Basic concepts

One of the fundamentals of content analytics is choosing a key performance indicator that matches with long-term goals of your publication.

Picking a metric isn’t hard, on the other hand - not all of them can be controlled directly by an editor or a content creator. You would want to build up your core audience, though you can’t measure how many of those reading the story right now are going to return next week, let alone - control it (you can’t control what you can’t measure, right?). You’ve got to pick something that has an effect on a certain long-term goal of your choice, can be easily measured in real-time and, hence - controlled.

The Black Box idea

The approach to control in this case resembles classic industrial process control, which starts with a black box:

One of the methods to figure out what’s going on in the black box is to apply a series of known inputs, observe the outputs, do lots of that and try building a relationship between what goes in and what goes out.

Inputs and Outputs

In case of content - your observable outputs are various long-term goals mentioned before - audience retention, subscriber growth, ad revenue boost, etc. (those you’d like to meet). It finally comes down to picking the inputs. What do you think induces a change in either of these final indicators? Well, you’ve got to try figuring it yourself! Here’s one of the things we discovered while conducting a research a few years ago:


Greater session depth affects audience retention, but that’s not it - in our case, session depth appears to be another observable output, which is directly related to Recirculation. Recirculation is a measure of engagement that indicates stickiness or how often a user would decide to read another story. A value of 50% means half of the audience stayed on the website after reading the story. A few ways to experiment with and improve this metric are described in the following article:

The higher you keep your recirculation, the higher the session depth will be:

Input / Output correlation

A 10% increase of average recirculation from 50% to 60% leads to a 25% increase in session depth, while bumping it further from 60% to 70% yields a 33% growth. What’s the limit here? Taking a look back at the previous chart, it’s noticeable that going past 7 pages per session doesn’t have a significant impact on the return rate:

Session Depth threshold

It’s safe to say that a good start would be aiming at the middle of the curve - session depth of 3 and a recirculation that lies between 60 and 70%.

Ways to improve Recirculation

High recirculation on your stories is often a combined result of good engagement and proper content recommendations. Therefore, we should think about improving these two aspects.

1) Improving engagement. We’ve covered the reasons why and how to work on audience engagement in this article. Long story short - Find the style and/or template that provides you the highest engagement values and try scaling this experience. At the same time, it is important to find “bad examples” and figure out the reasons why the readers might stop reading after a specific point or spend just a short amount of time. It's worth noting that Readability score and engagement time often are considered together, rather than separate from each other. Some articles might have a great average engagement time while not being read to the very end, which is often a result of the author laying out all the answers in the beginning of the article. Some stories display high readability percentage with low engagement time.

2) Keeping your recommended content up-to-date. In order to maintain constant flow of your readers through the site, its best to make sure they are offered the most relevant content available. Fill in the recommendation blocks with section - specific article, ideally - the best performing ones. This process can be automated by using our API features or connecting a trusted content-recommendation technology.

3) Keeping your recommendations visible. One of the most common mistakes is showing content recommendations ONLY at the bottom of the page. Quite often, your readers may not reach the end of the article, which is one part of the problem. However, not giving them another chance to stay makes things even worse and you might experience both low recirculation and low readability in such cases.

Those are our observations and thoughts on measuring and properly understanding recirculation. We are always happy to share more, so feel free to reach out via chat bubble whenever there's a question.

Stay tuned for more!

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