How to Use Related Content to Improve Dwell Time

Publishers are rethinking the way they keep visitors on their websites and relying more heavily on related content tools to encourage engagement.

As publishers, we spend a lot of time developing content that our audiences will want to consume. We try to maximize reach and frequently measure the success of our initiatives through metrics like page visits, click-through rates, and dwell time. While these metrics offer immediate insights into how our search strategies are performing, they tell us very little about how to increase engagement and keep readers on our websites for longer.

Digital publishers are increasingly moving toward a new approach. Thinking outside the box, publishers are looking for better ways to increase engagement and dwell times through enhanced value. What can the publication do to offer more value to its readers? How can the publication better serve its readers?

One of the answers to come out of this new approach has to do with related content modules or tools. Publishers are finding new ways to use related content to increase the time readers spend on their websites.

Related content can pique reader interest by showing additional articles that are related to a similar topic. For example, an article on about a new restaurant opening in Toronto would include links under the heading “You May Also Like” with recommended articles about Toronto’s top gourmet burgers and the recent closing of a landmark eatery,

Publishers have a few options when it comes to how and where they choose to promote their related content. The most common place for related content to appear is underneath the article itself. However, according to a report by Atlantic 57, The Atlantic magazine’s consulting service, The Atlantic saw a 5% increase in the number of pages visited per user session when it moved from recommending several stories along the side of each article to embedding related links between paragraphs.

Regardless of the specific location where related content links are placed, The Atlantic’s researchers found that it’s actually the number of opportunities that matters more than the placement of those opportunities. The more opportunities publishers give readers to “read more” related content, the higher the likelihood that readers will follow the provided links and stay engaged on their websites. Related content links also make readers more likely to develop relationships with the publisher’s brand and return to the publication more frequently.

As part of its research, Atlantic 57 segmented news readers into four main groups — passerbys, occasionals, regulars, and super fans. Of those groups, related content modules and links were most likely to have an effect on passerbys.

Occassionals were more likely to respond to habit-forming products, like newsletters and podcasts. Regulars respond to features like social sign-ups, mobile-friendly webpages, and targeted calls-to-action. Super fans are already engaged with the publisher’s content, so the best thing publishers can do to improve these interactions is to provide added value, like behind-the-scenes content, discounts, and access to members of the publication.

The better publishers understand their audiences, the more effectively they can pinpoint the mechanisms that will keep readers engaged for longer. Related content algorithms can be fine-tuned to bring readers the article links they are most likely to click.

Related content modules can be as basic or elaborate as you wish. On one end of the spectrum is the setup favored by The Atlantic, with headlines that link to related articles embedded between the paragraphs of most articles. At the other end of the spectrum, publishers can add related content modules that show headlines, brief article descriptions, and even thumbnail images when available. These modules can run alongside articles or underneath the comments at the bottom.

If your digital publication is built on WordPress and you’re interested in adding a related content module to your website, consider using one of the following WordPress plugins.

1. Related Posts for WordPress
2. Jetpack
3. Contextual Related Posts
4. AddThis
5. Yet Another Related Posts Plugin (YARPP)