How data visualization impacts engagement and drives growth

04.11.2015 by Marisa Krystian

Typically when people think of data visualization, they think in terms of its impact on the ability to communicate effectively with audiences. But rarely do they reflect on the impact it can have on the bottom line. Tons of articles have been written about how visuals help in mentally processing information, and often the existing research is based on studies conducted at science labs. But that’s a hard argument to sell to top management or shareholders. That’s why we at set out to investigate and measure the impact that data visualization can ultimately have on your business’s bottom line.

Why Measure Engagement

A very common way of measuring the effectiveness of content is to track engagement, often through one or several of the following metrics:

  • Pages per session
  • Page depth
  • Session duration
  • Returning users
  • Comments and shares

But why do these metrics matter? Each of these ultimately has an impact on the bottom line.

Pages per session is indicative of the level of interest the reader has shown in the content. The more pages a person visits the more they’re exposed to your message. It also means more opportunities to show ads.

Page depth refers to how far a reader scrolls down on a page and how much of the content presented there gets consumed. Typically, users scroll down to about 25% of the page, or about one image and one paragraph. As a consequence, any content, message or ad that is placed further down runs a large risk of not getting seen. Due to increasing the importance of viewable impressions, page depth has become a clear revenue driver for publishers.

Average session duration is an important metric to understand whether the reader found the information she was looking for, or just landed on the page by mistake and then left. The longer the user stays on a page, the more likely it is that she’s engaged and interested in what she’s seeing. In addition, this metric has a direct effect on the publisher’s core business – advertising. Due to in-screen rates, time spent on article becomes more important; for an impression to be counted as viewable, according to IAB and MRC standards, the ad has to be present on the screen for at least one second. Consequently visual content that catches readers’ attention and makes them stop for a moment, increases in-screen rates for the ads on the article. Furthermore, due to the recent rise in popularity of native advertising and special content projects, time spent on page has become a clear measure of effectiveness.

Returning users is the ultimate metric of loyalty. Returning users have found value in the content you showed them and are more likely to recommend and promote your site. They have typically been exposed to your message several times, they’re more active and are more likely to have a higher number of pages per session, average session duration and page depth.

Comments and shares help promote your content and reach new audiences, thus bringing new users to your site. People are more likely to read an article that was recommended to them by someone they know; more users translate into more opportunities to monetize.

Research Methodology

We conducted three separate studies:

In the first, we ran a large-scale study within a specific publishing vertical of over 4,000 articles, comparing audience engagement based on the content that the articles contained. All articles were published by third party news sites and the information we analyzed was publicly available. Engagement was measured as comments and content shares, as reported by the media we analyzed.

The second consisted of an A/B test of a blog article. Version A contained plain text data plus the same information visualized in five different charts, while version B contained the same information minus the charts. We split tested these two versions by sending equal amounts of traffic to each version and measured average session duration.

The third study was conducted by D.C. Thomson, the Scotland based publishing company with six news sites and over ten magazines in their group. They analyzed articles they had published on one of their properties, some containing data visualizations, some not. They measured average session duration and depth of page scroll.

What We Learned

Articles that contained charts and infographics showed significantly more reader engagement:

Further Details

The large-scale study

Qualitative analysis of the comments revealed that many of them were indeed prompted by the data visualizations, further enforcing the conclusion that interactive charts and graphs are interesting and valuable to audiences.

Some other types of content were also analyzed for comparison. Interestingly, not all the popular choices of rich content seem to be good for building audience engagement. For example, articles with YouTube videos on them performed even poorer in terms of audience engagement, scoring a full 40% lower in their comments than articles with interactive charts.

The A/B test

Version A’s average time on site was two minutes, while Version B’s was one minute. Each version was seen by 1000 people, which means that in total, the content in version A was seen 2000 minutes more than in Version B. Since the data research had already been done, creating the five charts for the A/B test took on average 2 minutes per chart, for a total of 10 extra minutes of work to double the engagement on the article.

D.C. Thomson’s Study

D.C. Thomson tracked time on site and depth of scroll on one of their properties, a leading specialized publication on oil and gas that receives 300k-400k pageviews per month. This publication targets high-level executives in the industry and therefore tends to publish data-rich articles. They found that on average, the dwell time increased 62% from 115 seconds to 186 seconds.

Going further, they analyzed the depth of scroll, or how much of the article was read by each viewer. What they found was that including data visualizations on their articles increased the number of people that read an article to completion by 317%. These two metrics combined translated to approximately an additional 20% ad revenue.

Why This Is Important

In simple terms, more engagement means more revenue. For media and newsrooms, it’s obvious: the longer a person stays on a site, the more valuable they are for the advertisers. So whether it’s because they’re scrolling further down into the article and actually reading all of the content, or whether they’re sharing and commenting on an article, more engagement means more eyeballs and more eyeballs means more opportunities to generate ad revenue.

For marketers, the fact that people engage with content, comment and share articles means they are warmer leads. The use of charts and infographics translates into potential customers actually reading your content beyond just a 15 second skim, getting exposed to the entirety of your message and increasing the understanding of the benefits of your product. Communicating with data visualizations increases understanding, which in turn increases trust in the message. Furthermore, comments and share increase the reach of your marketing message allowing it to spread to customers who would otherwise not be exposed to it.

Data visualization is a key way for content creators to break through the information clutter. Reach out to one of our specialists to learn more about how can help enrich your content and increase your audience engagement from today.


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