Credit: By julianlimjl at Flickr. Some rights reserved.

You might know the feeling. You've spent hours, even days, crafting what you believe is an interesting, insightful or entertaining story.

However, when you check the audience analytics for that particular article, you see most people left the page before they even got past the third paragraph.

Don't despair. According to Chris Moran, digital audience editor at the Guardian, metrics like attention time can be affected by many things, such as what device a reader is using to visit the site.

Speaking on a recent podcast, he also noted attention time is "incredibly sensitive" to whether a user comes direct to the site or is referred from a search page or social media post.

"I think Chartbeat and everybody else is right when they say attention time is a good top level metric for news organisations," said Moran.

Some audiences will engage longer if you hit them on social media. Some won't. Some will engage even lessDan Valente, Chartbeat
"In general, it's fair to say that if you have good quality journalism, you will see more engagement and more time spent on page than a poor-quality site."

However, he added that since the Guardian introduced attention time as a "proper metric" in Ophan, its in-house analytics platform, he had concerns about the best way to interpret it at an article level, and "whether it's really a pure enough proxy for quality".

Up until fairly recently, news outlets tended to measure their success in terms of page views and shares.

The problem is, of course, that clicks and shares are not an indicator of high-quality, valuable journalism.

Digitally native sites such as Medium and Upworthy, which focus on measuring time on site, are slowly but surely generating a shift in how the industry looks at web metrics.

And Chartbeat chief executive Tony Haile declared a new era of "Attention Web" in an article for Time last year headlined 'What you think you know about the web is wrong'.

Unfortunately, there's no exact science for increasing attention time.

As Dan Valente, a data scientist at Chartbeat, told, "producing interesting, well-researched or entertaining content always wins".

"But it really depends on the specific audience you're trying to hit," Valente added. "So some audiences will engage longer if you hit them on social media. Some won't. Some will engage even less."

However, there are a few things you can experiment with in order to increase the chance of your stories being read – all the way to the last line.

Use more multimedia

Moran noted that multimedia such as photos and videos can help keep the reader on the page, pointing to the "sheer volume of media" which appears in stories on Mail Online.

"They're marker points which they [Mail Online] think offer a reader a nice staging post and something else to keep them on the page at each point," he said.

Valente also noted that studies carried out by Chartbeat have shown "a slight increase in engaged time" for stories with videos.

"But the effect we've seen so far is quite small, and most likely attributed to the fact there's a video on the page that [users] just have to watch," he added.

Add structure with subheadings

Another technique to add structure to your story is to break up your story with subheadings.

[Personal] 'reveals' work really well on Medium and really improve engagementEvan Hansen, Medium
Not only is this easier on the eye than a lump of heavy text, Moran also noted subheadings can "help people feel like they can consume it piece by piece, especially on longer reads" and "give the reader a sense of progress".

However, he added it is important to consider "each piece on its own merits" when thinking about ways to increase attention time, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach.

Offer a personal touch

On Medium, anyone who posts a story can see what percentage of people who clicked on it read right through to the end.

Evan Hansen, Medium's head of content labs, noted that the stories that do best on the site in terms of engagement time tend to break the 'fourth wall' of journalism and reveal something insightful or interesting about the author.

"Authors introducing themselves, explaining their relationship to the story, revealing some aspect of themselves and revealing themselves as human, as people, a being in the world, those types of reveals work really well on Medium and really improve engagement," said Hansen.

He added that Publications on Medium should encourage their writers to create their own accounts rather than using a generic, centralised account because people "like to have interactions with individuals".

Avoid 'mis-selling' your story

If the user leaves the page very quickly after arriving, it is the "simplest and most definite thing you can learn from," said Moran, and should lead journalists to question whether they are misrepresenting an article.

For example, Moran cited a piece written by the Guardian's China correspondent Tania Branigan which made it to the front page of Reddit.

"It suddenly started getting huge amounts of traffic, but its attention time dropped from over a minute to nine seconds," he explained, as Redditors write their own headlines which might not have been as accurate as the original.

Moran also said Reddit users tend to click through a lot of articles on the platform's front page fairly quickly, which in turn contributed to the article's high bounce rate.

On the other hand, he noted that when the Guardian posts a story to its Facebook Page, "generally the attention time will rise".

He attributed this to the story cards that appear whenever a URL is posted to Facebook, with the headline, summary and picture giving users a good idea of what sort of story it is.

Encourage homepage traffic if possible

A common factor Chartbeat has identified is that readers who come to a site directly via the homepage tend to have longer attention times.

A reason for this could be because people who have bookmarked a homepage or typed its address directly into their browser are likely to be habitual readers, naturally inclined to be more engaged due to their loyalty to a particular brand.

"If you get your article up on your front page and you can get people to that front page," explained Valente, "then we definitely are more likely to see longer engaged times, longer depth of visits and things like that".

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