THE IDEA of getting engaged is something that can make us squeal with delight, squirm with dread, turn green with envy or nauseous with uncertainty.
The same feelings are often true for marketers. When your marketing activity keeps your audience coming back for more, there’s no better feeling. But when you’ve spent a long time putting something together (be it a blog or 140-character tweet), only to be met by tumbleweed when you publish, the feeling that your hard work will go in vain sinks in.
Why do your competitors seem to be getting lots of shares, ‘likes’ and comments on their articles and you don’t? You can rid yourself of that sickening feeling with some deep analysis of your own efforts.
In this article, with the help of marketing experts, you’ll learn the answers to these important questions:
- How can I keep my audience engaged?
- How will I know when I have engaged them??
- How should I engage my audience in the first place???
If any of those thoughts sound familiar, you’re in the right place. This guide breaks down what it means to keep your audience engaged and how you can go about doing it through various marketing channels.
What is audience engagement?
Engagement means click-throughs from search engines, email opens, web page views, time spent on pages, comments on a blog, an increase in followers, retweets and other social shares, and basically any form of real-time activity.
Have a look at who you follow on your own social media channels, and have a flick through your email inbox. You’re bound to follow, ‘like’ and receive emails from big brands whose products you purchase or admire.
Big brands use a mixture of marketing channels to keep consumers engaged. Arguably, that’s because they were big brands prior to social media and they had millions of fans already. But there are some brands out there that grew as a result of building their audiences through social media and creative marketing. Regardless of how large a brand becomes, it takes hard work to keep it up. So how are they engaging their audiences?
- They’re producing well-designed quality content that offers value to the reader
- They’ve figured out a social media strategy that encourages interaction and inspires sharing
- They’re generating more traffic to their site through content promotion
- They’ve established an appealing visual identity that’s easily recognisable
- They’ve created a website that provides visitors with a good user experience
Sources of engagement
Engagement starts before they visit your site
Engagement can come from a number of sources. Nick Pearse, an SEO specialist, says: “From a basic SEO perspective, we need people to engage with a client’s search result and click through. Therefore, the first step of engagement in SEO is to optimise the text that appears in search results so that they are relevant and appealing to users.”
This will include a call to action (CTA) or a hook to encourage the click-through (‘FREE DELIVERY’ or ‘trade prices’ for example).
Pay Per Click (PPC) marketing requires similar techniques. But, while SEO focuses on maintaining engagement levels, PPC is arguably the service most focused on achieving conversions.
“It’s our job to figure out how you can make more users engage with your site, and how you can make them engage for longer,” says Coralie Wood, PPC specialist.
A low conversion rate means people who land on your website are generally not doing what you want them to do. Design – both in terms of website architecture and aesthetics, and pure visual content – is of the utmost importance.
“Engagement means the ‘buy in’ from consumers, clients and users,” explains Wez Maynard, Creative Service Manager. “There’s a huge element of trust in that. You’re asking people to become invested in what you have to offer, and design is the communication of that message.”
To get more engagement, first get attention
A catchy, clickable headline is an important part of attention-grabbing content marketing. Whether it is listed in a search result, tweeted out on a social channel or listed in your email newsletter, the headline needs to be enticing – standing out from the crowd and promising real value.
“We use catchy headlines to capture readers’ attention and tell a meaningful story, not one that’s been discussed countless times,” says Sarah Howard, Head of Content.
To create these catchy headlines, you could use a combination of online trends, industry insights and analytics tools including Google Analytics and our own deep data platform, Apollo Insights.
Apollo Insights helps us identify content opportunities and ideas, because it shows us what a client’s customers are looking for. Here are two examples of how we do this.
Apollo Insights pulls in data for a client site from multiple sources, including SEM Rush and Google Webmaster Tools (GWT). We can filter this data to show all queries with less than 10 impressions (GWT) and more than 1000 volume (SEM Rush).
This helps us spot search queries for which the website has some visibility but where there is an opportunity to get more.
In the second example, below, we search the data for the word ‘activity’, to see which specific queries appear. Comparing impressions (current visibility) with volume (potential visibility), we can see which kind of specific phrasing is used by potential customers of a client’s website when they are looking for information about a specific topic.
“We have to take a different approach than the other blogs out there,” Sarah explains. “We have helped clients build large audiences who aren’t afraid to get involved. The content we produce consistently inspires conversations.”
Speaking of starting conversations, that’s almost the definition of what social media does. As Head of Social Media Alex Robertson explains, social media engagement as a marketing metric is characterised by any form of interaction with content on social channels (be it a reply, comment, retweet, favourite, click, share etc.), but it’s also more than that.
“Engagement in a wider branded sense is much more than simply responding to comments; it’s finding, producing and promoting content your audience wants to consume to keep them coming back,” he says.
Jonah Berger, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on word-of-mouth trends and viral marketing, believes that social influence has a huge impact on whether products, ideas and behaviours catch on. In his book, ‘Contagious: Why Things Catch On’, he argues the importance of word of mouth.
“The things others tell us, e-mail us and text us have a significant impact on what we think, read, buy and do. We try websites our neighbours recommend, read books our relatives praise, and vote for candidates our friends endorse.
“Word of mouth is the primary factor behind 20 per cent to 50 per cent of all purchasing decisions.”
Creating word of mouth is easier said than done. But Tom Chapman, a content promotion specialist, has methods for building word of mouth and engagement that cover multiple services – from SEO to content and even print journalism.
“The quest for engagement features quite heavily in my role,” he explains. “I use the quality of a client’s website – such as its backlinks – to find new content opportunities and areas that could be improved.
“People are not going to stumble upon your content or website by accident – it always needs promoting. This is vital to the engagement process.”
But before a brand can keep its audience engaged, how can it begin to engage people in the first place?
How to build an engaged audience
Alex Robertson says: “To develop interaction you first need to know who you want to talk to, and then figure out what you are going to say to them. It’s a very basic concept but one many companies neglect.”
Indeed, Professor Jonah Berger notes that the development of word of mouth and engagement is naturally directed toward an interested audience, suggesting that it’s about who you talk to, not how many people you talk to.
“We don’t share a news story or recommendation with everyone we know. Rather, we tend to select particular people who we think would find that given piece of information most relevant,” he wrote.
“Word of mouth tends to reach people who are actually interested in the thing being discussed. No wonder customers referred by their friends spend more, shop faster, and are more profitable overall.”
The ability to ‘talk’ to users in real-time is somewhat unique to social media, but the concept is true for all services.
“It’s really key that you bring as many people back to your site as possible,” Coralie Wood explains. “To achieve engagement, a client’s website must look clearly laid out and easy to use, with strong and relevant headlines. These are the two factors that will contribute to your bounce rate.”
While the strong and relevant headlines will predominantly be the responsibility of the SEO and content teams, the layout and user experience falls in the hands of the creative team.
“There are certain ‘go to’ things that encourage engagement, not necessarily ‘design things’ – more ‘human things’,” head of creative Wez Maynard notes. “In recent years a lot of methods have become tired and overused.
“The internet is awash with misleading headlines, empathetic imagery and cat memes. As a result, designers have to go back to the drawing board and really pioneer new methods of engagement.”
The same is true for all marketing services. In order to separate your website from countless others, it takes innovative solutions that can only come from experience.
“To get an audience engaged we have to keep things in SEO fresh,” Nick Pearse points out. “It’s not just about how a page performs, but how effective the user journey is.”
On-site engagement takeaways
On-site engagement requires:
- Compelling content
- Intuitive navigation (so people can find what they want easily!)
- Positive user experience (fast loading times, attractive pages, clear calls to action)
- A simple customer journey (time is precious and there are lots of competitors)
- Accessibility (quick contact forms, clear contact details, trust signals)
- The drive to always try new and interesting things
- Strong brand identity – make your brand something people want to be part of/share/show off
- Social elements – this is hugely engaging and extends the journey and reach
- Experience in similar campaigns (look at previous industry-specific results, test pages, user behaviour etc.)
- Competitor research (review and emulate)
How to engage users away from your website
The most obvious elements of off-site engagement come from social media and PPC advertising.
“As a brand you are hoping to reach as many people as possible with a message, and sadly the vast majority of people are not currently on your site!” Alex says. Often what social media users want is pure entertainment, but what they get – whether they know it or not – is a subtle nudge down the funnel towards conversion. Therefore, he has the daunting task of trying to build trust on platforms where people are not necessarily looking to buy anything.
“How do we build trust for a client among its potential customers? We get actively involved in the conversations pertinent to their industry; we share existing content from key profiles to establish them as thought leaders; we produce the content that their audience wants to consume,” Alex adds.
Managing multiple clients/brands across numerous social channels would not be possible without a comprehensive social media management platform. Being able to monitor engagement, news feeds, industry trends and schedules is imperative for anyone working in social media marketing.
Additional tools such as tracking software, Google Analytics, hashtag and influencer monitoring tools are also pivotal to keeping on top of numerous projects.
PPC Specialist Coralie Wood has another trick up her sleeve – remarketing ads.
“We’ll use remarketing ads to target users that have already visited a client’s site,” she explains, “which keeps the brand image and the product/service they have enquired about in their mind.
“Remarketing ads follow a user around the internet, so it’s crucial that we balance how often these ads are shown. We need to ensure we’re keeping the users interested in the brand/product/service without being annoying.”
Off-site engagement takeaways
Off-site engagement requires:
- Advanced social media, content and PPC strategies (including remarketing ads)
- Content promotion specialists positioning compelling content in valuable places such as high-traffic sites, print magazines and local newspapers
There’s content, and there’s engaging content
We’ve already pointed out in this guide how you have to know your audience in order to give them content they want to consume. But according to Danny Iny, author of ‘Engagement from Scratch!’, you have to love your audience too.
“Building an audience is a slog – it’s a long, hard process, and you need to be committed enough to stay the course for the long haul,” Iny says.
“If you love your audience, then every email and tweet that you receive will give you a small boost of motivation to keep going.”
Types of content
Content marketing doesn’t work with a ‘stop start’ approach – often the positive results can only be seen after an extended period. When you’re creating content to keep your audience engaged, it’s important to know which types of content work best for creating on-going traffic, as well as inspiring comments and shares, and getting people to trust your brand.
Brian Clark, founder of Copyblogger.com, compares the content development process to that of a stand-up comedian. Joke writing comes first, he says, and those jokes are based on what the comedian thinks is funny, based on an educated guess of what might be funny to the audience.
“The comedian knows the act needs to be tested and improved. So, she heads out to small comedy clubs and performs the initial jokes in front of a live audience.
“Based on audience response (laughter, or lack thereof), after each performance the comedian cuts certain bits, tweaks others, writes new jokes, returns to the stage, and repeats.”
This is a perfect analogy of an ongoing content marketing strategy designed to create ongoing traffic. Like getting on stage to perform comedy, it can be daunting at first, but after a while it all comes together.
“You’ve got to have the courage to just put [your content] out there, and then objectively and progressively adapt.”
In a Vertical Leap study, we analysed 442 blogs on our website to identify clear patterns in engagement. We discovered which types of content achieve the best long-term traffic results, and what proportion of traffic in any given month goes to older content on the site.
You can categorise content, particularly blog posts, into the following types:
- Topical: including news as well as blog articles based on timely events that were in the news
- Promotional: any blog posts directly promoting the business, but also blog posts extolling the virtues of the services offered by the publisher
- Instructional: posts that tell you how to do something, or giving step by step instructions
- Knowledge: posts that may be educational but without providing instructional advice
Unsurprisingly, it was evergreen content that performed the best long term (i.e. content that doesn’t grow old quickly, such as ‘how to’ guides and any blogs which won’t feel dated in a few years).
In particular, knowledge posts are strong much earlier in the momentum cycle than both topical and promotional content, meaning they’re beginning to build an engaged audience faster.
However, it was instructional posts that were out in front, due to the vast number of people searching the internet for solutions. Google recognises this, and is prone to showing solution-based, instructive content.
In the graph below, we can see that engagement through visits was strong even at the beginning of the content marketing cycle. But in the last half of year two, most of the traffic on the site was coming from historic blog posts – some of the top traffic generators on the site are more than a year old.
Does this mean everyone should start publishing ‘how to’ articles and nothing else? Absolutely not.
If we all did that, these graphs would change because search engines would start ranking things differently again, to cope with all the spam that would ensue. Your content strategy should contain a mixture of post types.
“Topicality and time-sensitive newsjacking can help attract short term traffic, while instructional evergreen articles will help people find answers over the longer term,” says Steve Masters, Services Director.
Creating visual content
A great design isn’t possible without quality content, according to Wez Maynard. “Content is everything. Content has to come first. I’ve always thought that compelling content designs itself,” he says.
Visual content can be equally as engaging as blogs and feature articles, arguably even more so when a brand’s personality includes humour, or is operating in an industry that can seem somewhat ‘dry’. Sarah Howard, head of content, describes one example of how a niche industry can become more engaging.
“Our client Kern is a B2B-focused business specialising in mailing and packaging solutions. Despite being a specialist topic we have got readers involved and interacting with our content.
“We produced a survey – which was shared socially by the likes of Netmums and Whittards – to find out the nation’s favourite biscuit. We’re then turning the results from this survey into an infographic and press material.”
Infographics, advertisements, quotes combined with images, designed statistics, online flyers, memes and more; all of these types of visual content offer incredible value to brands. It goes without saying that producing such content requires a brilliant design team, but it also takes a great PPC and social media team to get the stuff out in front of people.
Recent research shows that you can get a 150 per cent increase in retweets just by including images.
“Design is an integral part of any social media strategy,” Alex Robertson argues. “Platform engagement is influenced by images and additional apps delivered by the creative team to support competitions and other types of interaction campaigns that we run on social media.”
“You can produce the most in-depth, informative, on-brand infographic brief imaginable, but without a great designer to bring it to life it will never be seen,” adds Sarah Howard.
How marketers measure engagement
Whether or not your efforts to engage can be deemed successful depends on your objectives – different people working in different roles will have their own individual opinions. Let’s take a look at how engagement is measured by each service:
Sarah Howard, head of content
“The longer a consumer spends on a page reading our content, the more successful that piece of content has been. I want people to like the content, and then engage with it. This then leads to comments, social shares, click-throughs to other articles and pages on the site, and could potentially lead to a conversion.”
Key metrics: Time on page, comments, social shares, pages per visit and time on site
Related article: How to measure content performance
Michelle Hill, marketing manager
“It’s great if the person likes the content they’ve clicked through to, but my job is to get leads through all forms of marketing. Engagement in my role can be measured in direct enquiries.”
Key metrics: enquiries, conversions
Nick Pearse, SEO specialist
“Once a visitor is on-site, we look at how they engage with the site and content. This includes the time spent on pages, the amount of pages viewed per visit and the bounce rate of pages. It’s not just about how a page performs, but how effective the user journey is (for example, are there pages where people drop off the site?).
“Conversions are another key factor. This could be an order/sale or an action, such as watching a video or submitting a contact form.”
Key metrics: Time on page, pages per visit, bounce rate, time on site, conversions
Alex Robertson, head of social media
“Social media engagement as a marketing metric is characterised by any form of interaction with content on social channels. This could be a reply, comment, retweet, favourite, click, share etc. Through this, we’ll also be measuring social reach and audience growth.”
Key metrics: Social shares, all interactions (replies, comments, favourites, clicks)
Examples of engagement
“We produced a range of content for Property Personnel to satisfy readers at all stages of their job hunting or candidate seeking processes. By producing regular reports on the job market, we captured attention and kept the audience coming back for more, funnelling them further into the website with longer-form content like the graduate’s guide.“ – Sarah Howard, head of content
“We’re extremely pleased with the job board mechanics on the Property Personnel website. We identified this as a key engagement tool when we started the project, so we naturally focused a lot of extra time making this perfect. The statistics speak for themselves and we’re delighted with the performance of the new site as a result.” – Wez Maynard, head of creative
“Silicone Engineering saw a ten per cent drop in bounce rate and a nine per cent increase in pages per session after implementing our recommendations to include company USPs and stronger headlines on their site.” – Coralie Wood, PPC specialist
“Carbase has a set number of business and social media defined objectives that we work very closely to. The most important first step we encouraged was a support and buy in from the business as a whole. Social media is a marketing channel that is there to support all other marketing initiatives.
“We looked at the individual strategies across all social platforms as a direct way of engaging and developing relationships with all aspects of the car buying cycle. Using the strengths of each platform we built an activity plan that gave us enough freedom to be creative while also targeting the right audience.
“For example, we use Facebook to nurture the community of existing customers with content and activity that talks about car maintenance, after care, servicing and MOTs with a splash of wider car fan ‘petrol head’ content to increase interaction. We encourage the sales teams to involve customers in the social community at the point of sale to build the number of Facebook reviews whom we then reward with prize giveaways.” – Alex Robertson, head of social media
Natural High Safaris
“Natural High was able to optimise its site better and increase conversions by adding more engagement points to the site such as pdf brochure downloads.” – Coralie Wood, PPC specialist.
Quick engagement takeaways
On website design
- The visitor will make a decision within one second on whether your site will:
a) Give them the information they need
b) Be easy to use
- Users get most frustrated and are more likely to leave a site if they can’t figure out what to do next
- The site must look clearly laid out and simple and have a strong and relevant headline
- Ensure that any information that needs to be presented clearly and is easy to digest
- Sell the benefits of your company (offers, limited time sales etc.) as well as the product/service, and you’ll create a clear path to conversion
Users that engage with your site for longer are much more likely to convert. Ensure your focus remains: “what can I do to get people to stay on the site for as long as possible?”
Key stats to look at include:
- Bounce rate
- Pages per visit
- Time on site
Conversion rate is statistically a lot higher for returning visitors than new visitors, so it’s crucial to figure out how to bring people back to your website
Once a user has clicked through, if they have to spend more than five seconds looking for your call to action you’ll probably lose them
Use remarketing ads to target users that have visited the site at least once to keep the brand image and the product/service they have enquired about in their mind
On content marketing
- Engagement requires compelling content, first and foremost
- On-site engagement requires a key balance between design and content
- Use storytelling techniques to get your audience engaged
- Use catchy headlines to capture readers’ attention and tell a meaningful story, not one that’s been discussed countless times
- If you’re struggling to find a new angle, try to add emotion and a human touch to your content, using interviews and strong imagery, for example
On social media
- Before launching into building an engagement plan, you must first decide what you hope to achieve from social media marketing – what are your objectives?
- Know who you want to talk to, and decide what you want to say to them
- Build trust with your audience by being actively involved in the conversations pertinent to your industry and sharing existing content from key profiles
- Producing content that your audience wants to consume
- A comprehensive social media management platform is imperative to monitoring engagement, news feeds, industry trends and schedules
- Optimise the text that appears in search results so that they look natural and appealing to users
- Include a call to action or a hook to encourage a click-through
- Ensure the text that appears in your search result is not truncated
- Look at how users engage with the site and content, including:
- Time spent on page
- Number of pages viewed
- Each page’s bounce rate
- Remember: It’s not just about how a page performs, but how effective the user journey is.