites over time and looking for trend lines. Engagement is about habit forming, and we want to see those trend lines going up over time. When that occurs, publishers can expect to see an increase in subscriptions and overall reader loyalty.

To learn even more about how to encourage your readers to get actively engaged, read 25 Audience Engagement Strategies for Digital Publishers.