How 2 Premium Publishers Nail Engagement

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How could Premium publishers with only, say, 400 employees outperform a more established publisher that has 4000? The answer is: by focusing on user engagement and nailing it.

While ESPN, a sports powerhouse, has stagnated in recent years, Bleacher Report, a company with only 10% as many employees has been steadily catching up to ESPN’s site traffic. How do they do it? By focusing on developing a user experience that promotes online social interaction and user engagement.

I take a closer look at two premium publishers that absolutely nail the user experience and drive results by consistently engaging their readers in this article. By understanding what industry leaders like National Geographic and Bleacher Report get right, any publisher can learn to optimize their own sites for better engagement and ultimately, increased revenues.

Premium publisher infographic

But first, what is user engagement and why does it matter?

User engagement is all about getting users to interact with your content and website. Interaction can include anything from a click on Facebook, to readers sending you feedback about their experience on your site.

Why does it matter so much? Publishers that focus on user engagement find that their readers spend more time on their site, are more likely to recommend articles to friends, and come back more often. In short, publishers that engage readers, ultimately end up making more money.

Now, what is it that the top premium publishers do to engage their readers?

National Geographic

National Geographic leads the pack in user engagement. In January 2016, the site posted 1,134 pieces of content on its social media sites, which resulted in over 133 million actions from users.

Premium publishers - National Geographic
National Geographic Facebook Page “About”

Let’s take a look at National Geographic’s Facebook page. Check out the “about” section.

Instead of writing a brief description of the site, National Geographic uses a beautiful video, which not only encourages users to click, but utilizes visuals to pull readers in.

Further, the user can see clearly that the video has 10K “likes,” a sign that it’s probably something worth clicking on.

National Geographic’s secret to engagement can be summed up in two words: compelling visuals. Everything from its site to its social media pages are jam-packed with quality images.

Images are the secret sauce that keeps readers interested and engaged with content. National Geographic understands the platforms it uses and knows how to make the most of them.

Here’s an example of an image from an article entitled “Step Into the Futuristic Cities Designed Around Airports” on National Geographic’s website:

Premium publishers - NatGeo

Notice the arrows on each end of the picture encouraging readers to click to the next image. The “enhance” button on the bottom right encourages readers to experience the image on an even larger scale.

Bleacher Report

Some tactics Bleacher Report uses to engage users are calls to action, visual media, and social sharing. Here’s a screenshot of an article on the site:

Premium publishers - Bleacher Report
Interesting details on the Bleacher Report website

One of the first important elements to notice is the banner on the bottom right asking users to download an app to keep up with Raptors news. The site is intelligent enough to know that since you are reading an article about the Toronto Raptors, you will likely want to read more news about the Raptors.

Easy social sharing is crucial to Bleacher Report’s success. At the top of the screenshot is a video that offers users plugins to share it on Facebook and Twitter. In addition, the article includes a Tweet that automatically updates as it receives more “Likes” and “Retweets.” Readers can easily Retweet it and a link back to Bleacher Report will automatically be added to readers’ news feeds.

Bleacher Report’s comment section is also designed to encourage social interaction:

Premium publishers - Bleacher Report engagement
Typical engagement options on the Bleacher Report

There are two important elements to notice here that Bleacher Report gets right. The first is the ability to link to end user profiles. This makes it easier to interact with others on the site and tells the reader a little bit about the person commenting. The second is the ability to rate comments. This keeps readers engaged with others and allows the user to see “Top Comments.”

How can you make your site more engaging?

The success seen by National Geographic and Bleacher Report indicates how crucial it is for publishers to engage their readers. The challenge for publishers is not to focus so intently on creating quality content that they don’t spend enough time building, but to create truly engaging experiences  for their audiences. So what are a few simple tips publishers can easily implement to better engage readers? Here are three techniques used by some of the top digital publishers:

1. In-image advertising

Instead of using typical banner ads, which can overwhelm and annoy readers, find a way to improve UX, while increasing your site’s revenue. In-image advertising can ensure that your site only displays dynamic and relevant ads, which will engage your readers and keep your advertisers happy.

By using Big Data and behavioral analytics to generate ads on your site’s images, your ad viewability and user experience will improve, driving better results and ensuring that you reach your business goals.

2. Premium publishers create a social experience

This is exactly what National Geographic and Bleacher Report get right. Your site should utilize the power of social media to create an interactive and engaging experience. Make it easy for readers to share your content on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Display live Tweets and Facebook statuses that readers can interact with. Most importantly, make it easy for your readers to interact with each other by having a dynamic comments section with threaded discussions and the ability to rate comments.

3. Focus on UX

Premium publishers that keep their attention on how readers experience their site find far better user engagement results. Keep your site simple and easy-to-use. A few quick things to focus on: avoid ad clutter, keep your ads relevant, have quick loading times, and make sure your content is optimized for mobile.

How engaging can your site be? In my opinion, publishers can dramatically increase their engagement rates by focusing on these three techniques and learning from what the top publishers are getting right. How do you engage your readers?

Zev Newman

Zev manages Imonomy's content strategy, social media marketing, and SEO. He loves the Detroit Lions, learning just about anything, and writing about the world of online publishing, marketing, and advertising. If you are interested in collaborating, Zev can be reached at


  1. Rose Newmansays:

    Interesting article

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